An organic cotton project initiated by the city-based textile manufacturer Arvind Ltd in 33 villages in the backward Akola region of Maharashtra seems to have saved farmers in those villages from suicide.
“There has not been a single case of farmer’s suicide in the area where we have launched the project in February last year,” said Arvind agri-exports chief manager Mahesh Ramakrishnan.
Since 2005, around 5,000 farmers in the region are reported to have killed themselves, mainly because of huge debts, he added.
The project, which avoids the use of fertilisers and pesticides, has already begun raking in cash for farmers. They have received about Rs 2 million as premium for the 1,200 bales of organic cotton that they delivered to the company.
Of the Rs 2 million, Rs 900,000 is the premium for producing organic cotton and the rest is for the use of “fair trade” label under the Fair-Trade Practices Initiative that started in the Netherlands in 1988.
The fair-trade labelling allows consumers and distributors alike to track the origin of the goods to confirm that the benefit is reaching the farmers, Ramakrishnan said.
Akola farmers got the second part of the payment last week. A body for the receipt and utilisation of the money has also been set up.
The project’s group-president Milind Hardikar said with the project the company could show the world that “sustainable business” models could be achieved through environmental commitment.
He said Arvind was planning to replicate the Akola model of cotton contract farming in Gujarat as well. “The project is most appropriate for rain fed agriculture and we are looking to get some land so that the Akola experiment can be tried out in Gujarat too,” Hardikar said.
Currently 100 farmers are working under the project. The project area is in two talukas – Akola and Akot – in which 293 farmers have agreed to participate. The total area covered is close to 400 hectares in Akola and 157 hectares in Akot.
The farmers have been organised into self-help groups of 10-15 neighbours. The company is training the farmers.
Hardikar added that the company was providing specially evolved cottonseeds to the farmers since the genetically modified BT cottonseed was not allowed in organic farming.
He added that Akola region was selected because it was identified as one of the least developed regions in Maharashtra. The organic cotton produced in the region is certified by the International Control System (ICS) and carries a logo, India Organic.
“We have not owned farmers’ land. We sign a contract to help them absorb the techniques of organic farming. We will pick up whatever they produce. They get payment within seven days. They are happy about it. In the project, more than 42 percent participants are small farmers. Only 30 per cent own 10 acres,” Hardikar said.
Worldwide 30.4 million hectares of land are under organic cultivation. India is ranked 32 with 32,375 hectares. The global turnover of organic products is worth $40 billion.