Nov 2016: To end the exploitation of villagers in tribal/forest areas by money lenders and to promote organic foods, AID chapters at Washington DC Metro Area and Bay Area have approved support to strengthen the recently formed “Tribal Organic Farming and Forest Produce cooperative (T-Cop)” (Giri Sendriya Vyavasaya Uthpadhidharula Paraspara Shakara Parimithi Sangham) in Visakha Dist, Andhra Pradesh. All the members are Adivasis belonging to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) such as Kondh, Porja and Gadaba tribal. AID-Seattle chapter is considering the work for the remaining support that it needs.
PVTG Adivasis cultivate crops using their own seeds and without any kind of chemical pesticides or insecticides. Visakha agency area is recognized as ‘Organic zone’.
Forms of exploitation by Money Lenders
Generally PVTG Adivasis take loans from the money lenders in June and they return their loans January in the form of crops they cultivate. If an Adivasi farmer takes loan from private money lender, then the money lender takes away the profits of the farmers in the following ways:
1. Rs 500 interest for the amount of Rs 1000 – The time period from June to January is seven months.
2. Interest + actual amount – It should be paid in the form of cultivated crop.
3. Rate for the crop – The money lenders syndicate decides the rate. ‘Market rate’ means the rate decided by the money lender.
4. Measurements – Money lender measures the crop with a box called ‘kuncham’.
5. Remaining crop – whatever crop remains (after payment of loan), that too is taken away by the same money lender.
6. What the farmer gets – for the remaining crop the money lender pays the farmer in installments without any interest.
Market-monopoly of non-tribal merchants
The marketing of the crops cultivated by Adivasis solely remains in the hands of non- tribal money lenders. Where does the crop go from the money lenders? What would be the final price of their crop when it reach the final destination? These are the questions that the tribals are unaware of.
There are layers in the system of money lender/merchants. Crops like turmeric, ‘Pippals’, Rajma are bought by tribal merchant/ money lenders. Some Adivasis willingly help them in obtaining this end. Big shot merchant /money lenders from Tuni, Narsipatnam and V.Madugula buy these crops from them, these crops are sold in wholesale market.
T-COP: The Beginning – Our Co-operative Society:
In 2015 for the first time in the region’s history, despite the serious lack of knowledge, skills and experience, T-Cop, the Adivasi farmer’s co -operative society was formed. This was a bold step and it entered the open market with the indigenous organic crops cultivated by Adivasis. Initially, it was decided to take up the buying and selling of ‘Rajma’ should be undertaken.
Unlike the non -tribal businessmen, the following principles and guidelines were set up in buying the product:
1. Only the weighing instrument certified by the government should be utilized.
2. Half the price of the crop should be paid to the farmer when the farmer hands over the crop.
3. Within a time span of one month, rest of the amount should be paid.
4. The farmer should be given the written ‘Paid’ bill/receipt.
Pic: T-Cop markets the first batch of Rajma
The ‘Rajma’ experience:
Rajma started coming in to market in the month of December, 2015. In 2014 December, the merchants who buy Rajma at Rs.50 per kilo, continued buying it for the same price on the first week of (2015) December. Immediately, they decreased the price to Rs.48 and then to Rs.46.
The Cooperative society (T-Cop) opened three buying outlets. Cooperative society outlets started buying one kg Rajma for Rs.50. Many tribal Adivasi farmers came forward to sell their product to cooperative society. But it was decided that we won’t make the purchase more than Rs. 4 lakhs worth. So, we made purchase from only limited number of farmers in small quantities.
The full amount was given to those who sold their product in small quantity. For the first time, they received a bill for the product they sold. They were clearly able to observe the difference when the measurements were made with certified kaanta (weighing machine) against the measurements that were made using ‘kuncham’ (a notorious weighing instrument which is often used by the existing Shaukars).
T-Cop was able to purchase Kgs 4,851 ‘Rajama” with Rs 50 from 40 member farmers, from 7 panchayatis of G.Madugula Mandal.
T-Cop was able to sell most of the above to ‘Safe Harvest’ company through Sahaja Aharam farmers Producers Company.
➢ Adivasi farmers were able to sell their crop in open market for the first time.
➢ This brought a great self confidence among the Adivasi youth farmers.
➢ For the first time, they were able to measure the product and sell the product according to its original value.
➢ The Cooperative society bought the product by giving two rupees more than the non-tribal traders. It is the first time such incident has occurred.
➢ This is the first time the farmers got a receipt for the product they sold.
➢ As promised earlier, all the tribal farmers were given the remaining amount by February 22nd.
AID 2016-17 Project goals for further strengthing the cooperative and other work in these tribal areas
Goals and Objectives:
1. Mobilizing more farmers as members in the Tribal cooperative
2. Building linkages with organic markets
3. Developing skills of the Tribal cooperative members to conduct cooperative activity and training on the legal provisions of Cooperative act
4. Promotion of Little millets (sama biyam) and encouraging tribal farmers to grow food crops instead of cash crops
5. Addressing the tribal famers needs like water for drinking and irrigation, land titles
6. Working on land and livelihood through MG NRGS and Forest rights act
7. Overseeing implementation of Right to Food act and Right to Education act
8. Co-coordinating and providing guidance to other Community based organization in 4 scheduler area districts ( Srikakulam, Vizayanagaram, Vishakapatanam and East Godavari Districts)
This project directly covers 30 villages in 4 Panchayatis in G.Madugula Mandal and is implemented by RDSS with the guidance of Ajay Kumar.
After the success of Rajma in 2015, the tribal cooperative started working on turmeric in 2016.