Monday, December 2, 2013

Producer Groups - Practical Experiences

"I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."- Richard Feynman ; That is why, despite of knowing theoretical concept on the Producer Groups, there were some practical lessons gained in the field. I had worked with Producer Groups  farming Groundnut, Onion, & Pulses (even one group was doing business of NTFP) at Balanagir district, Odisha. I was guided under able supervision of Kamalendu Paul, Zonal Manager, ORMAS (Orissa Rural Development and Marketing Society). The document Community Enterprise System Manual prepared by Prof. Amar KJR Nayak came helpful during work.

All producer groups were having women members only. No producer group has been registered under any act till now. However, credit was given to them on the basis of mutual trust between government and Producer Groups. The legal process will be initiated soon. We were also unable to do protect farmers under crop insurance scheme till this year. Organizing the unorganized was already done by Paul Sir before my arrival at district. Without help of local persons, this was not possible. The sign of government (even its vehicle) is a sign of trust in rural areas. That fast paced our work even by Indian standards in establishing trust with the community. Our companies have usually dump their sub standard products and Chit Fund company had run away with the money of rural people. This historical tendency of companies have made the business in rural areas difficult.

Practical Experiences:

1) 40-60 is the optimal size of the group. It is necessary for cohesion within and management of the group. Since, they are small scale, it is generally preferred that they are not much dispersed. There is an executive committee and further sub committees in the Producer group. But, most of the members don't know the power, roles and responsibilities of these committee. Since, NRLM is a new scheme, we have to remind each time about objective and scope of mission to the members.

2) Producer group were more successful in the remote areas of the district. The sense of cooperation is more seen at these regions in comparison to the relative rich parts of the district. It is a small sample for me to draw conclusions but poor are more honest and cooperative in the nature.

3) For any business, 'budget' is the ultimate tool with which to monitor and keep an eye over the business. The lack of education becomes major hindrance in the preparation of annual action plan and budget. It was easy to make them understand about procurement procedures (like inviting more than one quotations) and necessity of documentation. Since, most of the women are part of SHG, they have a basic idea about documenting the meetings and cash book.

4) LSP (Livelihood Support Person) is appointed for their help in marketing linkages and proper documentation. Producer Group is more considered for good price while government is more strict on documentation part. Honorarium of LSP is merely 2000 -3000 rs currently. That may appear low but as per my opinion, is sufficient if billed on RS 50 per hour of interaction. Work of LSP is maximum during post harvesting season.

5) I have attained lectures, read articles and even studies courses on the leadership. Cooperative Leadership is not just about good communication skills, democracy – its about sound decision making by utilizing capacity of the group. Producer group like any other group is leader oriented. The trivia is that an exterior person like LSP should enable but should never drive the Producer Group strategy. Since, I have been working women producers and male LSP, this scenario may occur in future. A leader should be groomed inside the group. Even on the proxy of gender diversity, there was only single women among all appointed LSPs.

6) Another difficulty that the producer group or cooperative societies encounter relates to storage facilities. Most of the surplus produce in an area is assembled and sold at the mandi. Infrastructure support is must for the producer group. Most of the farmers even if organized for the production purpose are reluctant to store for a long time to meet their immediate consumptive need. Low cost storage facility for multipurpose use at each GP/ village for each producer group is a good solution to the problem. It may appear cheap and effective under Panchayat but the chances of either personal usage by PRI members or no maintenance are more in it.

7) The transport arrangement to market small volume of produce is not facilitating and rural transport cost is much higher than the urban transport cost. Hence, with combining the total produce, we were able to bring businessman on doorstep of farmers.

8) Line departments like Agriculture Department and its extension services support has been minimal till now. Convergence is always missing in-between government departments! We are hoping for their help during training session of producers. The fund supplied for training purpose by government will be used in future. The caveat of guidelines in utilizing training fund: Only half of the group will get the training. A sure way of creating rift between members. It is better to spend less on training per member but to impart training to everyone in the group.

9) There was not much inclusion of banks till now. Without any corpus fund provided as grant, it was difficult even for a bank to provide them loan amount. And, Banks heavily discourage and delay SHG/PG  members making transactions to the respective branches. That is a big issue with multiple perspective to be debated later.

10) Agri Produce Market is not very quality conscious, but price sensitive to a certain extent. The credit supplied to PG is used for holding the collective produce for the one or two month. In the mean time, there is definite rise in prices of produce. We have experience of selling Pulses for profit of more than Rs 10 per kg by holding stick for a period of one month.

Failure of Cooperative societies should never be forgotten in Indian context while pitching support for such groups. Cooperative societies were not harmed much by politics but by interference of the bureaucracy. Lack of serious attention to value added agriculture and rural MSMEs are big task to be handled in the future. How do we make agriculture sustainable and economically viable ? That is the big question.

Initiative Taken:

- Previously, only office bearers and LSP words were taken for granted in meeting at district level meeting. Producer Group registers were only way of checking regular meetings and updates during field visits. I have collected maximum available mobile phone numbers of members. Hence, I can actually monitor live, whether PG meeting is happening or not from district headquarter through random calls to any member.

- A DPR (Detailed Project Report)was approved by OLM (Odisha Livelihood Mission) last year. There was no provision of baseline survey. I tried to capture data about household socio-economic conditions so that impact assessment can be made in coming years.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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