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INTERVIEW

"Mid farmer groups can be connected to front-end cos"
Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]

Current scene of organic foods in the country and the state indicates that it is an expanding market. Karnataka was the first state to come out with a State Organic Policy. The state has taken a farmer federation approach to ensure higher income to farmers. This will expand farmer interest in organic farming.
The millet movement is a recent phenomenon, which has been gaining momentum over the last 4-5 years. Millets are important to address issues relating to health, imbalanced diets and lifestyle related diseases. Karnataka minister for agriculture Krishna Byre Gowda in an email interaction with Nandita Vijay offers more details. Excerpts:

How would you describe the current scene of organic foods in the country and the state?
It is an expanding market. Growth is tempered by the huge price difference between organic and non-organic produce. It could grow faster if the price difference narrows. However, I believe it will inevitably grow to be much bigger market. The  millet movement  is a recent phenomena, which has been gaining momentum over the last 4-5 years. The interest in millets rose partly due to a rise in lifestyle related ailments, coupled with an increase in the awareness and desire for a balanced diet. Healthy living and eating has been gaining priority. The millet movement coincided with the movement for healthy lifestyles and wellness.

What according to you are the three major efforts by the Karnataka government, which have given the state leadership status in the field?
We were the first state to come out with State Organic Policy. We have taken a farmer federation approach to ensure higher income to farmers. This will expand farmer interest in organic farming. We are very actively promoting organic produce through awareness programs, melas, social media and trade fair. Such a comprehensive approach is unmatched.  Bengaluru offers a very progressive environment wherein various institutions and stakeholders have proactively joined hands in promoting the consumption of millets. The ministry of agriculture has played an active role in connecting various stakeholders to develop awareness, supply and a market for millets. I initiated the millet movement in Karnataka by bringing together stakeholders from a backward and forward integration perspective. From my 1st year in office, emphasis was laid on reversing the declining area under millet cultivation. Simultaneously, proactive promotion of the health benefits of millets assisted in building market demand.

How receptive has the farming community been to shift from non-organic farming concepts to that of farming concepts?
Farmers amongst some sections have shown interest. But, out cumulative field experience tells us that farmer interest will ultimately depend on reliable markets and better prices. Better prices need not come from increase in retail prices. We need to ensure farmer gets a larger share of the retail price than what he/she is getting today. We believe mid-size farmer groups can be connected to front-end companies to ensure economic gains to both. This is the approach we have taken in Karnataka. It is promising. If this works, more farmers would be eager to go the organic way.

In this Budget, out of the Rs 6,505 crore allocated for agriculture and horticulture, is there a specific amount for organic farming?
This year we are dedicating nearly 100 cr for various organic related activities. This can be increased if farmer interest increases.

Your government has set aside Rs 845 crore for the Raitha Suraksha Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna, would organic farmers come under the same?
Yes, insurance coverage is available to organic farmers as well.

What are the visible trends in organic farming in Karnataka, which is leading by example?
Our innovation is two fold. We are working with many private business to jointly promote organic produce. As I mentioned earlier, in order to increase farmer income, we have formed them into federation. We are facilitating federations and private businesses to enter into partnerships. That way farmers get better prices but businesses can source at lower prices because this model reduces the role of middlemen. This is a sustainable win-win formula. We hope the savings can also be passed on to consumers. Affordable prices would expand the organic market at a faster pace.

Are you satisfied with the farm-to-fork concept in organically grown crops?
On the production side, we have provided greater support to farmers in terms of training & development, good quality seeds and higher procurement prices.   Efforts have been invested in creating market awareness through various melas that were conducted in various localities of various cities in Karnataka.

We are proactively linking business organisations with farmer and farmer groups, with the objective of providing all stakeholders with mutual benefits. We have been proactively establishing and maintain dialogues with various groups of influencers such as health correspondents, nutritionists, health bloggers, chefs, restaurants etc. in order to amplify the message of millets.   We have holistically contributed towards the rise of the millet movement in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

What are Karnataka’s  future efforts to boost this sector?
We want to work with leading and start-up companies to push our awareness campaign to the national level. We plan to rely mostly on social media for this effort. We have found that to be effective for this campaign. We will be driving continuous initiatives with various stakeholders across the value chain to further increase efficiency and also develop the market awareness. We are using the ‘National Trade Fair- Millets and Organics’ to further deepen farm-to-market linkages and showcase emerging market opportunities in the organic food and millet space. The national trade fair would also be a platform to take millets to the national level, wherein opportunities abound in the millets and organics segment.

What are the challenges in this sector for  farmers and the government to support the development of this sector?
Organic produce must become more affordable to consumers. Farmers must get a bigger share of the retail price. We must start ensuring organic cultivation requirements are adhered to in order to maintain our long term credibility.
 
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