The Farmers – What about us?

Suicide rates among farmers are the highest in the country (India) – maybe only topped by the age group of the 16-24 year old male students. While the students very often cannot stand any longer the social and family pressure to become an engineer or a government employee in order to “pay back” to the family and sustain the clan, farmers “escape” from not being able to pay back loans and make enough money to feed their families. This is the brutal reality in India. And it’s horrifying. According to various sources (2013) roughly 55% of India’s population are involved in farming/agriculture. Over the last 10 years there was an significant decrease in the number of farmers (10%) but the number of farm laborers has been increasing. All together they are the “food back bone” for the entire country. Still for so many reasons the “profession” farmer isn’t at all something young people yearn for. No money in it. And what might even be worse no social status is going along with it – on contrary, it’s rather a social group people look down to.

Therefore in a village like Janwaar where at least 80% (if not more) of the villagers depend on farming real change can only happen, when the farmers and agriculture are included in the scope of our work. This is the next step we have to take – riding on the wave of trust, confidence and enthusiasm the kids and their skatepark have created. Without changing the living conditions in Janwaar for the better our endeavor Janwaar Castle has no chance to survive long term. So empowering and guiding the farmers in the village is a very consequent and necessary next move. And exactly this was being asked for at our workshop early in October 2015. To tackle the main challenges of farmers in Janwaar – scarcity of water, wild animals destroying the crops, minor revenues – we’ve decided to set up a farmer producer organization (FPO). The promotion of FPOs has become a national policy in India and has been one of the most effective pathways to improve the life of small and marginal farmers. There are a couple of government programs from which FPOs can draw benefits and (financial) support. In Madhya Pradesh, the state where Janwaar is located, has a high above average number of registered FPOs. No wonder, the state is completely relying on agriculture.

What is an FPO ?

In short an FPO is a “… collective of producers, especially small and marginal farmers, which addresses the many challenges of agriculture but most importantly, which improves access to investments, technology and inputs and markets. It’s an institutional form to mobilize farmers and build their capacity to collectively leverage their production and marketing strength.” It is a member-owned private limited company. Our goal in Janwaar is to set up a “democratic” FPO which is long term sustainable. We aim to bring at least 1000 small and marginal farmers together, each of them investing 1000 INR as equal shareholders. This also means that each single farmer can only be hold reliable for his/her shares. A matter of fact which will significantly reduce the pressure on a single farmer. If each of the 1000 farmers brings in 1000 INR then we’ll have 10 lakhs INR and the Indian government will immediately fund an additional 10 Lakhs INR – it’s their way of supporting the FPOs. And with 20 lakhs INR we can start working sufficiently and built something sustainable. That’s the advice we’ve got and that’s our plan!

I am very happy that Vini, my local partner and one of the stakeholders at Janwaar Castle has taken the lead in this. Vini knows a lot about farming and agriculture, he has access to all the farmers in our area through his father’s political function – so it will be easy to reach out to them – and he has a huge interest to make the people’s life in the buffer zone area of Panna National Park (where Janwaar is located) better – it would become the world’s first example of how the co-existence of man and animal in a buffer zone can be managed.

Further support we get from a group of farmers around Prem Singh, a farmer in Banda, Utter Pradesh (UP) bordering MP. I know Prem for more than 3 years now and he participated in our first workshops with villagers in 2013 in Patha, UP. Over the last 10 years Prem has developed a farming model which cherishes and balances the co-existence of nature (resources), animal and mankind. His model includes among others organic farming, renewable energy and water management. In his agriculture center in Banda he is teaching the farmers for free – in their newsletter they reach out to more than 20,000 farmers. I’ve agreed to join the board of their KISAN School, which will be inaugurated on February 12. I see my role to connect the farmer community to the Web. KISAN school will provide free courses over the period of two years, it’s designed that the farmers come and learn theory and then go back to their fields and practice and report in the next sessions their experiences and results! On February 12 we will also attend an award ceremony Prem and his team has set up to acknowledge and cherish the important role farmers play in the daily life in India. It’s the first award in India for farmers and Vini and I are very happy to support this endevour. The Banda team will also set up an FPO in their region and we agreed that our FPO and theirs share the same common values – transparency, equality among the stakeholders, co-existence model – and work for educational and marketing purposes closely together! I am really happy that we brought this cooperation on its way – Prem Singh and his team are true role models.

Why would a single farmer join the FPO?

It won’t be an easy task to unite 1000 farmers – mistrust, fear and the lack of education are our biggest opponents – but we are very confident that the trust we’ve gained in Janwaar and the reputation we have will help us on this way. And of course there all the arguments of how a single farmer will benefit from such a move.

Our estimate is that it will take as at least 6 month to “win” the farmers and we will work hard in the field to convince them to join. We’ll run workshops, we’ll have meetings and and and … It’s basically their only way out especially in situations like we are currently facing. A huge drought after a very bad monsoon will bring famine and many other problems in the coming month. It’s only mid January and already many wells have dried out … it will be a very tough spring and even worse summer of the farmers and their families. So we hope that this horrible situation will at least help to found the FPO. As tragic as it might be …. !