A Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) project in India: empowering small-scale cotton farmers

This story highlights how Solidaridad and it’s local partner MYKAPS protected small-scale and marginal farmers in the H.D.Kote taluk of the Mysore district against the clutches of traders and middlemen. The traders in this area have been exploiting the farmers during the procurement of raw cotton by way of inaccurate weighing and other non-transparent malpractices. As Implementing Partner, Solidaridad is supporting MYKAPS in implementing the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). As part of this initiative, and with active support from Solidaridad, MYKAPS enabled small-scale and marginal farmers participating in the BCI program to avoid becoming victims of middlemen.


Not easy being a cotton farmer in H.D.Kote

H.D.Kote is one of the backward taluks in the state of Karnataka. Its cultivable area comprises 60,603 hectares (out of the total geographical area of 1,94,000 hectares), held by 43,506 farming families. 20% of the farmers are schedule tribes and 25% belongs to the schedule caste. Most of the farmers are marginal and small-scale farmers. The average size of their land is 1.39 hectares. On average, 900 to 1000 millimeters of rain falls annually. 33,031 hectares consist of forest. For the past two decades, the farmers have been cultivating cotton in D.H.Kote under rainfed conditions. Other regions that are less dependent on rain have a high risk of elephant menace, being adjacent to the Nagarahole forest and Bandipura forest boundaries. The farmers have been facing difficulties, since yields drastically decreased over the years and also since there are no regulated marketing arrangements for cotton, in spite of the presence of the Regulated Marketing Society. This society is not functioning effectively and does not meet the needs of farmers. There is no facility of ginning in this area due to unfavorable weather conditions during the harvest season – which starts at the end of September. Hence, the farmers are dependent on local traders to market their produce. The raw cotton is mainly transported to Tamil Nadu, about 300 to 400 kms away from H.D.Kote, where there are several ginning mills. In the past, there was no direct buying arrangement between ginners and farmers. In many cases, the middlemen transferred money to the farmers and because of this, the farmers did not receive competitive rates for their produce and they were depending on the traders’ kindness. The traders took advantage of the ignorance of the farmers.

Solidaridad, an endorsed BCI Implementing Partner

As endorsed BCI Implementing Partner, Solidaridad manages eight BCI projects in India. Solidaridad provides Train-the-Trainer support and tailor made (on site) assistance to local organizations. One of the organizations supported is MYRADA Kaveri Pradesheka Samsthe (MYKAPS) As part of the BCI project 32 learning groups (LGs) of farmers have been formed in H.D.Kote, in the villages Lanke, Manuganahalli, Hunugahalli, Hunsahally and Hoovinakola. 21 LGs of these already are qualified in the first year as per the MPC (minimum production criteria) assessment criteria. The LGs gave the farmers the opportunity to share their issues with each other and to find solutions for their problems. By this form of self organization, the farmers were able to empower themselves and take action to improve their income position.

Learning group meetings with MYKAPS

The LGs’ meetings revealed that the farmers’ major concern was the exploitation by traders during the local marketing of produce. MYKAPS assessed the situation of the farmers and realized that inaccurate weighing was one of the major issues that could be addressed immediately. The traders’ inaccurate weighing scales caused the farmers to loose 8 to 10 kilograms per quintal. Since the farmers could not afford to buy electronic scales themselves and since they made no collective efforts to buy electronic scales together, they were completely dependent on the mercy of the traders. The LG meetings that MYKAPS facilitated gave the farmers the opportunity to discuss the issues. Under the project electronic weighing scales could be purchased as collective property and thus ensured accurate weighing of the produce. 

As part of the project direct market linkeage could be arranged: the farmers could sell to a ginner with a good reputation from Pollachi in Tamil Nudu. This ginner bought six truck loads of raw cotton at a total value of Rs. 2,845,219/-. The ginner could not buy more, since the farmers had already committed to other traders. Sometimes the traders had even supplied the farmers with money on credit. As a requirement for the BCI program, Solidaridadad together with MYKAPS should be able to identify more ginners during the coming year and to establish direct contacts between ginners and farmers. The farmers insisted on using the electronic weighing scales. However, traders/middlemen refused to use the electronic scales. They were very annoyed since they were now unable to mislead in weighing the produce. In one case, a local trader assaulted one of the field workers. The issue was resolved at community level with mutual discussions between MYKAPS and the trader.

Impact for small scale cotton farmers

One of the farmers, Ravi from Hunagalli village, mentioned that he gained about 300 kgs (3 quintals) out of 30 quintals marketed directly to the ginner, valuing Rs.12,750(@ Rs 4,250 per quintal). He appreciated MYKAPS’ efforts in the formation of LGs. His father, Singregowda, is a member of one of the LGs.

Another farmer, Mahadev Kumar from Hoovinakola, repented that he had already sold 13 quintals of raw cotton to a local trader before intervention of MYKAPS. He lost about 130 kgs (value Rs.5,525/-) and subsequently sold the remaining two quintals of cotton through MYKAPS and shared his experience with other farmers.

Solidaridad-MYKAPS BCI project holds many succes stories

The BCI project Solidaridad-MYKAPS has more success stories to share. From the understandings gained in various workshops and interactions organized by Solidaridad, MYKAPS realized that for effective dissemination of BCI principles, especially Decent Work, they needed to supplement their regular field trainings and farmer field schools with more extension tools. They effectively made use of “wall paintings” that focused more on the Decent Work aspects of BCI-MPC. Today, all five villages where MYKAPS is implementing the BCI program are covered with wall paintings on various issues of Decent Work. Extension tools, when used in combination, yield better results than when they are used in isolation. The wall paintings effectively support the retention of knowledge imparted during farmer training sessions. During its regular workshops, Solidaridad highlighted the benefits of wall paintings.

Inspiring others

This impressed other partner organizations implementing BCI projects, and several of them have adopted this tool in their villages. Inspired by the Solidaridad trainings, MYKAPS adopted “street plays”, another extension tool mainly for the decent work aspects. Here, the organization trained a group of school children in performing various plays depicting the hazards of pesticide sprays, employing children in hazardous agricultural activities, etc.

MYKAPS is effectively implementing the BCI program. The tools and strategies used are being replicated in the other projects too. Solidaridad believes that organizations that are doing good work, need to be encouraged and promoted. That is why Solidaridad organized a visit of the Levi’s team (consisting of Ms. Colleen and Mr. Randy) to the MYKAPS project in 2010. They were impressed by the p
articipation of women farmers and were overwhelmed by the impact the implementation of the BCI program into the project.