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The business of farming

May 2019

Published: May. 05, 2019
Updated: Mar. 25, 2020

Cooperatives come with well-known frailties. In many ways, Campco is no exception. It was set up to serve the interests of areca nut farmers in Karnataka and has had to survive the pulls and pressures of multiple interests being at play.

But Campco is also a really good example of how a cooperative can benefit farmers when it finds creative and purposeful leadership. Thanks to the late Varanashi Subraya Bhat, areca nut farmers learnt the advantages of hedging their bets by also growing pepper and cocoa.

Taking a big leap into addition of value, they also set up a factory for producing chocolates. It was difficult to imagine a factory let alone build one from scratch and get it into production. The more complex task of marketing the chocolates also awaited them.

Yet, in the face of innumerable odds, Campco has succeeded in becoming a significant maker of chocolates but has yet to pick up the more deft tricks of marketing them. In the process it has also given Indian cocoa a better reputation. Being a producer and a buyer, it has injected some beneficial realism into the price at which cocoa is bought from farmers.

In times when farm incomes are the reason for so much concern, we thought it would be useful for Civil Society to tell this amazing story of what Campco has achieved. We need more Campco-like efforts in India but to think that we can get them made to order is asking for too much. They are at best likely to emerge if fresh energy, ideas and resources are allowed to flow through the farm sector. Right now we are stuck in a time warp. The current concerns and aspirations of the farmer are little understood. Nor is there any serious effort to empower the farmer to deal with the world at large. While band-aid in the form of loan write-offs and so on is needed, what will really make a difference is a change in orientation. The sooner that begins to happen the better.

Dr Harivansh Chaturvedi has been a friend of this magazine for a long time. Interviewing him was therefore a different experience. A gentle but blunt person is what we have known him to be and we were delighted that he didn’t disappoint us in his interview on the state of higher education in India. Dr Chaturvedi has recently edited a volume of articles on the importance of better rating and accreditation of higher education institutions in India. It is an important collection because with rampant privatisation and the rapid decline of government-run institutions some introspection is urgently needed.

Increasingly, businesses provide the social solutions we have been waiting for. Garbage disposal is one of them. We feature in our business section a Punjab-based company which has a machine for segregating and composting garbage at source. A trial is underway in the Delhi Cantonment. Could this be a model for other municipalities? There is a strong case for harnessing entrepreneurial energy for better governance. The socially driven entrepreneurs we come across in Civil Society have a lot to offer governments.