Have you thought of investing your hard-earned money in farming, a business which is prone to losses due to weather conditions, price fluctuations, heavy labour cost and returns are not guaranteed? You may ask me, “How can you even ask us this question?” But former corporate employees Vijayakumar and Vasanth Kumar Mani, who started ‘I Support Farming’, are changing the farming game with guaranteed profits; conditions applied though, for investors in farming.
Efforts For Good spoke to Vijayakumar Mani to know more about the initiative and how it is increasing farmers revenue by 20-30% and delivering profits to investors.
How and when ‘I Support Farming’ started
“I am an engineering graduate and my brother, an agricultural graduate. We both worked in corporates before founding ‘I Support Farming’ in 2016. Along with our corporate jobs, we were doing farming in a 7-acre land in Cuddalore for 15 years. Due to this, we were regularly in touch with farmers was aware of their struggles,” shares Vijayakumar.
During weekends, he and his brother used to travel to Cuddalore to manage the farm. They used to do three cycles of farming – two paddy cycles and one for black gram. But the other nearby farmers were doing only one or two cycles.
“When we inquired, the farmers said that they do not have enough money to afford more than that. To cultivate paddy it costs Rs 25,000 per acre for a span of three months. Either the farmers get money from a lender at higher interest rates or pledge their jewellery. After harvesting, the farmers get a profit of Rs 10,000 for three months of hard work. That is the reason many marginal farmers are quitting farming and working in cities for a daily wage of Rs 300 which fetches them a decent income every month,” he informs. There is also the issue of middlemen after harvesting.
In addition, the farmers fail to adapt to new technology or practices. Cuddalore is a flood-prone area and every year farmers lose their farms due to submerging of their paddy fields. While Vijayakumar adopted Samba Sub, a variety of paddy introduced by Tamil Nadu agriculture department, which can withstand flood water for over two weeks, the other farmers did not adopt.
The idea of ‘I Support Farming’ sparked during 2015 floods in which Cuddalore is one of the worst flood-hit places in Tamil Nadu.
Vijayakumar narrates, “We sent a message to all our friends saying that we were going for relief work to Cuddalore. If you want to help kindly let us know. The very next minute, we got calls from many cities across India. The support we got was overwhelming. The problem we faced is that donors came till Pondicherry and Cuddalore to drop relief materials but the real people who needed help were further 10-15 km away, in villages. We realised that there are people who want to help but they are not aware who needs help. That’s when we thought of building a platform which connects people from the city and the farmers.”
The first two farmers
After the floods, the brothers brainstormed ideas on how to solve the farmers’ issue. They approached two farmers near their farm and started working with them on six acres of land. It wasn’t an easy task to convince the two farmers to collaborate with them.
“Though The farmers knew us for so long they thought that we have ulterior motives to grab their land or to evade income tax. To get their confidence we paid the lease amount in advance and also we promised them 60% of the profits,” he reveals.
Vijayakumar then reached out to their relatives and friends to invest in farming. They happily agreed to invest in the idea after having an interactive session with the participating farmers.
“We started off with the paddy crop, which gives 100% profits. The initiative got good results. The first produce was directly sold to the bulk buyers who quote a higher price,” he shares.
From 2 to more than 200 farmers
‘I Support Farming’ follows an approach called ‘Lead Farmer approach’. Influential farmers are first on-boarded and then through them, the other farmers are convinced to join the organisation. The ‘farmers’ score’, which evaluates the farmers based on a checklist. Today the organisation works with 200+ farmers in 700 acres of farmland.
The organisation follows a farmer-first approach. In the event of calamities insurance covers the losses but in the event of pest attacks, the investors and the organisation gets profits only after paying to the farmer. This is made clear to the investors before they invest in any crop.
“The key thing is we get the money only if the investors get money.”
Farmers are given the required inputs, seeds, fertilisers and machinery instead of money to make sure all the money is utilised to grow the crop. Labour charges are directly paid to labourers via the organisation.
Field team visit the farmers regularly and give necessary inputs. Every one of them is equipped with a tab and the app, which enables them to record the details from the farm and upload it on the server. The team sitting in Chennai monitors all the inputs and gives required advice.
The harvest is sold to the highest bidder, which eliminates two or three stages of middlemen. The profits are shared among farmers, investors and the organisation. Recently, the organisation had started animal farming.
Efforts For Good take
What ‘I Support Farming’ started is a much-needed initiative to help marginal farmers who are exploited by every section of the society of their sweat. It is time we as a nation should support the farmers and bring back the glory in agriculture.