Satinder Singh, a resident of a rural village Navegaon in Gondia Maharashtra, was stunned to see the bountiful produce in the forests of Chattisgarh. He was equally surprised that the local forest farmers have no source of employment for more than 100 days every year. He was quick to plan a framework through which these farmers can make out of their surrounding and their ‘out-of-work’ days in an ethical, sustainable manner. That’s how Bastar se Bazaar Tak was born.
Chhattisgarh has widespread forest belts. 44 per cent of its geographical area is covered in forests. A major population that inhabits these areas are the tribal farmers. The farmers work in paddy farms for 120-130days. The MGNREGA scheme employs them for another 100 days. However, the remaining days with no means of livelihood makes sustenance difficult for them. On such days, they heavily rely on selling forest produces like Jamun and Seetaphal to survive. However, the farmers do not get reasonable prices for these products. Lack of a developed market, storage and transport system has made the big players exploit the farmers even further.
Satinder, a native of rural Maharashtra, was observing this frequently during his stay in Chhattisgarh. He tinkered some conversations with local farmers to understand their grievances and find a fix. Based on those learnings, he established Bastar se Bazaar Tak. The model was simple – sell the forest produce, which was getting wasted, at a profitable price.
During the days of unemployment, more than 50% of the local households depend on forest produce. Fruits do not fall under the MSP list since they are perishable items. The nearest mandi in Raipur is a 6-hour journey from Bastar. The perishable items will rot by the time this journey is covered. Moreover, there is barely any cold storage in the vicinity. These factors make the farmers fall prey to the middleman. He would buy all of this at a mere fraction of its cost. The farmers with no other choice comply.
Birth of Bastar se Bazaar Tak
The critical task at hand was to inform farmers that the losses could be averted. He proposed setting up a logistics ecosystem that can help the farmers store, move and sell their forest produce to the market. The farmers were more than happy to be a part of it. After a few more rounds of comprehensive discussions, Bastar se Bazaar Tak was established with the mission to provide 100 days of employment for the forest farmers on their out of workdays.
How does it work
The forest produce is accumulated together. Following the collection, the produce is washed and made shelf-ready. From there, the produce goes to cold storage rented in Raipur. The cost of the storage unit and transport is borne by the organisation. “Transparency has been the key to make this idea successful,” Satinder says. “We communicated the prices of procurement and sale openly. And we involved the farmers in the entire process. That helped gain the trust of the community” he adds while mentioning that the project initially had 230 members.
The way ahead
So far, 410 farmers have joined this mission. Satinder informs that tamarind plantation will also begin by March 2021 and expects 1000 farmers to join in. His vision is planned to impact 4000 smallholders’ farmer families by June 2024. The team is also planning a new enterprise soon. They aim to make a farmer and their family-run factory, which will guarantee 300 days of employment. This factory will create a product out of pulp through which 14 types of products will be made, which will be sugar-free, vegan, etc. Shops are already showing interest in the products. Local youth will serve in the delivery chain as ‘Bastar dabbawalas’ to deliver products at the shops.
Team Bastar se Bazaar Tak has also won the 3M – CII YICA 2020 award in the category of Rural & Inclusive Innovation, which is great recognition in terms of CII 125th foundation day of the work they do as a social enterprise in Livelihood and Employment across North Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Satinder says that winning the prestigious is a major growth curve for them “ This award can help us to boost and grow our social enterprise. It’s proof that social enterprise can benefit all stakeholders including smallholder farmers- not just shareholders in terms of making a profit, but also benefiting our local team, our customer and the environment. “ he says.