Organic cotton farming group in Maharashtra is all smiles

May 21st, 2008 - 1:43 pm ICT by admin  

By Shyam Pandharipande
Ner (Maharashtra), May 21 (IANS) Some 300-odd cotton growers in the suicide-prone Yavatmal district believe they have found the perfect way out of price fluctuations - selling organic cotton directly to textile mills at premium rates. Vasant Pohekar, a prosperous farmer, and the other members of the Organic Farming Research and Development Association that he heads say they are immune to the worry of prices nose-diving as they produce organic cotton.

Organic cotton has great demand, particularly in the Western world, and these farmers sell it to the mills that are in the business of thriving cotton cloth exports.

“Together, we produced 3,000 quintals of superior quality organic cotton this season and sold cotton bales mainly to Mumbai’s Arvind Mills and Super Spinning Mills of Coimbatore at Rs.3,500 per quintal when the maximum price in the market was Rs.2,600,” Pohekar told IANS.

Inspired by Anand Subhedar, an organic farming proponent of Yavatmal, Pohekar shifted from chemical farming in a phased manner over the last decade and propagated “poison-free” farming among cultivtors in his Ner sub-district area. The effort culminated into the 300-strong network that he hopes will grow.

Cotton growers in Vidarbha made up the major chunk of those farmers who committed suicide in the last three years because of low prices and high input costs.

This time, the farmers are somewhat relieved as they have got a bigger yield and better prices thanks to the world market looking up after a low patch in the last few years. But given the volatility in the world market and with the government winding up the monopoly procurement scheme that guaranteed remunerative prices, prices could nosedive again.

However, Pohekar and the other association members are smiling, as they believe that the demand for organic cotton will only grow.

“I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future; the demand for organic cotton is going to grow,” he says confidently, adding, that the farmers in his group are producing a wide range of other organic crops besides cotton that too have a great demand.

Pohekar himself grows cotton on 12 acres while reserving the remaining 13 acres of his 25 acres land for pulses like urad, moong, chana and tuar besides wheat and chillies.

“All organic crops are tastier and healthier as they are grown on the soil free from the ‘poisonous’ chemical fertilisers and are rich in natural nutrients and thus fetch a good price,” he says.

A graduate from a wealthy family of jewellers that has also traditionally pursued agriculture, Pohekar, along with his friends, went about organic farming scientifically.

An interesting experiment the group has carried out in the last couple of years is taking a portion of the cotton bales to Maganwadi in Wardha nearby where some Gandhian activists run a small yarn-making and natural dyes unit and selling the yarn processed there to a few mills in Mumbai, Delhi and Germany, Pohekar said.

Clear in their mind that their shift to organic farming had to be a hard-nosed business proposition rather than knee-jerk romanticism, the group tied up with the Germany-based certification company Ecocert apart from networking with other organic farming groups and research organisations in Maharashtra.

“We were keen on producing superior quality organic cotton and getting our farm-operations checked and certified at every stage as we knew the exporting mills wouldn’t buy our produce without proper certification,” Madhukar Bobde, the secretary of the association, said.

Debunking the argument that organic farming is not viable for poor and small farmers, Bobde said if organic fertilisers and pesticides are grown on-farm as they can be and if hard work is put in systematically, even a two-acre farmer can do it very economically and earn profits.

Bobde adds that organic faming requires less water and that inter-cropping, which is an integral part of organic farming practices, ensures against the farmer losing out utterly in case of one crop failing.

“I invite all those interested in visiting the farms of any of our cultivators and see for themselves the success on all aspects we are talking about,” he said airily.

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