It was a routine day for the Zizira explorers – one team busy writing up reports on visits, another planning on the next field visits when a question cropped up. A question triggered by something that was being worked on at that point in time. Something like: We want to make a difference to farmers from the Northeast of India by opening an online farmers markets.
Team Zizira can see their struggles, to reach markets. The question is “Have team Zizira met with farmers who have said explicitly that they need help?” One question lead to another and then another. Have we heard any farmer say “I am not getting enough money; I am growing such good quality things - how do I earn more?” or have the farmers gotten so used to the system of traders coming and buying from them that they are okay with the rates they get? Even if the farmers may be getting a price which is on the lower side? Maybe they are getting money as advance from the traders? After all, getting money, when they want, has great value for farmers is it not? In the end, the rate they will get may be low, but for the hard-working farmer's cash on hand, when they need has so much value too. Does all this make the farmers feel satisfied? And are they happy with the existing system? Or are the farmers looking at Zizira as a possible change maker? Would an online farmers market help them sell their products to more people?
Khraw Kharpuri, a Zizira team member, who is the face of Zizira for the farmers of Meghalaya, listened to all this patiently, with the ever-present smile on his face. He then shared the experiences of his interactions with the farmers. Believe me, it was so heartening and gratifying to hear. Here is what he said, in his own words.
I really really like these questions and this is what Zizira team needs to think and ask themselves every now and then. According to me I would say YES, because in every field trip and all the visits that the team has made thus far, when we reach, approach and inform them about our vision and mission, we always see a SMILE on the farmers’ faces. And, they said that this is what the farmers need, this is what the farmers are looking for and this is what they want to see happen. Also, if a market like this is there, it will make their children continue farming too. Many of them fear that, after them, no one else will tend to their land. And, remember, most of them have farmed from a young age and so have generations before them. Yes, the farmers are used to the system of traders. But we, meaning Zizira, will make a difference in the future. Why I am saying this is because when a farmer comes here and delivers her/his products and when we give them money we see a SMILE and hear their sincere thanks. For example a Bird’s eye chilli farmer said something special when he came recently to deliver chillies. He said “you are giving a job for myself and job for other ladies to separate the dried stalks from the chilli.”
I feel that this is something UNIQUE - what Zizira team is doing that others are not. Yes, many online stores exist, but they are selling products that are not their own, but bought from other suppliers. Like trading.
Earlier this year, I met with members of one such online store at a local office and they asked me “what do you do?” I told them that I work with farmers nothing else apart from that :-). They were amazed that we are purchasing and working along with farmers.
I think for Zizira, it will take time, but in future this will be a WIN-WIN for us and the farmers and a WIN for the region too! And, Zizira will shine and grow. But, we should keep in our mind that we should come up with unique products, which will help the farmers and WOW the customers” Amen Khraw! Thanks so much for confirming that we are on the right path.
Team Zizira stood around Khraw listening to him in rapt attention. There was a small round of applause at the end of it. The team then got back to work, but more energized, more purposeful and more sure that the collective vision of Zizira will come true. The farmers of Northeast will be recognized for their uniqueness as hard-working, small land-holding farmers who believe in growing things naturally. And Northeast region will shine as an example of engendering progress without hurting the agrarian economy that now sustains it.