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When farmers are free: The Story of "Beru"


Agriculture has been pivotal to the Indian society since the beginning of human civilization. It has been the primary source of livelihood for majority of the Indian population. The emergence of industrialization and scientific agriculture, especially the Green Revolution, led to a shift from traditional practices to the modern ones which made use of extensive synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Their persistent use has led to the depletion and exhaustion of the soil. The quality of the soil drastically declined and resulted in low productivity. Since then there has been the hustle between the farm and the markets.

The inappropriate and extensive use of agro-chemicals can have severe consequences including contamination of the groundwater degradation of the soil and farmers losing lives due to pesticide poisoning. In 2017 800 farmers in Maharashtra reported pesticide poisoning and several died. Moreover, crops that made use of artificial fertilizers showed quicker results which yielded more income was why many farmers turned to them. But in a long run, these chemicals reduce the fertility of the soil causing more harm than gain. The Plight of farmers is decades old story that is yet to find some relief.


Not only losing on the production side, but the farmers had to deal with constraints from the market as well. With rising prices for end consumers, the profitability of farmers has not kept reducing. The middlemen menace has tied the farmers at the losing end.


Back to the roots

A harmony between the producer, supply and the end consumer is the prior need not only to support farmers but also safeguard producers and consumers from the harms of the synthetic agro-chemicals used. Promoting Natural farming profitably can be a win-win for both farmers and consumers. It makes use of Nature in its finest form, the microbes living in soil increase the fertility, the waste generated from organic materials like crops, animals, farm and aquatic wastes are used as bio-fertilizers increase the sustainability of the products. It avoids the usage of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed additives to the maximum extent and relies on the rotation of the crop, residues, organic manure.


This is where Beru emerges with the solution. Beru is a natural farming platform that offers agribusiness solutions to the farmers and establishes market access for their produce. Beru means ‘Back to Roots’ and was founded by three nature enthusiasts who wanted to improve the farmers’ locale in India and help more farmers take up natural farming. Their mission is to spread the knowledge of organic farming across communities. It provides agriculture inputs to the farmers and serve the customers with fresh and healthy organic food. Their main objective is to cultivate chemical free and nutritious food grown for their customers.

Farm supports are provided by Beru to the farmers to help them conduct the process of natural farming at ease. After all the manual effort and labour, it would be an utter waste if the products are not consumed by the people. By providing market access, Beru helps the farmers sell the products at a profitable rate. Usually, the supply chain includes the APMC (Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market Committee), the commissioned agents and then the wholesaler and retailer. But Beru helps the farmers to directly provide to the B2B (Business-to-business) customers or even sometimes the retail customers which cut short the whole supply chain by creating an immediate relationship with their customers and an increase in the revenue. There has been a noticeable difference of at least 20% in the farm revenue of individual farmer.


Beru operates from a village in Ramanagara, on the outskirts of Bangalore. The pilot project comprises of 1 village,12 farmers, 40 acres of land and 22 different varieties of crops. The farm inputs they offer include:

  • Training to farmers to take up methods of organic farming rather than having to depend on chemical procedures. This training occurs once in 15 days and it aims to help the farmers convert their farm to an organic farm in a period of 5 years.

  • Sourcing organic waste from the urban households and turning them into composts provide the farmers with the resources to make natural manure. Manure is not as easily available as chemical fertilizers, especially in large quantities. They have tied up with gated communities who dispose the compost free of cost to the farmers. They rely on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) implementing agencies to help transport the compost from the urban gated communities to the village. The organic manure is then provided to the farmers at the same cost of the chemical fertilizer.

  • Pesticides are used as a safety measure and the availability is made keeping the convenience of the farmers in mind. The village infrastructure contributes to this and helps in storing cow urine and panchagavya in tanks. It is within reach from the tanks which and can be used by taps. It is obtainableand helps reduce the usage of chemical pesticides. A non-profit organization helps them provide farm inputs, raise funds for the village infrastructure and transition to sustainable organic farming and increase the livelihood of the farmers.

  • The Government sponsors multiple schemes on agriculture but not all farmers are aware or have access to it. They have organised themselves as collective and tied up with government agencies who provide them with the complete case structures, the farmers are informed about the required documents and the whole process is done for them. This prevents the farmer from having to take multiple trips to the government offices and excessive worry.

  • They have tied up with CropIn, an international NGO funded by the Michelle Obama Organization. They give ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions that record all farming procedures, beginning from sowing the seed to the cost of the products. It helps in weather forecasting and knowledge sharing as well. This information is provided to the farmer and it increases their awareness.

Beru also offers agri-tourism where individuals get to experience a day in the life of a farmer at first hand. The visitors learn the principles and practises of organic farming both theoretically and practically and enjoy a day in the farm by interacting with the villagers and the farm animals, plucking ripe vegetables and fruits, and learning to sow and reap.


Beru takes one step forward in creating healthy products, ‘happy customers and happier farmers’. The facilities they provide help in creating a wonderful eco-system.


Current Situation

When most businesses experienced downfalls, the pandemic has proved to be a blessing in disguise for Beru. The farmers faced difficulties in the supply chain during the nation-wide lockdown as every establishment in the country had shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beru started delivering the products to the customers directly and this has helped them gain a thorough understanding of the market and in establishing a trustworthy relationship between the farmers and the customers. Harshith, the co-founder of Beru said “Although the farmers were initially hesitant to trust the new process, they grew confident as their profit increased.” They wish to expand the facilities to more villages and help more farmers take up natural farming.


The Farm Bill 2020 was introduced by the government with the aim to empower farmers by creating an ecosystem where they can enjoy freedom of sale and purchase of agricultural products and promote barrier free intra and inter-state trade and commerce.


The 3 Bills are:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation Bill.

  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill

  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill

It makes them independent of the government-controlled markets, aka ‘Mandis’ and help them gain a better price for their produce. The Bills provide a legal framework for farmers to engage with agri-business companies, exporters and retailers for the services and sale of products and give the farmer access to modern technology. As the free market has the capability to regulate itself,it allows Agri-businesses to stock food articles and remove the government’s ability to impose restrictions arbitrarily.

Farmers across several states in India have been protesting the passing of the three bills by the Parliament. They are apprehensive about getting Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce. They are concerned that the dilution of the APMC systems and deregulation of food items will lead to their exploitation by large corporate entities. The government defended it by saying that there is no clause to abolish the APMC system but the laws open up trade outside the APMC but the farmers fear that the APMC system will weaken as the Bill will override powers of the state legislation. A huge percentage of farmers have smaller land holding, this is where the bill provides an incentive for small farmers to organize themselves into collectives that is supported by various schemes. Government promotes farmer’s organisations formed by organizing farmers as a collective legal entity that gives huge strength to the farmers in the market. Yet there are scopes of further amendments in the Bill to protect farmers from exploitation and provide judicial remedy to such cases.


In a conversation with the co-founder of Beru, Harshith was of the opinion that there are more pros than cons in the 2020 Farm Bills. He said, it initiates a change towards a more liberal system where farmers will be in control. The farmers are used to the traditional methods of mandis but this provides them with more opportunities to opens up the market to outsiders which will be profitable in nature. The farmers are reluctant to accept the new system and are concerned about the mandis shutting down and being exploited by multinational corporate entities. In his perspective, it could be beneficial and profitable to the farmer in the long run as the economy functions on a demand and supply basis. The exclusion of the middlemen will cut short the supply chain and there will be a stronger farmer-to-customer connection and better profits for the farmers.


Conclusion

India being the home of farmers, both large scale and marginal employs 56% of the Indian population. When the GDP of our country fell by 23.9% according to the estimates for the first quarter of 2020, released by the National Statistical Office, only agriculture growth was positive. The pandemic disrupted the supply chains and gave way for private investments, this has had a positive impact on the income of the farmers. The reverse migration to villages and the disturbances in the ‘normal’ life has compelled many city-dwelling folks to invest in agriculture as well.


India, a powerhouse of agriculture is the world’s largest producer of pulses, spices and milk and second in the production of wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables and tea contributes heavily to the country’s GDP. Organic farming increases the health of the agro-ecosystem, biodiversity of plants and enhances soil activity. It is developing all over the world as we grow more aware about the quality and safety of the products. For India, it is a back to roots movement that ensures long term sustainability and healthy livelihood.


References

Dev, S. (2012). Small Farmers in India:Challenges and Opportunities. Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai.


Mahapatra, R. (2020). Agriculture sector has beaten pandemic, latest GDP figures show. DownToEarth.


Rakesh PS, A. P. ( 2013). Chemical use in farming and its health and environmental implications in a rural setting in southern India. OSR Journal Of Environmental Science,Toxicology And Food Technology (IOSR-JESTFT).


Yadav, A. (n.d.). Organic Agriculture (Concept, Scenario, Principals and Practices). Ghaziabad: Deptt of Agriculture and Cooperation, Govt of India.




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