Collaborative approach of Farmers’ Collectives and the Government to ensure economic gains during the pandemic and beyond

A famous Korean proverb says, “At the end of hardship comes happiness”. While this is true, the story of hardship is much more complicated. The world has been shaken to its core due to the COVID-19 virus, a global pandemic that has had disastrous effects on not only the nation’s economy but also has disproportionately affected vulnerable groups such as small farmers. 
Vrutti has been working since 2016 in Pudukottai district, Tamil Nadu, covering the blocks of Thiruvarangulam and Karambakudi through a Business Acceleration Unit (BAU) as a part of its 3Fold Model (https://vrutti.org/our-core-impact-model/). This initiative, supported by EdelGive Foundation (www.edelgive.org), promoted 3 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) that delivers multiple services to 2,850 farmers members in building their wealth and resilience.
Over the past few months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these locations have been facing the same devastating fate. There are two sides to this story. On the side of the consumers, people have encountered various challenges, including procuring essential commodities, especially vegetables. There has been inadequate supply which has not only created panic among the people but has made them set out more frequently to source these commodities, thus defeating the rationale behind social distancing. Further, people with some vested interests, who were trying to make quick money by fixing exorbitant prices, forced helpless people to pay extremely high prices for their daily needs. At the same time, the story on the side of our shareholder, producers of 3 FPOs depicts a very different picture. Due to lack of transportation facilities from the location, limited scale and lack of cash, they were unable to sell their fresh vegetables. 
The COVID-19 situation called for the help of the BAU, which facilitated a collaboration between the Government and the FPOs. This led the FPOs to procure vegetables from its shareholders and sell them to consumers in Alangudi town and other nearby locations. 
To execute this, the team followed the steps highlighted below –
Firstly, the team took permission from the District Administration which was mandatory for the movements of goods vehicles and staff members for market operations. The Deputy Director (Marketing) issued volunteer cards for staff and vehicle passes. 
Secondly, FPOs tied up with the local town panchayat for help in marketing at the town level, ensuring all precautions needed. 
Lastly, the field staff of the BAU ventured with commitment and dedication to match both supply and demand of the vegetables providing relief to the hardships of the small farmer as well as the common man. 
The procurement of vegetables was started on 30th of March 2020 from the shareholders in the nearby villages to cater to the local consumers in all 3 FPO clusters. This prompted the FPOs to fix a reasonable price for the vegetables. The FPOs then started reaching out to the farmers in remote villages for procuring their vegetables and arranging the necessary transport. As days passed, the operational cost for the FPOs was soaring high, but a decision was made to move forward for the benefit of the farmers. Vrutti helped the FPO to raise some philanthropic funding through Friends of World Women Banking to support some logistics costs during the initial period. Overall, a total quantity of about 12,000 kilograms of vegetables worth Rs. 1.90 lakhs were procured from 113 farmers. The procured vegetables were sold to a total of 707 households with gross revenue of Rs. 2.21 lakhs during the first two phases of the lockdown period. 
Encouraged by this experience and the need, the District Administration invited Vrutti and FPOs to sell its products through a ‘buyer-seller’ meet at the district level. These engagements have now triggered interest among the Government and FPOs to continue this as a normal system to provide benefits to both consumers and farmers. Working with the Government departments and FPOs, Vrutti helped 2,155 member farmers to avail cash benefits under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi to address their cash needs. Working with local panchayats, the agricultural engineering department and leveraging MGNREGA support, FPOs took up pond renovations. This not only provided immediate cash support through employment but created key assets for water conservation. 

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