Parul Sharma l Palladium - Jul 18 2023
From Mayurbhanj to Paris: How Tribal Farmers in India Found Success with Lemongrass

Mayurbhanj District in Odisha, India is densely populated with tribal communities, including several "Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups,” a designation assigned by the Indian Government. Traditionally, these communities have relied on forest resources such as cereal crop farming, but it’s not enough to provide a sustainable livelihood.

Without access to resources and technical knowledge, it’s been nearly impossible for these groups to improve their farming practices, and in turn, make a living.

In 2021, Palladium was designated a Cluster-based Business Organisation (CBBO) by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, which made the company responsible for registering, promoting, guiding, and training 10 Farmer Producer Organisations in Odisha. These organisations are made up of groups of farmers, providing support and services to members that range from technical crop cultivation to marketing help, with the goal of making individual farmers more competitive and increasing market opportunities.

One of those organisations was Sosonum Agro, whose members are all tribal farmers.

Based in Mayaurbhanj, the group needed support to diversify into aromatic crops, but were struggling to establish market connections for the niche crop, lemongrass.

“We helped the Sosonum Agro leaders and farmers with organisation, technical support, and capacity building,” explains Amit Patjoshi, CEO of Palladium India. “This led to the successful adoption of lemongrass cultivation and oil extraction, bottling and packaging of lemongrass oil, with a special focus on empowering women who make up 80% of the workforce and play a critical role in planting, harvesting, and processing.”

The team also linked Sosonum Agro to international markets in the U.S. and France, facilitating the export of lemongrass products. This not only instilled confidence in Sosonum Agro’s members but also significantly boosted the socio-economic status of tribal farmers. In addition, the land transformed from unproductive wetlands into productive fields through the cultivation of aromatic crops.

“Farmer Producer Organisations can revolutionise the agriculture sector in India,” says Patjoshi. “With comprehensive support, technical expertise, and access to markets, these organisations are becoming catalysts of change by creating a sustainable and inclusive agricultural landscape,” says Biswajit Behera, Associate Director of CBBO.

Despite the challenges that came with Sosonum Agro’s shift from traditional cereal cultivation to commercial farming, the initiative proved successful in providing a sustainable source of income and uplifting the Suliapada Block community in Mayurbhanj District. “Palladium's intervention exemplifies the transformative power of sustainable agriculture and community empowerment, demonstrating the positive impact on economic stability and social development,” adds Behera.

As a result, 512 farmers directly benefited from these initiatives, while more than 1500 farmers indirectly reaped the rewards of the organisation’s operations, including social and economic stability for local communities.
Within just two years of its formation and registration, Sosunum Agro has hit the milestone of more than US$100,000 in annual turnover. It stands as the first Farmer Producer Organisation in the state to focus on cultivating aromatic crop and their produce is now being exported to various countries around the world. “Our target is to help the organisation achieve an annual turnover of over US$600,000 within the next 3 years,” Patjoshi explains.

“The success of Sosunum Agro's aromatic crop cultivation is a testament to the transformative potential hidden within tribal communities,” adds Patjoshi. “Through empowerment and market opportunities, the organisation has unlocked a new chapter of prosperity for its farmers, leaving a lasting impact on their socio-economic well-being."

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