Ensuring Markets for Small-Scale Farmers Amid COVID-19

By Sakshi Selvanathan and Ganga Kariyawasam

 

Quite unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic is one extra challenge added to a long list of challenges faced by farmers in terms of selling their harvest – one among them being the stark reality that the produce of their hard work during the season may be their only income until the next harvest season.

 

At the time of writing, with district-wide lockdowns and other prohibitions, some farmers in Katuwewa (in the Galgamuwa Divisional Secretariat in Kurunegala District), consider themselves highly privileged if they manage to sell their pineapple harvest without trouble at their farm lands. And when this is actually done, it is largely because of the forward sales agreements[1] they have signed with a private sector company called ‘SR Bio Food Products (Pvt) Ltd’ at the time of establishing the crop in 2018. Since then, they have been selling their harvest to this company.

 

Asha Madhumali (31) and Nalin Jayarathna (33), living in Amunukole village in Katuwewa, belong to one such fortunate farmer family who sold their pineapple harvest last week. Asha recounted with a happy smile: “We were able to sell nearly 300 kg of pineapple without trouble. The company came to our farm land and took our harvest for a reasonable price.”

Selling pineapple harvest to the company at the farmland.

 

With the support of the Climate Resilient Integrated Water Management Project (CRIWMP), farmers in the Kurunegala district were able to establish pineapple farming with sprinkler irrigation units. Furthermore, the project introduced farmers to the private sector, which enabled them to sign forward sales agreements with the latter to buy their harvest.

 

Nalin in his farmland: Pineapple intercropped with coconut plants

 

Nalin recalled the launching of their pineapple farming venture and said, “It was a new experience for us as farmers, since pineapple cultivation is something new in this area. But we received sufficient knowledge and skills through trainings and field visits. Each farmer received 2,000 pineapple plants and a sprinkler irrigation unit from the project in 2018. I intercropped those pineapple plants with 115 coconut plants in our 2-acre farmland. Later we were introduced to the company by the project and signed forward sales agreements to buy our harvest. And today we are happy farmers after selling our harvest without trouble, and especially in this difficult period”.

 

Pineapple is a crop popularly intercropped with coconut and a significant amount of production is done in Kurunegala district. Likewise, as a drought resistant crop, pineapple is suitable to dry zone areas with supplementary irrigation in the dry season. In this way, harvesting pineapple is a prime example of adopting climate-smart agricultural practices.

Nalin further added: “We use the slurry from bio-gas unit to fertilize the coconut and pineapple plants in our farmyard. We don’t need to use chemical fertilizer, and therefore, we save more money”.[2] This ensures that what is produced is done so organically.

 

In conclusion, the forward sales agreements ensured a market for farmers’ production and increased the farm gate price[3] especially in this pandemic situation, whilst simultaneously safeguarding the resilience of vulnerable, small-scale farmers in the medium and long term. Similarly, adopting this method has enabled such farmers to successfully optimize the supply chain, minimize post-harvest losses[4] and reduce food miles[5] as well.

Pineapple plants flourishing with organic manure

 

About the CRIWMP or ‘Wew Gam Pubuduwa’:

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) mobilizes farmer communities in the dry zone to adapt climate-resilient agricultural activities and is an implementing organization of CRIWMP – which is a 7-year project begun in 2017, aiming at strengthening the resilience of smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone to unpredictable climate and extreme events.

The Project is financed through a grant received from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) while the Government of Sri Lanka has committed to co-finance the activities identified under the Project as well. The Ministry of Irrigation is an implementing partner for this project, and technical assistance is lent by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as well. The SLRCS works with a number of government institutions to deliver the project activities and outputs while measuring its impact.

 

 

 

[1] Forward sales agreement is a customized contract between the company and farmer; to buy and sell harvest at a specified price on a future date.

[2] Read more about how Asha and Nalin accomplished this at: https://www.redcross.lk/main-news/balancing-the-act-livestock-farming-and-bio-gas-production-brings-about-economic-and-climate-change-adaptation-cca-benefits/

[3] Farm gate price is the price received by farmers for their produce at the location of farm. Thus the costs of transporting from the farm gate to the nearest market or first point of sale and market charges for selling the produce are, not included in the farm gate prices.

[4] Post-harvest losses are quantitative and qualitative losses occur between harvest and the moment of human consumption. They include practices applied at harvest and handling, and challenges in marketing produce. Significant losses are caused by inadequate storage conditions as well as decisions made at earlier stages of the supply chain, including transportation, storage, and processing, which predispose products to a shorter shelf life.

[5] Food miles are the distance food is transported from the time of its harvesting until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when testing the environmental impact of food.

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