Feeling the pulse of FPCs: How AGMs can indicate their financial and social health
The annual general body meetings (AGMs) are a place where many aspects of the governance and managerial health of an FPC can be seen. The AGM held by Ram Rahim Pragati Producer Company, commemorating 10 years of its existence, was a celebration for various reasons but also put forward some questions.
Ram Rahim Pragati Producer Company (Ram Rahim) is a result of Samaj Pragati Sahyog’s (SPS) work with the tribal population in Bagli tehsil of Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh, specifically the women, focusing on balancing mitti (the soil), members (of the women SHGs) and the (agricultural) markets. Ram Rahim is an enterprise doing more than Rs. 12 crores worth of business, connecting over 6000 tribal women to the market. They help source quality seeds, negotiate better prices for their farm produce and promote sustainable practices of crop cultivation focused on reducing the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Beyond the members who get direct benefits, secondary positive effects include good soil quality and better farm resource management, improved practices at the farmers’ markets and competitive prices offered by the farm gate traders because of Ram Rahim’s presence.
Exemplifying transparent and democratic governance
The AGM was organised in Punjapura village (seat of one of the 5 SHG clusters that SPS has promoted). This was the first time in the last two years that a physical meeting of members and Board of Directors with several important guests was taking place in this region. Hundreds of women came from far and wide to attend this annual mela of sorts. It was their leaders who were to be on the stage, discussing the performance and experiences of their own enterprise, the Ram Rahim. Several interesting things were on display, but the most interesting was a banner displaying the balance sheet and the profit and loss statement in the open, for everyone to look at, even before any formal revelations were made! The program was yet to begin and the SHG members as well as guests thronged the stalls put up by SPS extension teams exhibiting the various bioinputs as well as other farming and composting techniques that were promoted by SPS in the region. Another stall displayed the processed and packaged pulses, dalia and flour that Ram Rahim prepared for Safe Harvest. Women and their accompanying family members went around looking at these stalls, asking about bioinputs and seeds, even looking at Safe Harvest packets that contained their farm produce, in the form in which it makes its way to the consumers’ food basket. Some of them also stood admiring the work done by Kumbaya, another women’s producer company that worked in handicrafts and textiles sector.
As the Board members shared the dais with SPS founding members and other guests, the Board chairperson spoke or rather sang about her association with her SHG and the role of SPS, moving onto the formation of Ram Rahim and how the women and their households were benefitting due to these. We were astonished by the simplicity and the beauty with which indigenous communities describe their lives through songs. Some of the women spoke powerfully and passionately about the importance of linking SHGs with government schemes, the impact of Covid 19 on SHGs and Ram Rahim, the significance of crop diversity in farming and several other topics of relevance, facing hundreds of other women, SPS staff, media personnel and others.
The performance metrics were impressive. Who would have thought that a collective of women SHGs that faced resistance from the farm gate traders and APMC commission agents in 2012 would make a profit of more than Rs. 54 lakhs in 2022? But the icing on the cake were the dividends and bonuses, announced for the first time in ten years!
Being resilient in the face of the pandemic
However, unlike mainstream businesses, Ram Rahim as a farmers’ organization, needs to go beyond profits and incentives. It is ultimately the governance and their strategic engagement with various stakeholders that assures long term viability. Even as SPS’s role has gradually become more advisory in nature, cumulative experience has helped Ram Rahim develop some risk-taking abilities, as well respond to changing markets with agility. These skills helped with tide the pandemic in a pro-active manner. Coming out with farmer centric solutions such as providing packaged household rations to SHG members as well as working on increasing the member base with the help of SPS, has helped Ram Rahim by testing potential markets, partners and businesses, while also attempting to solidify its image as an enterprise that has ‘mitti, members as well as markets’ as its core strategy. Importantly, while doing all this, Ram Rahim has not compromised on building its reserves and surplus, a key resource, that may come in handy in tough times. A lot of this risk -taking and exploration can be attributed to the very proactive Board of Directors and the CEO, who has been an excellent steward of the Board and the women SHGs.
Achieving the holy grail of producer-owned collectives
Ram Rahim awarded ‘FPO of the year’ in 2021 by Livelihoods India for its decade long focus on sustainable means of production and value-addition based business model through tie-ups with similar-minded stakeholders. Being able to do profitably for the past six years is no mean feat. Additionally, they have been able to get fresh capital infused through loans from Bank of India and Nabkisan and have secured their own space for Safe Harvest’s operations instead of relying on the earlier rented premises at Avantee Mega Food Park, Dewas. In a way, Ram Rahim has been successful in achieving the rather elusive goal of benefitting the people, planet and profit. Sustaining it, on the other hand, is always an ongoing challenge.
Beyond here and now: Some reflections
As Ram Rahim aims for better profits, more bonuses and digital integration with the promise of smart phones in the hands of thousands of women, are there more intangible issues to consider?
With member incentives expected to become a regular feature in the coming years, it is expected and even encouraged that many more SHGs would sell their farm produce to Ram Rahim. This might be the right nudge for Ram Rahim to look at other markets and partners beyond Safe Harvest. Targeting SHGs and household grocery market is necessary step but not a sufficient one. Expanding business also calls for more storage and processing capacity. The enterprise may now have to decide whether it just wants to earn better profits and share with members who are patrons or to strive towards better inclusivity and cater to the members’ needs and aspirations.