The work of Solidaridad Cotton Solutions Network in India is co-funded by the Rabobank Foundation through the Better Cotton Fast Track Program, to support Indian farmers producing Better Cotton. Rabobank Foundation is keen to learn more about the approach of Solidaridad and the challenges in implementing the Better Cotton System. Therefore, representatives of board and staff of Rabobank Foundation visited a project site run by the local partner Action for Social Advancement (ASA) in the state Madhya Pradesh. Dinesh and Praveen from the Solidaridad Cotton Solutions Network facilitated the visit and share their report.
Roles of partners
The visit started with a 3hrs journey to Indore during which there was a lot of time for introductions with Solidaridad experts and the ASA team. Also a lot of information was shared on general cotton cultivation, the farmer profile in the area, social and environmental aspects in the region. The arrival at Indore office was marked with introductions of Rabobank Foundation team with ASA Barwani local team. Dinesh explained activities undertaken in the project area as per the requirement of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cycle and the role of the Solidaridad experts and the ASA team. Solidaridad focuses on capacity building and setting up the infrastructure for the system. This includes surveying the villages who can set up linkages with the supply chain, training of local partners in the BCI system, setting up documentation on farm and village level and creation of producer units.
The Rabobank people asked ASA to explain their monitoring and data collection system. The ASA team explained how internal control as well as monitoring is done by farmers themselves. In some cases lead farmers help illiterate farmers and data is filled in the Farm Field Book that can be checked by other parties. Challenges they face are how to select capable farmers, to form learning groups, to motivate farmers to attend meetings and trainings and to conduct the self assessments. These aspects are new to farmers and go beyond their daily routine in the cotton field. They are nevertheless important to ensure continuous learning, record keeping and for the integrity of the system.
Saving costs for inputs
The team visited the cotton fields in the village Lafangoan. During the interaction with the farmers, the team was interested to know what the farmers learn from the program and what they think of it. Farmers explained their experiences first hand to the visitors. The farmers highlighted the technical information and guidance received for the cotton cultivation from ASA staff. How they adapt the technical information and it helps them to save seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. The farmers had organised an exhibition with various inputs used in cotton cultivation like raw seed cotton, cotton oil, a battery operated spraying pump, material used for training of farmers like flex charts etc.
Safety when using pesticides
The visitors were also keen to learn about handling pesticides and how to deal with safety and health issues. A female farmer Kalabai highlighted the impact of safety kits used during spraying of pesticides on cotton fields: “I am thankful to BCI and ASA for providing safety kits as precaution measure during spraying as well as useful information provided during the training. In our village the men used to take off their shirt and trousers during spraying operations and were used to spray pesticide wearing just underwear. However things have changed as male and female farmers in the BCI programme were informed about the risks of pesticides for (public) health and the environment.“
Visit to Ginning Unit
The last destination was a visit to a ginning unit, Vikas Cot Fibre, Sandhawa, associated with the ASA project. The ginning unit collects the cotton from the farmers and pays them by weight and quality. At present the ginner procures better cotton farm gate from licensed BCI learning groups. The visitors saw the ginning process of better cotton and were informed about how to segregate better cotton from conventional cotton and how to organize traceability. The ginner made a point about the BCI system, since ginners have a weak economic position in the system. The majority of ginners are associated with BCI as they are getting regular demand from spinners in the BCI supply chain.
Rabobank foundation is keen to further support farmers that are now being supported by ASA and the Solidaridad team to organize themselves in well functioning farmer organizations. Such farmer organizations can support farmers in having access to good quality and affordable inputs and to finance. In the first quarter of 2012, Rabobank Foundation will organize a workshop with Solidaridad, the BCI representatives, the NGO implementing partners and private partners to see what are the different options to organize farmers to enable them to further improve their living conditions.