Tribal farmers in Pune district cultivating rice would soon get access to markets dominated by branded rice. District authorities have taken up a special scheme for such farmers that aims to commercialise rice cultivation in the area and sell it under a brand in urban markets such as Pune and Mumbai.
Ayush Prasad, assistant collector and sub-divisional magistrate of Khed, said the scheme would be implemented among the tribal farmers of Khed, Ambegaon, Junnar and Maval. “Farmers in these areas have long been cultivating rice but mostly for sustenance, cultivating enough to feed themselves. Also, majority of the farmers in these areas generally go for the common Indrayani rice variety, which is not a niche product,” he said.
Aimed at bettering the income of farmers, the scheme will go into operation during the upcoming kharif season. Under the scheme, farmers will be encouraged to grow non-Indrayani rice varieties, which will then be branded and marketed.
“The Sahyadri School in Khed runs a special conservation scheme for rice and have around 40 varieties. The nursery has rice meant for children, porridge etc. These special varieties of rice, marketed well, will surely fetch a premium for the farmers,” Prasad said.
The rice produced will be marketed and sold under a brand name and B-school students will be roped in for the task. “We will offer paid internship to students to help us explore markets and create a brand,” he said. Also, district authorities plan to tap organised retail to help them market this rice in urban markets.
In the first phase, the district authorities aim to mobilise farmers to shift to cultivation of non-Indrayani rice varieties. Gram sevaks, village-level agricultural assistants and others will be roped in to spread awareness about the move. Self-Help Groups of farmers will be formed and, at the taluka level, a farmers’ producer company (FPC) will be established to help farmers market their produce. Prasad said in the initial stages, the Sahyadri School would provide seeds to farmers.
The step, to be first tried out among around 500 farmers in Khed, will aim for organic cultivation of rice with no chemical inputs used. “This will make the produce niche and command a premium,” he said. A rice mill and packaging facilities will be provided.