I Support Farming believes that everyone can be a farmerShinjini Chowdhury
This Chennai-based organisation provides the complete package of technology and practice to farmers, with the idea that farming is a profitable and viable business.
Most organisations advertise career options under the ‘join us’ tab of their website. I Support Farming provides openings for farmers who want to liaise with it – this detailed adherence to their work caught my eye. Options are paddy, black gram, watermelon, groundnut and poultry, with a choice to select ‘others’ as well.
During the Chennai floods of 2016, the founder brothers Vijay Kumar Mani and Vasanth Kumar Mani saw the wide gap between relief offered and relief utilised.
We were actively involved in the relief work and one common observation we made was that there is a lot of intention among the urban people to help the needy rural people. There were rural people in villages who were in need but the urban people were not able to identify them and reach them. We acted as the bridge for the relief work, says Vijay.
The same ideal acted as fodder to launch I Support Farming.
Whole new farming
The general air about farming in our country is a sombre one. One hears of farmers’ suicides, protests and unrepaid loans. In such a scenario, I Support Farming promotes efficient agriculture. This team of 10 – all of whom are experienced in agri-enterprise either academically or through past practice – believes that farming can be a viable and sustainable business. The organisation partners with farmers to help them enhance their agribusiness through technology, financial help, and by adding other agribusinesses, like poultry and dairy.
Often due to financial challenges, farmers are forced to compromise on the quality of nutrients given to crops. Or they resort to the help of local moneylenders and pay high rates of interest. I Support Farming connects urban and rural people. Working capital comes from cities, farming is done in villages, and the organisation acts as the mediator. Profit is shared by all three parties, with the farmer receiving the maximum. To avoid misuse of funds, all working capital, such as for seeds, pesticides etc., is provided to farmers.
Most small farmers cannot afford to buy machinery. I Support Farming deploys its own machinery in member farmers’ lands, free of cost. The farmer only spends on fuel. For non-member farmers, machinery is rented out at a nominal rate. The money thereby raised is used for maintenance of these machines. In this way, mechanisation is made easy, cost-effective and affordable.
Focus is laid on providing consultation to farmers to increase productivity and efficiency. Vijay says,
There is a huge gap between the research labs and the farmers’ fields. One of the main things we want to focus on is to the make the knowledge systems available to our farmers. We provide regular consultations to our farmers about deciding the crop/variety to be cultivated, best package of practices to be followed etc.
Field staff are degree holders in agriculture or allied subjects. They visit the fields regularly to provide consultations to farmers. “We help the farmers do agriculture in a more scientific way, which directly contributes to an increase in production and productivity levels,” emphasises Vijay.
Building business on trust
Vijay recalls that gaining farmers’ trust is difficult. When they would first enter a village and promise to take care of farming expenses, they would be eyed with suspicion. Villagers often wondered whether they were tax evaders or land grabbers. The organisation would take assistance of some influential farmers, and invite interested farmers to visit their lands so that they can be assured of the best practices.
In this way, I Support Farming has helped and empowered many farmers till date. For example, in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, poultry farmers would get paid incentives from integrators for raising birds. Total incentive per farmer per cycle ranged from Rs 25,000-30,000. Vijay and Vasanth’s team intervened and made business partners out of these erstwhile contractors. Now, each poultry farmer earns Rs 1.19 lakh per cycle. In addition, he does not have to spend a penny as all costs are taken care of by the organisation.
The organisation started as a bootstrapped effort. Recently, it raised its first funds from Lakshmi Narayanan, former CEO and Vice Chairman of Cognizant. The team is also currently in the process of negotiation with some additional angel investors to generate the next level of funds.
With a view to improving farmers’ income, ISF has come up with a model that encourages participation of socially-minded individuals, both financially and otherwise, to improve productivity. In addition, by using technology, ISF believes that the many layers in the delivery chain can be minimized, thereby realising greater value for farmers, says Lakshmi.
At present, it operates in three districts of Tamil Nadu, 250 acres of land, and rears one lakh poultry birds and 50 milch cows. The grand vision is to spread this initiative all over India and increase the current pool of 80 customers, manifolds.