By UNDP INDIA
32-year-old Puse Minyaka lives in a tiny tribal village in the Koraput district of Odisha, situated on the east coast of India. A mango farmer, she has been tilling her small farm for over a decade. She is the only earning member of her family, making just enough to raise her three children.
Puse cultivates two of Odisha’s high-quality variety of mangoes, Amrapalli and Mallika. Until 2015, reaching the market meant walking kilometres with mangoes on her head. On a good day, she would earn INR 8 per kg. More often, she had no choice but to sell it for even less to a wholesale trader.
This changed in April 2016, when Puse became a member of one of 73 producer groups set up in three districts — Koraput, Raigada and Gajpati — by the Odisha Livelihoods Mission. Producer groups aim to help farmers benefit from scale, organizing them into community entrepreneurship units and providing training. For many women like Puse, who has never stepped foot in a school, this has meant training in pre- and post-harvest techniques, book-keeping, grading, and sorting and packaging of produce to increase the value of their products.
One year on, Puse’s income has more than doubled. “Earlier, the land earned barely enough to live on,” she says. “Now, I earn more than INR 40 per kg of mango. I can now feed my children better and even send them to school.”
In Koraput, almost 800 women mango cultivators like Puse are organized into 14 producer groups. They too are reaping the benefits of this intervention, led by a partnership between the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, the Government of Odisha, and UNDP. The Odisha-based Technical Support Agency supervises the day-to-day management of the intervention along with UNDP, and ensures retailing.
India is the world’s largest producer of mangoes, and one of its largest exporters as well. In 2017 alone, India exported nearly a little over 45,000 tonnes of mango, which meant more than US $50 million in foreign exchange receipts.
Each year, Odisha produces hundreds of thousands of mangoes – many of which go to waste for want of proper storing facilities. Under the partnership, farmers have been able to reduce wastage by 90 percent. “We were trained in how to cut the fruit without harming the branch with the new cutter. They also gave us crates and cartons to sort and store our produce better,” says Satyavati Minyaka, a mango farmer from Barigaon village. “We didn’t dream that these simple changes could increase our yield and incomes so significantly.”
Once packed, the mangoes are loaded onto trucks and shipped to retail shops across the state or to the nearest wholesale markets, where they are sold for upto INR 40 per kg, marking a four-fold increase in the selling price from last year.
Leading this effort and representing the voice of women farmers are Udyog Mitras, elected members of the producer groups who manage the operations, including book-keeping, accounts and sales.
Producer groups also promote equity by ensuring that all farmers are able to sell their produce, irrespective of quantity. “Most traders buy mangoes in bulk. Small farmers would usually sell directly in the market for nothing more than INR 8 per kg,” says Prabhati Nayak, a 24-year-old Udyog Mitra. “In a producer group, all goods, whether from big farms or small, are clubbed and sold together. The income is then distributed among the farmers based on their produce. This way, every mango counts!”
It’s a movement that is spreading amongst women in the area. As women farmers gain more awareness and see more benefits, they are taking others with them. “At the beginning of this year, we gave only 1.3 tonnes of mango to them. We were scared they wouldn’t be able to sell it and our produce would go to waste,” says Tula Minyaka, mango farmer and mother of two. “But once we saw the profits, all the women farmers joined the producer group. In fact, farmers from other villages are keen to join us too!”
This year, the women farmers of Koraput sold at least 2 tonnes of mangoes to Mother Dairy, an Indian cooperative that produces, markets and sells milk, dairy, and other edible products, for more than INR 40 a kg.
Photos: Biju Boro for UNDP India