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Organic farming in the North East is a step towards sustainable future

A drilling and extraction of ground water operation in progress under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) at Sinam Kom Village in Imphal, a few months ago

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's outreach to the Northeast, hallmarked by a focus on organic farming is taking wings. The Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region (MOVCDNER), flagged by PM Modi in 2015 has already covered 74,800 hectares where organic farming is staple.

Emerging demand for safe and healthy organic food with added flavour of being grown in pristine environment and virgin soils is fast emerging as unique opportunity to the farmers of the North Eastern Region. The disadvantage of remaining out of the green revolution map is, ironically turning out to be a boon. The region is with renewed vigour poised to become a hub of modern organic production, leveraging its unique heritage crops.

While roping in 83,075 farmers and 169 Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) covering nearly 75,000 ha area is substantial number unto itself, the real impact of MOVCDNER scheme is captured in the empowerment and transformation of farmer from a mere producer to an aggregator, processor and marketer of the North Eastern Region. The MOVCD farmers act as Board of Directors, CEOs and Chairman of their own enterprise, giving a sense of pride and belongingness to the road of development for the region and the nation.

To double the impact, the average annual allocation for the scheme has now been increased from Rs 134 crore to Rs 200 crore per year with a target to cover additional one lakh ha area under 200 new FPOs over a period of three years. Besides growing and value adding the traditional crops, the scheme is also aiming to bring in high-value crops under contract farming models.

MOVCDNER is instrumental in bringing a definitive change in the lives of the organic growers in the region and provides an end-to-end support to the farmers from farm to fork, including quality production, effective post-harvest management, value addition through processing and direct market linkages to national and international markets.

Through FPCs, farmers are achieving economies of scale, engaging bulk buyers and breaking off their dependencies on the traders/middlemen for market linkages. Under MOVCDNER, the FPCs get access to shared infrastructure including collection centres, custom hiring centres, processing infrastructure and packhouses, allowing them to add value to their produce and market them well.

Through sustained market linkage interventions, many FPOs now sell their products to modern retail, food processors, nutraceutical extractors and exporters. Multiple FPOs under MOVCDNER scheme have registered as vendors with leading companies like Big Basket, Big Bazaar, Parvata Foods and have supplied to organic brands like Revanta Foods and Reliance Fresh, resulting in better returns and lower post-harvest losses. With this experience in their pocket, farmers of NE now have a better understanding of the market demand and grading-sorting-packaging standards prevalent in the market.

The farmer-industry connect facilitated through professional project management team under the scheme has also witnessed a remarkable turnaround in the last five years. From a time when NE was considered a ‘difficult’ place to do business transaction, many companies now connect directly with FPCs for procurement. Taking it a step further, as many as five FPCs under MOVCDNER have engaged in contract cultivation of Calendula flowers, turmeric and ginger with leading export houses and nutraceutical companies in 2021, with each successful transaction serving as a template for other FPCs.

MOVCDNER has also played a pivotal role in entrepreneurship development and has supported both FPCs and local entrepreneurs in establishing food business. Through technical and monetary support (75 per cent subsidy to FPOs and 50 per cent subsidy to private entrepreneurs for establishing food processing/post-harvest units), more than seven brands have come up in the region dealing in diverse products like Kiwi wine, pickles, fruit candies, herbal tea, packaged spices, black rice products, sauces, fruit juices, etc. Few of these brands like Meira Foods, Cold Mountain Tea, Naga Herbs and Spices have gone to export their products in highly competitive European and American markets.