Sunday, December 20, 2015

Do you want a share?

Some six to seven decades ago, production of adequate food for the large populations was a big issue for many countries. World War II had taken its huge toll on civilized society. During the war years (1939-1945) almost all able bodied men were recruited to the fighting armies and the labour force to work in agriculture fields was had simply vanished. Large areas of agriculture lands were turned into battlefields. Bombing and destruction of bridges and canals to retard the speed of advancement of enemy armies had further cast a shadow on the agriculture infrastructure. Diverting all food supplies to armies resulted in famines in many parts of the world. An estimated 3 to 4 million people died in the 1943 famine of Bengal itself. Many parts of Asia and Africa reeled under severe shortage of food. The number of deaths due to depriving of two square meals a day killed more humans than the war itself.

The urgent need to develop and adopt progressive agriculture methods to increase food production brought in extensive research and scientific applications. Newer varieties of grains, especially in Rice, Wheat and Corn were introduced. Chemical fertilizers were developed and used in large quantities all over the world. Food production increased considerably and many countries achieved self sufficiency in food production. Unfortunately, these developments had their side effects as well. A part of the chemicals used as fertilizers found its way into flowing and ground water. Use of pesticides further compounded the ill effects. These chemicals merged with the produce and reached the stomach of the consumers. While pests themselves developed immunity against these pesticides, consumers suffered due to their effects on their bodies. Phosphatic fertilizers contributed to eutrophication due to their quality of promoting growth of algae resulting in lower oxygen levels in water bodies. Nitrates enhanced ground water pollution. An increased awareness of threat to human beings and ecology by these fertilizers brought the farming methods to a full circle. Organic farming has again taken center stage.

Organic farming emphasizes on use of green manure, biological pest control and rotating pattern of raising crops. Petrochemical fertilizers are discouraged in growing crops and use of hormones for livestock is restricted. More and more people are looking for organic fruits and vegetables. Large chain stores display organic fruits and vegetables in separate enclosures. Other items like grain and flour display the word "Organic" in bold letters. Consumers in advanced countries have started checking the "organic produce" labels before putting the items in their shopping carts. They often cost more, but the psychological relief they bring is valued high. In short, consumers are lapping up any opportunity for getting their share of organic food items. 

During my recent visit to rural Pennsylvania, USA, one special feature was noticed. Consumers around farming villages are taking more interest in organic farming. There are farms using only organic fertilizers and pesticides. Consumers of fruits and vegetables can take part in the activities at the farm indirectly. The farms encourage the consumers to pay a lump sum at the beginning of the cropping season and take a share in the produce grown in the farm. The payment is made at the begging of the summer months and they are given a share in the produce, in accordance with the advance payment made by them. Amounts are paid in April and supply of fruits and vegetables starts from May and continues till the end of October. Every week on a fixed day, say Friday, the farm places the items grown in the lands for distribution to the financing households. The items are kept in an order with a notice board displaying the list of vegetables and quantity to be taken for each share.  Consumers visit the farm and take their share of fruits and vegetables in an orderly manner. The arrangement concludes in October as winter would be setting in. Thus for a period of six months, consumers get farm fresh organic vegetables and fruits.

A visitor to the farm can see the advanced farm mechanization and irrigation methods in use in them. Green houses are used for growing some vegetables. The consumers are allowed to enter some areas of the crop growing land and pluck the produce themselves as in the case of beans, mint and lettuce. Children derive great enjoyment while picking flowers from the plants they are allowed to. The whole activity goes on in a disciplined manner and it is a good outing for families on a friday evening. There are no instances of any attempts to gain by violating the norms. It is also an opportunity to see the various plants and flowers as well as get fresh fruits and vegetables within a few hours of their being harvested. 

The picture shown here is of a cone shaped cabbage grown there. The cabbage we usually see is either spherical or elliptical in shape. There is also this conical variety and the shape is like a rose bud but much bigger in size! 

This system of crop sharing has advantages both for the farming community as well as the consumers. It protects the farmers from the vagaries of crop yields. As the payment is received in advance, a part of the cost of raising the crops is already financed. If there is a bumper yield, the consumers get bigger shares of fruits and vegetables. If there is a modest crop, their share is also modest. If for some reason, crops fail, consumers also share the loss and develop better understanding of the farmer's miseries. Individual losses are small, but farmer gets relief in case of crop failure. As part of the the crop is sold before it is raised, farms save on transportation costs. The consumers are benefited by getting organic items without the necessity to check labels. They are closer to the nature here than when they visit the supermarket. 

This type of co-operative farming, if it can be called as such, deserves to be encouraged. Thee would be a closer farmer-consumer relationship and prevent middlemen who benefit at the cost of both farmers and consumers. However, basic discipline is to be ensured during the entire period of the contract by all the participants in the venture.


  1. Very good

    S Narayanan

  2. You have highlighted the need of the hour! It would be a boon in the Indian context.


  3. Thanks for a very informative and, as usual, an engaging article. The practice of the Pennsylvanian farmer can of course be applied here too; it only needs professionalism and integrity. It is a win-win situation to the grower and the seller

  4. Very important piece of information for the farm sector in India and high time to replicate. Keshav, you are sharing so many classic informations with us and we are fortunate to be in this group. Thanks.

  5. This is a new sales-strategy. We can use it in our Sales Class too.

  6. Informative & Interesting to read, wish we have such transparent system to think of investing four own needs.

  7. Wonderful system. In Tamilnadu, we have a system called 'Uzhavar Santhai' which means Farmer's Market.Here farmers gather with their goods to sell to consumers in a permanent ,idenfified place, which is allotted by the Government for this purpose.Consumers get fresh vegetables for reasonable price, since there is no middlemen involved.In case of US system, we will take long time to initiate. Rather, the system is too good for us in my perception.