Environment…ethics…equilibrium Siddharth Tripathy1

Before the beginning Gosaai Pawar has been dead for more than a decade now. The suicide of this cotton farmer had hit many a headlines in the media. And one can only wonder the state of déjà-vu his soul must be experiencing witnessing the present plight of cotton farmers in India. What is common between ‘Death Trap’, ‘Fatal Attraction’, ‘Killer Crop’, ‘Pollution Peril’, ‘Suicide Hotspots’, Tangled Web’ & ‘Torn Fabric’? No, they are not just big budgeted suspense thrillers from Hollywood, but nom de plume for COTTON in the last decade or so in India, which ironically has also been widely acknowledged as ‘White Gold’ around the world. Resource poor farmers from semi-arid regions of India (especially Vidarbha, Telangana & Western Orissa) have been existing in abject socio-economic conditions facing a barrage of predicaments in form of natural vagaries, high input dependence, indebtedness, market distortions, corporatization of agriculture and a single window clearance from all such woes – suicide.


Manager – Communications & PR, Hyderabad


cotton accounts for more than 50% of all toxic chemical pesticides usage in India. pest resistance and resurgence (making the American Bollworm a household name in the farming community).000 liters per plant) and most importantly leading to major health problems and subsequent fatalities among labor (esp. increased costs of cultivation and water use (~1. making the pesticide industry in India churn out newer molecules everyday thereby becoming the largest such sector in Asia & 12th largest in the world. pulses and recently soy) and more significantly due to the fact that cotton fetches immediate monetary benefits for these cash crunched farmers.300-2. The increase in area under cotton cultivation over the years in India is testimonial to this very fact. women & children) & farmers alike through acute & chronic poisoning. This coupled with monocropping practices has not only caused tremendous stress on natural eco-system. but also led to pollution of soils & ground water. Despite such apparent difficulties cotton continues to be the most popular cash crop in these regions and farmers irrespective of their socio-economic status choose to cultivate it with a deliberate amnesia of past experience and innocent hope for a new fruitful season. which is unsuitable for cultivation of other cash crops (excepting some cereals. What is it then that makes cotton a cynosure for agricultural communities across the country since the past green revolution to the present gene revolution? Why does it repeatedly hit the headlines in both national & international media entailing heated debates in Indian parliament and an intermittent uneasiness in Civil Society Organizations in and across the country? Or in simpler terms. The beginning It is under the above mentioned context that Chetna Organic spun off in the year 2004 as an Organic & Fair Trade supply chain initiative in the semi-arid & predominantly 2 Million Hectares 2 .6-10 mHa2) of total cropped area. why do the farmers choose to cultivate cotton in the first place? The answers to this are not so easy but also not too difficult to comprehend Elementary reasons for such a behavior can be attributed primarily to the agroclimatic conditions of these places. resulting in depleting soil health.Though grown in grossly 5% -6% (nearly 9.

Given these apparent lacunae in the agrarian scenario. Forced migration of farming communities with farming becoming an unviable profession. Intensive dependence on external factors. The key factors. Grave ecological degradation due to conventional methods of cotton farming. The underlying philosophy of COFA was to support farmers in adopting low external input based sustainable farming and exploring/facilitating ethical market linkages to their primary produce after value addition. ‘Mid’ & ‘Long’ term goals and concrete objectives. It was in this spirit that Chetna Organic Farmers Association (COFA) was registered as a national level farmers’ organization in Hyderabad under the Societies Act 2001. which were then implemented by a rich pool of human resources with expertise ranging from socio-technical extension services. COFA works directly for the benefit of its smallholder member farmers. economic & technical). Chetna Organic conceived to address them by developing ‘Short’. who without a common organized platform would be in 3 .tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh (Telangana). Maharashtra (Vidarbha) and Western Orissa (Kalahandi & Bolangir) with a vision to improve the livelihood options of small farm holding households involved in cotton cultivation through making their farming systems more sustainable and more profitable. make informed decisions and have stakes in the supply chain. monitoring & evaluation to marketing & international trade. social. policy & advocacy. Purpose of Intervention As a primary objective of the project it was envisaged that farmers should own the process. can be summed up as under: • • • • • • Lack of Self-Organization in the farming sector. all interlinked for such an intervention. Prevalence of health hazards in conventional cotton farming. Inadequate resources (institutional.

Although promoted on a trade-platform.000 acres of land under organic farming out of which around 17. who are sensitized towards forming a fair and sustainable business relationship with farmers. Max Havelaar. Soy. At the domestic level.000 quintals of clean cotton in addition to organically certified non-cotton crops such as Pulses (Red Gram. namely Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company (COAPCL) was promoted in February 2009 under Part IX A of the Companies Act 1956.nl).000 acres is under cotton and with an expected yield of 76. With the influx of farmers and volumes of produce growing over years. COAPCL in principle is a completely farmer owned commodity trading company working towards providing a fair business alternative through best possible market prices and transparent business practices to Chetna farmers.made-by. it becomes imperative to mention that Chetna promotes sustainable farming. which incorporates rotational cropping patterns. On a global level COFA & COAPCL work in partnership and hold membership with international labeling initiatives such as Made-By (www.500 to 90. The transition from a project mode in 2004 with barely 236 farmers to over 9000 farmers under the Chetna flag is self explanatory of its growth-which doesn’t only center on figures but more significantly in the dissemination of its concept. they actively collaborate with initiatives like Non Pesticide Management Initiative (NPMI). IFOAM. it complements COFA’s work towards improving livelihood of farmers through encouraging collective marketing of organic produce and moving up the value chain via collaboration with value chain constituents. a national level producers owned company. Vegetable and Non Timber Forest Produce. Green Gram.a precarious position.org) and others in building ethical supply chains. Black Gram and Bengal Gram). Fair Trade Foundation (UK). While we talk of acreage and yields. Paddy.000 to 20. Shop for Change (SFC) and other like minded consortiums that work for developing domestic markets. With more than 35. Organic Exchange (www. it becomes apparent that farmers have internalized the importance of sustainable farming and ethical trade. it was felt that COFA should necessarily have an arm specifically dedicated to trading and market linkages.organicexchange. As a result. Thus 4 .

Fast-forward … six months – Purna hires a bullock cart to load his cotton produce under the fastidious and eager scrutiny of his wife. Purna Sabar. This also addresses a major issue of food security among small and marginal farmers who are prevented from choosing a cropping pattern out of sheer market-centric demands and dynamics. The near past also has not been too pleasant. arriving at fixed figures for acreage and thereby production becomes paradoxical to the very vision of promoting a bio-diverse and sustainable farming model. grading and an arduously long wait at the procurement center. Having said this. If ever Purna wishes to certify his product as organic he has to part with his annual income as the inspecting fees along with a fact he may not qualify for certification due to the norms of certifying bodies regarding landholding size(s). it remains a fact that acreage and production increase with the number of new farmers joining the program over a period of time. A little later the family is seen at the field. Thus. with his cotton stocked shabbily in his hut inviting multifaceted contamination. as do his wife & son. or rather loss in money to be precise. as he stands at the threshold of his hut with his eyes riveted to the clouds arranging his destiny in the sky. 5 . preparing their land for a new farming season. He awaits the rains. On the cards is a barrage of predicaments ranging from confrontations with local trader to a labyrinth of malfunctioning like weighing. What lies ahead is a daylong journey to the nearest cotton procurement center through almost non-existent roads. a marginal tribal farmer braves the mercury. The journey: Power of Aggregation On a May afternoon.farmers from Chetna shift their main crop from cotton to any other crop based on the agro-climatic conditions of the region. eventually leading to a loss in quality.

it was a major impediment to convince resource poor farmers in converting to organic. At the outset. This had to be achieved by harmonizing a matrix of interrelated variables that ranged from understanding and affecting farmers’ psyche to acknowledging the presence of other stakeholders in the chain like ginners. With active collaboration from local civil society organizations and government 6 . But in a country like India. garment manufacturers and brands. ‘Farmers were highly skeptic about such interventions by outsiders because of which we decided to work with local partners’ says a project staff indicating the decentralized mode of operations at Chetna. assuming such a possibility is utopian. a cross section of portraits across small and marginal farmers in India would be identical. it becomes profoundly significant that s/he is adequately informed of the business nuances of agricommodity trading. An invaluable question that surfaces then is what is a feasible alternative? It is on this very premise that Chetna recognized the significance of an organized farm sector right from its inception. For a farmer to trade his/her produce without getting exploited.Beset with such problems. These problems in fact raise some nagging questions like • How does an individual farmer manage the economics & quality of input requirements? • • How does an individual farmer market her/his produce? How does S/he negotiate with the local trader (middleman) to avoid an inevitable ‘debt-trap’? • • • How does S/he manage to decipher the complexities of market dynamics? How does S/he maintain quality of the produce? How does an individual farmer avail certification given the costs and rigging norms? • Finally who assures a fair price? It is here that the power of aggregation and its benefits to the poor gets highlighted. spinners.

3 Low input agriculture meaning lesser borrowings from traders and moneylenders and consequently a reduced debt burden. we thought it is worth a try” – a cotton farmer from Vidarbha confessed. the project strategically identified individuals who had been practicing organic farming to influence the skeptic and indecisive farmers. In the first year of operations. “The pressure from debtors such as fertilizer and pesticide suppliers and dealers adds uncontrollable tension in our lives and is a very traumatic experience! Organic farming. But the socio-technical extension given to farmers neither harbored on highlighting the monetary gains nor was up-scaling of acreage to meet economies of scale an important motive of the project. This approach of peer group knowledge transfer worked out to be effective. reduces this tension significantly. as farmers got attracted to the low input3 cost of organic cotton cultivation and a reasonable assurance of better markets. But the road ahead was not all too rosy. These figures clearly indicate the cautious mindset of small farmers regarding converting to organic despite the lure of better market and enhanced prices. barely 236 farmers with hardly 588 acres of land under organic cotton cultivation stood under the Chetna flag.agencies. 7 . in the first instance. but when we realized that at least we would be free from the pressure of debtors who are at our doorstep almost daily. We had heard about organic farming but were not sure of the process and the results.

These groups were in turn federated to form farmer cooperatives. which at the national level conglomerated to form the national level farmers association and a producers company. 20 – 25 member farmers from each project village federated to form village level self-help groups. The three-tier democratic 8 . Farmers who learned the basics of organic agriculture at the Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were also exposed to the benefits of collective community action.The project recognized the importance of stable foundations for a sustainable structure and thus focused the intensely capacities on of enhancing partner NGO staff and grass root level organizations. Consequently.

“We take pride in establishing COFA with the assistance of our staff and support agencies. Chetna Organic has developed an integrated ethical supply chain from farm to fabrics with dedicated and committed partners in each processing stage till the products reach the shop’s shelf.000 to 20. the fruits of these perseverant efforts reflect in the business over the years as shown – 9 . share space in the textile supply chain and understand its complexities. COFA as a platform not only helps us to voice concerns.000 acres and an average yield of 4. but also helps us to have better negotiation position” says Kusum Rao. Beyond the initial steps: Mainstreaming the marginal Advancing on the same lines. In what could be deemed as an innovative model of vertical collaboration. brands linked to Chetna are investing in social developmental projects for the farming community benefits.structure of Chetna with member farmers from different regions on its Board is intended to promote informed decision making at the farmers level thereby enabling them to own the process rather than remain mute recipients in the supply chain. Chetna Organic is a unique model of collective marketing which ensures a fair price for its farmers through value addition to the primary produce and support in socio-technical extension services from the sowing stages to post harvest management to comply to third party certification standards.5 quintals/acre of cotton. With an Organic/Conversion cotton acreage of over 17. saving on transport costs and warehousing facilities. the President of COFA Board. who himself is a tribal organic farmer from Choupenguda. Chetna Farmers not only get an added premium over the fair price due to the group certification availed. AP. Although nascent. they also benefit from better negotiations with the buyer(s) in a buyer-seller meet facilitated by Chetna. A warehouse & promotion of women’s group nursery by Jackpot (Danish Fashion brand) & an Eco center for optimal use of cow urine & manure for local production of bio-fertilizers & pesticides supported by Coyuchi (US Brand) & Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills Ltd (Garmenting Unit partner) are a couple of examples of such initiatives.

Organic Cotton Turnover till date: 2006-07 Turn Over Cotton Sale INR) of (in INR 2. The following table and graph is a price comparison between the market and prices as paid by Chetna to its farmers – Price Comparison: Market versus Chetna Price: 2006 Market Price Chetna Prices 1950 2200 2007 2058 2500 2008 2857 3350 2009 3071 3350 4000 Market Prices 3500 3000 2500 2000 1500 2006 2007 2008 2009 Chetna Prices 10 .0 Crores 2007-08 INR 3.5 Crores Chetna has always endeavored to provide better and fair prices to the farmers for their cotton produce.7 Crores 2008-09 INR 4.

11 . Development of a nursery and a pre-primary school through realizing such premiums are a couple of apt examples of realizing community benefit through trade.It’s evident from the figures that Chetna’s marketing intervention has helped farmers in getting a fair return for their produce. which the farmer groups receive for use in community benefit activities. To quantify. the incremental advantage to farmers in selling cotton has been to the tune of 15-20%. on an average. Additionally. selling cotton through Fair Trade system involves a premium of approximately INR340 per quintal over the base price of cotton.

Similarly. losses due non-standard machines etc traders weighing which translates to a tune of 5-10%. Consequently the effective price to farmer (at farm gate) was INR 3500 per quintal – as against an average of INR 3050 per quintal that the farmer received from the conventional market. farmers from Adilabad (Andhra Pradesh) sold 140 quintals of red gram to COAPCL at the rate of INR 3500 per quintal at their village point. through inherent premiums that accrue in form of savings to in local labor transport markets. Marketing @Ethics To illustrate the monetary benefit to a farmer better – in the year 2009-10. 12 . Chetna purchased cotton from its farmers in AP at a base cost of 3350 per quintal. farmers benefit by sales of non-cotton crops. Additionally the company has agreed to share a portion of any gross profits made on the sale with the Adilabad farmers co-operative – thus ensuring a premium for them. This translates into a direct 14% premium over the conventional market for the Chetna farmer. This purchase was done at the farm gate hence the company incurred an additional cost of INR 150 per quintal for transport to the nearest Gin. to with charges.Similarly. A similar deal in the conventional market would have happened at the market yard (and not village point) – an estimated INR 25 to 50 per quintal cost for transportation (depending on distance) – and without a profit sharing agreement.

In fact. such ginned cotton is separately taken further for pressing and each bale is then numbered with a unique press running number (PR Number). primarily because of the measures for traceability taken by Chetna and its supply chain partners. Transparency is maintained by ensuring all cotton is transported in cotton bags (of maximum 50 kgs weight) with a label on each bag mentioning – farmer name. The following step by step process followed by COAPCL explains how transparency in movement of cotton is maintained:• Step 1: Cotton comes from farmer’s house to village level godown. • Step 3: Different heaps are taken separately for ginning and post ginning cotton is stored in separate rooms to ensure differentiation. This helps trace cotton back to the farmer. (ii) process flow registers. farmer village and cluster details.Transparency: Innovativeness of Chetna Transparency across the value chain is a key USP of Chetna Organic and its partner companies and hence a lot of emphasis is laid on ensuring traceability in movement of cotton. Chetna maintains quality checks to avoid two types of contamination – (i) Contamination with non-organic produce and 4 IC: Cotton under conversion from conventional to organic under certification norms 13 . seed variety used. documentation such as (i) gin incoming registers. This helps maintain separation and non-mixing of cotton. Chetna and its supply chain partners subscribe to Made-By’s ‘track and trace’ program where each garment sold by a Made-By brand is traceable to its source. IC2 or A grade) etc. organic status (IC41. In addition to the above. (ii) bale records etc help trace a bale of cotton to the region it has come from. Similar transparency in cotton movement is maintained across all levels of Chetna Supply Chain. unique farmer code. Similarly. seed variety and location (cluster from which cotton is procured). its seed variety and also the organic status. • Step 2: Cotton when transported to the Gin is heaped in separate lots – differentiated as per organic status. staple length.

iii) Linkages with local government subsidies for bio fertilizers. Similarly insistence on transport of cotton in cotton bags. iv) Conducting exposure visits for farmer education on best practices in cotton farming to help ensure good quality of cotton that comes from Chetna farms. composts etc. planting of border crops. all farmers are trained annually (before harvest) on clean picking practices. specific care taken during handling of produce.(ii) Foreign fibre contamination. gender equity. Developmental Impact: Beyond Trade Apart from these tangible benefits to poor farming communities. To address the issue of foreign fibre contamination. A little retrospection on traditional Indian agriculture would highlight the importance of women in farming households as being the harbingers of seed conservation. clean storage of seed cotton. proper heaping and separate ginning of cotton etc ensure there is no contamination through foreign fibres. ii) Training on productivity improvement. use of systems to maintain traceability (as explained above) etc are some of the ways in which we ensure that there is no contamination between organic and other cotton. insistence on maintenance of adequate buffer levels. At the same time a dual quality checking process – once at the village level by Chetna staff and second time at the Gin – coupled with farmer traceability through bags and labels helps detect & eliminate low quality cotton and also identification of errant farmers which accordingly leads to modification of procurement policy. Chetna’s body of work is of key importance in addressing issues of environmental concern. With the advent of mono-cropping culture however multinational seed companies have 14 . stringent standards have been maintained right at the farm level. For instance – non-allowance of part and parallel farming with non-organic practices (since handling typically is done together and hence there is a high chance of contamination when stored at homes). Additionally. uniformity and quality in physical properties of cotton are addressed through measures such as – i) Assistance in seed selection. bio-diversity food security and seed sovereignty. To address the first issue.

almost monopolized the seed sector in India. Benefits of Composting and Vermin Composting Practices: a. thus reducing dependency of farmers on forests for firewood. 2. They also harbor birds which while helping reduce pests on one hand also help reducing need for chemical pesticides. Efficient utilization of farm wastes (recycling of nutrients) and natural resources which otherwise would be just thrown off or burnt thus destroying the valuable nutrients. Organic manures are the main sources of nutrients for soil microbes thus keeping the soil alive. ‘Cassia Siamea’ etc a. border crops and Trap Crops a. c. Some of the major benefits of this model can be illustrated as under 1. d. b. thereby fringing on women from playing this pivotal role. Water holding capacity of the soil improves thus enhancing the drought tolerance efficiency of crops. Some of these plants also serve as source of firewood. Improve soil fertility through maintenance of nitrogen balance in the 15 . ‘Pongamea’. in the process aiding curbing of deforestation. Benefits of growing green manure plants such as ‘Glyricidia’. borne out of an inherent respect for environment and a strong realization of the enormous ecological impact sustainable farming could have on nature. and in improving environmental balance in the area c. Organic system of farming is the backbone of Chetna’s activities. they help improve bio-diversity and plant cover in the region b. Benefits of adopting practices such as Crop Rotation. Fully decomposed organic manures are rich in antifungal and bacterial antagonists thus helpful in pests and diseases management naturally reducing the pressure to use any chemical pesticides. Inter-Cropping. 3. In addition to the obvious use of these bio-mass as manure for organic farming.

In semblance to this Chetna is also a member of the Western Orissa NREGS Consortium. use of composts and bio-fertilizers. Aids pest management through harboring of natural enemy of pests like birds. Chetna has also been involved in allied programs which complement the primary objective of improving livelihoods of disadvantaged farming communities while not compromising on any hazards to natural ecosystems. organic pest management. storage ware houses. till date. Practices which are scientific but do not take toll on the environment and the farmers health. or building of local level infrastructure for community use and furtherance of their occupation (such as building sanitation facilities. So work/participation by Chetna on issues such as seed availability 16 . Other significant impacts • Benefits of Institution Building Intervention: The biggest benefit for farmers. resource centers for village women. best practices to contain damage due to nature’s vagaries etc. pulses processing units. selection of seed. where it provides its support for an optimal utilization of existing government schemes. local bio gas units etc) from the fair trade premium they get out of cotton sales. has been the coming together as SHGs and Co-operatives. which has enabled collective action for Community benefit.soil b. IndoGerman Watershed Development Program (IGWDP) in collaboration with NABARD in rain-fed regions of Adilabad (Andhra Pradesh) is one such effort towards better management of water resources. • Policy and Advocacy work: Chetna has also been an active campaigner in policy and advocacy work for the benefit of farming community in general. So be it managing the entire logistics of agriculture produce marketing (hitherto the preserve of middlemen). • Benefits of Technical Extension: The production risk for farmers is mitigated to a large extent due to the regular technical support and training provided to Chetna farmers on a range of issues such as soil fertility management. schools for their children. spiders etc In addition to above.

no Risk 1 Cotton yields may fall below expectations The Cotton purchased may not be able to sell at a FT or higher price Mitigation strategy Cotton yields expectations have been kept conservative with the intention of accounting for a possible yield shortage due to unfavourable climate. from migrating to Bt. Sustainability of the model Although it remains uncontested that since its inception in 2004. CHETNA. CHETNA has been taking measures to preserve farmers. CHETNA only sells to trusted buyers or potential buyers it knows 17 . facilitating yield increases. farmers may transition to using of BT which could jeopardise the commercial plans of COAPCL Default by buyers when 4 Considering the risk potential of such a sale. which is what the likely premium is over conventional market rates for CHETNA Cotton. In fact this has been the key to its sustenance. commodity marketing policies by state governments. However. it has always had ‘Plan-B’ to counter any probable failure of its primary ‘PlanA’. as a practice. such a possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. but more imperatively. being done through providing alternate services such as facilitating of untreated seeds. due to fluctuations in global economic conditions. The following table illustrates how Chetna develops a fall-back wall for mitigating any problems that might prove detrimental to its sustainability – S. CHETNA also actively engages in Anti-GM campaigns nationally & globally. always purchases cotton only based on prior – written – commitments from its buyers. Chetna has seen a growth both in numbers and dissemination of its concept. promoting backyard farming and NREGA activities etc. In other words. it has been flexible enough to modify its modus operandi with lessons learnt from each successive farming season. national level discussion on genetically modified crops. However.(availability of preferred seeds for sowing). in such case the downside risk for CHETNA is limited to a 15-20% loss. certification standards and audit procedures for organic have contributed towards making the farming environment more conducive for farmers. 2 3 Threat from BT – with the continuous onslaught of BT cotton.

Chetna has ensured that the primary producer decides – WHAT TO SELL? 18 . Purna & many more are not only a part of this aggregated marketing arrangement. the future looks promising despite the inevitability of more hurdles in times to come. relevant Government agencies and all partners in the value chain. committed partners and new developmental agencies evincing interest in this process. imports by NAFED etc cannot be entirely ruled out At the moment. except for the regular buyers – (who have been associated with Chetna for the last 5 years) – CHETNA sells cotton to new buyers only against an LC or a 50% advance. Ford Foundation (India). by a radical vision of aggregating smallholder farmers and their produce. Its rather redundant to mention that a process of social engineering needs time. losses due to unforeseen circumstances such as – government regulations on grain storage. national NGOs. Based on COAPCL’s study of the pulses market for the last two years and also participation in a small way. where grassroots farmer institutions have enhanced capacities to take informed decisions and have a fair say in a value chain of cotton production. the company now understands basic dynamics of the market and hence is less likely to make a loss. Conclusively. but also owners of a metamorphosis towards a more organized farming sector. having said that it needs to be added that with a passionate staff. it successfully crossed over others with support from International Not-for-Profit Organizations like Solidaridad & ICCO (Netherlands). As a result. Additionally.making payments for cotton 5 CHETNA may incur a loss in marketing of Non-Cotton crops well directly or through its networks. thus minimising risk of foreign exchange fluctuations 6 CHETNA may face losses from currency fluctuations Conclusion In a nutshell. and Chetna is a journey just begun. Needless to mention that the journey from its inception till now has not been without hurdles. However. while CHETNA does pitch its marketing efforts towards an international clientele – the delivery of goods and consequent invoices are raised on Indian supply chain partners of global brands. While Chetna stumbled at some. payments are all made in Indian Rupees.