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Food processing units in Rajasthan attract prospects, profits for farmers

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However, in spite of the high production of cumin and fennel in these parts, Rajasthan has always lacked the necessary marketing and processing facilities, for which farmers have had to transport their produce to the agricultural market (mandi) in Unjha in Gujarat. Transporting the produce to Gujarat meant an additional expense of Rs 2,000 per quintal for a farmer, since Unjha is 260 km from the Jalore district headquarters. The situation was just as bad for the farmers of Sirohi.

Hence, with processing units coming up here over the past few years, the farmers of Sirohi and Jalore are very pleased.

Entrepreneurs arise with government initiatives

Take the case of Yogesh Joshi of Jalore’s Sanchore town. Joshi worked in an organic food company earlier. Armed with a diploma in organic farming, he took up agriculture in 2010, growing cumin sans artificial chemicals. Initially, he teamed up with seven other farmers in his venture; the group later grew to 60 in number, with each farmer growing cumin in 2 bighas of farmland.

However, they incurred huge losses the first couple of years. Joshi then got in touch with scientists at the Central Arid Zone Research Unit (CAZRI) in Jodhpur. After undergoing training, he went on to grow organic cumin as per their directions. Selling 120 kg of cumin, Joshi made a profit of Rs 50 per kg. Even so, the profits didn’t match the effort involved.

In 2015, he set up his processing unit. Thereafter, 200 farmers joined him. In the market, loose cumin sells for Rs 180 per kg. If one is to add Rs 15 to7w clean up the grains, it would add up to Rs 195 per kg. But when this cumin is packed, it sells at Rs 250 to Rs 400 per kg. Smaller grains sell at Rs 250 per kg, medium-sized grains at Rs 300 per kg, and large grains fetch between Rs 400 and Rs 450 per kg.

Today, there are 3,000 farmers involved in processing cumin here, and the turnover has crossed Rs 50 crore.

Selling cumin in its processed form has helped farmers earn much more than what they did selling their raw produce in Unjha. Besides selling their product in various states of India, their cumin is also sold in Japan, Dubai, the US, and the Netherlands.

Joshi is looking forward to increasing his turnover to Rs 100 crore in the near future. He’s already signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Rajasthan government to set up a cumin and cumin powder processing unit in Sanchore. Exploring national and international markets online, he’s also managed to export his cumin through a Japanese company.

"They were so appreciative of my very first supply of cumin that they went on to place orders for coriander, fenugreek and fennel," said Joshi, who has entered into a contract farming agreement with a Hyderabad-based firm for 400 tonnes of quinoa.

It was during the 2020 lockdown that long-time farmer Hiralal Chaudhary of Revadar in Sirohi district was compelled by circumstances to start grading his fennel crop with his group of farmers. Although the harvest was done, there was no way that Chaudhary and his group of farmers could get their produce to Unjha due to blocked roads.

"We met the district collector and asked him to work a way out. But even when he managed to get permission for us from the Gujarat government, we found transportation costs to be prohibitive," he explained.

This was when the district collector suggested that the farmers do the grading and processing themselves. With the help of officials from the Agricultural Marketing Board, the necessary documentation was completed. However, several rounds failed to yield the elusive government grant.

Tired of the long wait, Chaudhary fell back on his savings and ultimately set up a processing unit on his own. Besides fennel, he’s been processing castor and mustard, too, at his unit, and grading them likewise. Right now, 2,000 farmers are connected to his unit. In the past, farmers from his village frequented the Unjha market, as well, to sell their produce.

"Payments at Unjha were never immediate; farmers had to wait for their turn to be paid. Now, the payment is online and immediate," Chaudhary pointed out.

As against a maximum of Rs 80 to Rs 200 per kg that farmers earned at the mandi in Unjha, the graded, processed and packaged fennel fetches them Rs 400 per kg now.

There are several farmers and traders besides Joshi and Chaudhury who have benefited from the new regimen.

Following the Rajasthan government announcing plans for the state’s first agricultural market for fennel in Bilada in Jodhpur district, several processing units have come up in and around the municipality, even as the sale of fennel has picked up. In fact, the announcement saw four processing units being set up in a single year.

Several farmers have been making trips to the units to auction and process their produce from other parts of Rajasthan and other Indian states. Where fennel fetched Rs 8000 to Rs 10,000 per quintal last year, the arrival of farmers from other states saw prices climb upwards to Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000 per quintal.

"As compared to 2,032 bags of fennel arriving until March 2021, as many as 4,098 bags of fennel arrived at the mandi by March 2022," Bilada Mandi Secretary Ramsingh Sisodia told 101Reporters.

Improved earnings and employment prospects

Setting up a processing unit is no expensive prospect for an entrepreneur. A small unit can be set up in just Rs 7 lakh, while a medium-sized unit would need around Rs 30 to Rs 40 lakh. A large unit, however, would need an investment of Rs 60 lakh to Rs 1 crore. The processing machines are easily available in Faridabad or Unjha.

Of the four processing units that recently came up, the biggest was set up at Rs 1 crore, while the three smaller units were established at Rs 25 to Rs 50 lakh each.

For farmers, local processing has guaranteed better returns for their efforts, saving on transportation costs, improved employment prospects and better earnings for farmers, as Bilada farmer Dhannaram Lalawat, Jetiwas farmer Ramsingh Bhati, and Udaliyawas farmer Tejaram Chaudhury told 101Reporters.

Rajasthan’s agri-export promotion policy

In December 2019, the Rajasthan Agro-Processing, Agri-Business and Agri-Export Promotion Policy was approved by the government of Rajasthan, to encourage agro-processing and agricultural exports and increase farmers’ incomes in the state. In its very first phase, 50 farmers were assisted to set up food processing units. Most of these were in Mathania and Ossian in Jodhpur district. Of the Rs 6,848.33 lakh spent to set up these 50 units, the government extended Rs 3,079.50 lakh in the form of grants.

According to Rajasthan Agriculture Marketing Board Joint Director (Jodhpur) Jabbar Singh, the state government has borne 50 per cent of the expenses involved in setting up units through grants. Where cumin and isabgol (psyllium) are concerned, subsidies worth Rs 2 crore have already been announced.

(The author is a Jodhpur-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

–Ajit Weekly News<br>svn/

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