An all-women farmer producer company established under the aegis of the Mann Deshi Foundation in Maharashtra has quietly began making waves.
An all-women farmer producer company established under the aegis of the Mann Deshi Foundation in Maharashtra has quietly began making waves. The Mann Deshi Kisan Producer Group already has around 2,000 women members from Mhaswad in Satara district — an area reeling under the effect of the drought. The formation of this farmer producer company is now helping women farmers gain access to markets outside the village.
The Mann Deshi Foundation has already changed the lives of more than about 4,00,000 women who live around the Mann taluka in rural Maharashtra. Mann Deshi’s multitude of activities include an all-women-run bank, some business schools for rural women, the first chambers of commerce for rural micro entrepreneurs, a community radio service and water conservation and sports programme. The bank, founded by Chetna Gala Sinha, is the first one in the country for and by rural women to receive a cooperative licence from the Reserve Bank of India. In the two decades since the bank was set up (in 1997) with a working capital of `7,08,000 raised from its 1,335 members, it has reached 3,10,000 women (84,000 are borrowers), providing financial aid to become successful entrepreneurs.
From its single branch in Mhaswad, Mann Deshi operates with a working capital of `150 crore across seven branches in Maharashtra. Sinha chairs the Mann Deshi Foundation, a sister organisation, that has expanded its scope beyond its financial core and evolved into an umbrella platform for community initiatives—organising cattle camps, building check dams, running a local radio station and sports talent hunts—in western Maharashtra. The Mann Deshi Foundation also runs financial literacy classes, where women are taught the ropes of savings, investing, insurances and loans through modules that comprise games like Monopoly. In 2014, the foundation set up a chamber of commerce to mentor aspiring women entrepreneurs. Now, there are three such chambers. It also operates a toll-free number to provide business solutions.
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According to Sinha, the farmer producer company was officially formed a few months ago but informally was operating for the last couple of years. The company deals in both perishables and non-persishables. On a daily basis, some four trucksloads of vegetables from women farmers are sent to Mumbai which is supplied to 5-star hotels and local retail outfits in Mumbai. “A restructuring of the agriculture marketing system to give the farmer greater bargaining power through the farm-to-market value chain. Mann Deshi is setting up a cold storage as part of a central programme to minimise wastage for farmers and save produce for the next market,” she said. Sinha said she had heard of a major farmer producer company run by women in Bihar but is not aware of any such company in Maharashtra.
Vanita Pise, who handles the farmer producer company, said the company deals in foodgrains including jowar, bajra and maize in addition to vegetables. “Our model of procurement is different and is done through farmer weekly bazaars which are run on the premises of the bank. Women farmers are then contacted and we send vehicles to their homes to procure grains. In addition to vegetables and grains we also deal in processing and make products including chikki (Fudge), syrups, flaxseed chutneys, amla candy, pickles among other products,” she said. Since it was informally operating in the last couple of years, the cumulative turnover has touched `150 crore, she said. The Foundation has established a 2000-tonne warehouse and warehousing receipt operations should start from March 2019, she said.
The company has also traded onions and has sold some 2,000 kg to Mumbai. The Foundation is also advising women farmers on the kind of crops they should cultivate and a recent experiment with baby corn on some 20 acre proved to be a huge success, Pise said.
The firm has appointed ‘Kisan Dosts’ — one for every five villages and the foundation reaches out to 30 villages at present. There are plans to expand and deal in more products.