NEW DELHI: Organic food, fancied by the health-conscious metropolitan elite, is finding customers in smaller towns ranging from Aurangabad to Shantiniketan and Kanyakumari. Many farmers are selling organic vegetables in small towns at a relatively small premium over the chemical-laden vegetables, and are making money by bypassing middlemen.
In Aurangabad, dozens of farmers set up stalls for organic vegetables every Sunday for their regular buyers – not the expat in a Mercedes, but the local postman, schoolteacher, a manager of the nearby state-run bank and others.
Prices are up to 15% higher but business is brisk. “Our organic bazaar is for the common man. We feel that even a postman should be able to afford it,” says Joy Daniel, who helps farmer set up their stalls in Aurangabad and is the director of the Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD).
Farmers actively participate in three such weekly markets across theMarathwada and Vidarbha regions. Farmers and NGOs working in the region attribute the success to late Alexander Daniel, founder of IIRD, who helped set up such markets successfully in places like Ambajogai in Beed district, Umra in Hingoli district and Jintur in Parbhani district.
For customers, such markets have many attractions including availability of many types of vegetables. “Consumers come here largely to buy vegetables like Diwali bhendi, allu leaves, hadhga flower, cherry tomato, native varieties of bottle gourd and chival leaves. You will not find them in any modern retail or local vendor store,” says Daniel.
In Kolkata’s Salt Lake and Dum Dum areas, government officials, executives and businessmen are regular clients of organic vegetables, says Srikant Mondal, who organises such markets twice a week. “We have a few clients from Delhi and in future we can think of tying up with Delhi’s organic bazaar,” he says. He also gets local Bengali buyers. “People coming to us tell us that prices of organic vegetables in Delhi and Mumbai are so high, that they have to think twice before making any purchase. This is not the case here even though I sell it 20% higher than market price,” he says.
First Markets in Bangalore
Mondal sells organic onion for Rs 50 a kg, potato for Rs 13-14 a kg, banana flower at Rs 30-40 a piece and banana stem (30 cm) for Rs 12. He has also helped farmers start two weekly organic bazaars at Shantiniketan at Purbapalli and Binoy Bhawan. Weekly sales of organic produce touch 600-1,000 kg, according to Mondal. He finalises three farmers who pick up the produce of 20 and drive around the city selling it.
Farmers selling at such places bypass middlemen and gain enormously. A team from Kobe University, Japan, found that farmers get 53% higher price by selling grain, 87% higher market price for vegetables and over 118% for leafy vegetables in the organic bazaar at Aurangabad, compared with conventional markets. In Kanyakumari, Gould Tyndon organises a Friday organic market where farmers sell coconut, rice, spices and seasonal vegetables at 25% premium, something consumers happily pay. “The first or second time the consumer might try to make a comparison in prices.
After that they gauge quality and get new customers for us,” says Tyndon, who has been running this organic market with over 90 farmers for the past 5 years. It was in Bangalore that the first organic markets started in 2010. All the three weekly markets there are now closed but farmers have moved to the highway. Certified organic produce is a big rage for daily commuters and weekend travelers.
“We don’t do any commercial farming. The objective is food promotion of small farmers,” says Santosh Vas, who started the organic markets in the city with the help of Janodaya, an NGO working with poor families living in rural areas. Near Thiruvananthapuram, the Venganoor panchayat is the hub where J Kumar started selling organic vegetables worth Rs 2,000 a month along with two farmers in 2003.
Today there are 300 farmers with a monthly turnover of Rs 3.5-4 lakh. “It was not easy to sell marketing ideas to farmers, nor was it easy to implement the project. We are providing our car garage to the farmers to sell the produce,” says Kumar, who sells all organic products from hair oil, floor-cleaning liquid to paddy and millets apart from fresh vegetables. Unlike Kumar, who has his own garage to sell the produce, Chennai-based Ananthoo Satyanarayan got the 200 sq ft garage from a consumer who was impressed by his determination to sell organic produce.
“We farmers were running the weekly bazaar once a day in the market with no permanent fixture. He gave us a roof over our heads for a small rent,” he says, recounting a similar incident that happened to Chandigarh-based Gaurav Sahai, a progressive organic farmer.”Five years ago, a farmer could travel to the city and sell their organic produce. Now the distance has widened to 50 km as real estateprojects use agricultural land in the outskirts of the city,” says Satyanarayan.