Geeta Singh, 48, was born and brought up in Delhi. She completed her honours in Political Science from Gargi College in 1991, and later got married to Ravi Shankar, a former government employee who became a farmer, in Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda district. But she continued her education at Lucknow University and cleared her Masters in Political Science too.
“It was tough to get permission from my in-laws to study but my husband is supportive and helped convince them,” Geeta says.
Her determination to do something different in life led her to helm the initiatives of a Farmers Producers company (FPO), which turned into a successful business that changed the lives of struggling farmers.
By The Farmers, For The Farmers
It was in 1995 when Geeta set up a rice mill where she provided jobs to others. There were 10 regular employees in the mill and 40 worked on contract.
“I was happy with my rice mill business. I had a good feeling about generating employment for others. But unfortunately, I had to shut down the business in 2000, as the district officials asked all the rice mills to shut in Gonda,” says Geeta.
But the philanthropic entrepreneur soon found another avenue to help her community. She came across the concept of self-help groups (SHG) and gathered a group of women in 2006. She went on to train them in making various kinds of pickles, Makka flour, vermicompost, honey and a few more food products to sell them in the market in Gonda.
“There were 10 women in my SHG group and everyone was earning more than Rs 5,000 a month,” Geeta says.
When the Central government introduced the farmers’ producers organisation (FPO) scheme, an initiative run by farmers who can collectively sell their products and crops across India, Geeta was inspired to set up one of her own.
In July 2019, she began talking to farmers and launched an FPO called Gonard Farmers Producers Company with an investment of Rs 1 lakh and 100 farmers. As she was already selling various farm products, she began reaching out to larger markets across Uttar Pradesh and increased production.
Since FPO is a government initiative to encourage more sales and improvement in the lifestyle of farmers, it also provides various kinds of training and machinery to the FPOs. Geeta after receiving some training began producing value-added products such as Makka biscuit, Makka laddu, custard oil, and they also increased the varieties of pickles to potato, amla, garlic, among others.
Changing Farmer Fortunes
Today, they are selling their products in Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow and Allahabad.
“We are glad we are able to reach more customers while helping farmers earn more. Our recent turnover of Rs 1.5 crore in just two years shows our scale of growth. This success could not have been possible without the contribution of the farmers,” Geeta says, adding that the FPO currently has 517 registered farmers.
Geeta says that the value addition of crops helped in the increase in farmers income. Moreover, they have done away with the middlemen, which also helped with this increase in income.
“We are now reaching out to bigger markets, which has increased production and farmers income,” adds Geeta.
Earlier, farmers would earn not more than Rs 5,000 a month.
“I used to earn around Rs 15,000 in three months by selling whatever I harvested. I found it hard to make ends meet and also reinvest in farming,” says Kishinandan Singh, who joined the FPO one and half years ago. He went on to explain that the earning was low because of the middlemen.
But ever since Kishinandan joined the FPO he has invested in a car and a bike. “Because of my regular and better income, my lifestyle has improved. During the lockdown, I managed to sell flowers for Rs 28,000 in just three months,” he says, adding, “The best part is that we get instant payments for our products.”
Another farmer, Swaminath, 45, says that earlier, the agents or shop owners used to buy their products on credit. “Our crops would often go unsold and we had to bear losses,” says Swaminath, who joined the FPO one year ago.
He adds, “Earlier, I would earn around Rs 2,500 a month but after joining the FPO I am able to earn more than Rs 15,000 a month. This is a huge change for us. We were struggling to have proper meals and now the income has been increased to more than six times,” says Swaminath.
Another farmer, Shivakant Singh, 50, has been with the FPO from the start and says that his 6 acres of farmland would seem like a waste but now earns him lakhs. He managed to sell mustard oil for up to Rs 3 lakh and tomatoes for Rs 1.5 lakh in the previous year. “This has only been possible because of the regular training from the Gonard FPO, its machinery and the increase in sales, which has changed the way we had been farming,” adds Shivakant.
The FPO encouraged farmers to take up organic farming and all the products manufactured here are also organic. This is what helped boost sales when the pandemic hit.
Geeta while talking about how health-conscious people have become because of the pandemic, she says that organic ghee, which is also produced in the FPO, costs around Rs 700- Rs 1,000 per kilogram, which is much higher than regular ghee, which ranges from Rs 400- Rs 500 per kilogram.
“Although the situation was tough and disastrous, people have learnt to eat healthy,” says Geeta. Today, more and more farmers are opting for organic farming.
“The more I am working on my FPO the more I am satisfied with the change I am bringing about in the lives of farmers. One day we will sell our products in foreign markets too. We will change the face of the district by changing farmers’ lives,” Geeta signs off.
Edited by Yoshita Rao