Vasundhara Agri-Horti Producer Company Limited

Vasundhara Agri-Horti Producer Company Limited

Fruits of Our Labores

The Adivasi population of India constitutes about 8.14 percent of the total population—approximately 85 million people according to the 2001 census. These households traditionally derive sustenance through forestry, hunting, and primitive agriculture practices. Yet seasonal migration to nearby cities has become a virtual necessity due to fast-depleting forest and natural resources, land erosion, and lack of access to basic health and hygiene. Once in the cities, these landless workers live in deplorable

conditions and often get exploited by middlemen. They are also not able to claim state government benefits due to a lack of identity. Ineffective labor laws make their situation very difficult, especially for women.

Large sections (some 36 percent) of the tribals subsist in a state of deprivation. Adivasis typically practice rain-fed agriculture, and the small and marginal nature of their land holdings complicates food security.

Published literature [PDF] in this area has emphasized the need to connect small and marginal farmers to remunerative markets to help them realize better returns. A lack of capital and purchasing power affects the conditions and the scale of operations, while a lack of market linkages hampers the seed-to-market journey. Very often the input costs are far greater than the output.

What Is the Wadi Model?

Some relief has been found using the wadi model. The word “wadi” in the Gujarati language means a small orchard, generally covering one acre with crops like cashew, mango, or any suitable fruit, with forestry species on the periphery and a border consisting of a productive live hedge. A typical orchard promoted under this scheme involves planting 40–60 fruit plants and 300–400 forestry species along the border.

The Rationale

The idea came from Manibhai Desai, founder of Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF) and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Desai believed deeply in the Gandhian philosophy of revitalizing the village economy in order to fortify India’s agrarian economy. He felt that it was important to rehabilitate the tribals in their own environs and provide them with a livelihood solution.

The Vansda (Gujarat) region was representative of the typical problems affecting most tribal communities in that there was indiscriminate destruction of forests, as well as scarcity of
food and drinking water. The tribals were practicing rain-fed agriculture and hence cultivation was only possible during kharif. Production was poor due to a lack of improved cultivation practices.

After the kharif harvest, families had no option but to migrate to adjacent cities (Vapi, Valsad, and Nasik) in search of livelihood. Migration was characterized by exploitation and the discontinuation of children’s education. Lack of health care options, weak communication, and poor housing and sanitation added to the problems.

Hence after evaluation of various alternatives it was decided to cultivate mangoes and cashew crops. Some of the factors that made these two crops the preferred choice were the agro-climatic suitability, robust demand, good shelf life, and the possibilities available for processing mangoes into various by-products such as pulp, pickles, juices, jam, canned fruit, and baby food, as well as good local and international markets for cashews.

However the endeavor required a lot of hard work, team work, and patience since the trees started bearing fruit only after nearly 4–5 years. BAIF played the role of facilitator, trainer, and guide in helping the community to accept the long and challenging task of preparing the groundwork required to succeed. Regular interaction with the participating members was necessary to encourage the 42 tribal families that participated in the program when it was first launched in 1982.

The journey was arduous and the extreme climate made tending to the saplings a challenging experience. In areas where irrigation options were not available, participating tribal members would carry water in pots atop their heads for hours to

water and tend the saplings. This had to be done daily for nearly 3–4 years before the fruit plants stabilized!

The participating tribal families earned in the range of about $160–200 from the intercrops—cereals, rice, pulses, and some vegetables such as brinjals (eggplants) and tomatoes—per year from the first year. The major income of approximately $600–800 per year came after 6–7 years when the orchards started bearing fruit regularly.

Linking the Tribal Farmer Cooperatives with Industry

In a symbiotic arrangement under the aegis of the wadi program, a relationship with the Indian fast-moving consumer goods major ITC was initiated in 2007–2008. The main deterrent in organic farming is the steep cost of obtaining organic certification, which is out of reach for small and marginal farmers. ITC bore the cost of obtaining the organic certification for mangoes and in turn was assured of quality mangoes to be used in its products. In 2010, some 1,150 MT of mangoes were sold to ITC. In a typical year, participating farmers were able to see a 33 percent increase in their net selling price as compared to the traditional supply chain.

This turned out to be a win-win situation for both parties. ITC got the organic mangoes that were used in its baby food products, while the tribals got an assured client and a higher value for their produce.


The success of the wadi program was possible due to the dedication and perseverance of the key stakeholders: the tribals, BAIF, and the funding agencies. This seed-to- market initiative helped to solve the basic needs of the tribals: food security, job options, healthcare, and education.

The success of the program has been further replicated in other Indian states such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The key success factor that made this program so effective was the symbiotic effort of BAIF and the tribals. BAIF brought to the partnership the knowledge, access to R&D, and experts who helped to navigate the initial turbulent times. The villagers, on the other hand, invested in the project through their efforts and by allowing the aggregation of their most precious resource—their land. It was their faith and perseverance that made the project a resounding success.

The fruits of their labor became a beacon of hope to other tribal families, leading to an expansion of benefits and the scope of the program as it evolved over the years.

VAPCOL Gets Award_FPO Impact Award 2019

A recognition to remember: Acknowledging the journey of VAPCOL

Each year ACCESS organizes the Livelihoods India Summit, a national conference that targets about 500 delegates from the livelihoods sector including practitioners, policy makers, private sector, non-governmental organizations, donors, multilateral / bilateral organizations, academicians, researchers and other support organizations from within the country. The Summit presents a unique experience for the participants from a diverse array of themes that are discussed in over 15 sessions across two days. Experiences, case studies, issues and challenges from within the country are shared at the Livelihoods India Summit and over 70 thought-leaders, policy makers and practitioners are a part of the two-day deliberations. The Summit envisages the idea of a Focus Country which is meant to facilitate new knowledge sharing between an Asian country in focus and other countries in the region.

The FPO Impact Awards is an initiative of ACCESS institutionalized in partnership with Rabo bank. It is an endeavor in recognizing and encouraging exemplary FPO (Farmer Producer Organisations) that have overcome various challenges, to successfully build self-sustaining businesses and contribute meaningfully to the member community. It also aims to recognize such FPO promoting institutions who have worked to enable the ecosystems, influence policy, promote sustainable and scalable models and incubate innovative solutions for the growth of FPOs

The Awards initiative is a means to provide motivation to exemplary FPO (registered as Farmer Producer Company (under Companies Act 2013)/ Cooperative registered on or after 2002) and Promoting Institutions to continue to enhance the livelihoods and incomes of small and marginal farmers, through providing recognition to their efforts. It also serves to enhance the credibility of the winning FPO thereby making it more attractive for market players and financial institutions.

In the year 2019, VAPCOL was informed by the organizing team of ACCESS Development Services that “On behalf of the ACCESS and Rabobank, we are delighted to inform you that the distinguished jury of the FPO Impact Awards 2019 has selected Vasundhara Agri Horti Producer Company Ltd as the Winner under the category: FPO of the Year in Agriculture- Mature. Congratulations to you and your team on this prestigious recognition! The selection is truly based on the organizations extraordinary performance over the last year, effective governance and commitment to promote livelihoods of small and marginalized farmers.”

The FPO Impact Awards Presentation Ceremony was held on the first day of the Livelihoods India Summit 2019 on December 12 at Hotel Le Meridian in New Delhi between 12:30 pm and 1:00 pm. Few pictures from the ceremony are given below:

Mr. Sandip Yadav on behalf of VAPCOL was present in the award ceremony to receive the award. The application was filled by Ms. Rama Shukla of VAPCOL and out of 40 nominations under this category, VAPCOL was selected and was honored with the title of FPO of the Year in Agriculture- Mature.

This award appreciates all the efforts of the all the professionals who have worked for the steady growth of VAPCOL from the past 14 years. This award has also motivated us to keep up the spirits and be on the righteous path of community development through sustainable business models and efficient value chains.

Patronage Distribution in VAPCOL

Mr. Girish Sohani, President of BAIF Development Research Foundation and Chairman of Vasundhara Agri-Horti Producer Company Limited (VAPCOL) was pondering over future course of action as management participants of IRMA3, a premier Rural Management institute of India raised concern about the functioning and viability of the producer company. Organizational structure of VAPCOL varied across operating states – Gujarat and Maharashtra, though members were under the one umbrella organization, VAPCOL. This structural difference at the organizational level led to the transfer of patronage4 payments from member-producer groups of Maharashtra to member-cooperatives of Gujarat.

Mr. Sohani posed before his executives, “is it necessary to bring uniformity in organizational structure across the states and how your recommendations would help sustain VAPCOL?” Before charting the future plan, Mr. Sohani was interested to ascertain patronage amounts that got transferred from one state to the other and it was noted that 20% of profits earned accounted for patronage returns to members. If this was substantial then he could have weighed a few strategic options. On the other hand, if he wanted to maintain a status quo then he needed to devise an alternate patronage disbursement way out that might bring parity (in accounting) for both the states. Establishing cooperatives in Maharashtra on similar lines with Gujarat could then have a direct bearing on VAPCOL.

“Could you help me determine patronage bonus transferred from Maharashtra to Gujarat?” he blatantly posed. If Sohani would decide to set up cooperatives in Maharashtra then he could be willing to test the merit of his decision on financial health of VAPCOL. Upon negative consequences, he could otherwise plan to increase the commission from 6% to 10% of sales or gross revenues.

Producer Companies in India

Collective action through cooperatives was important not only to impact the exchange process but also to help small-scale growers enhance their market orientation and adapt to greater levels of competition. India had experienced the cooperative wave since early 1900s and this was indeed drawn on impressive credit history of rural financial sector. Traditional cooperatives those were registered under the concerned State Cooperatives Societies acts failed to withstand the test of time in most cases due to a range of internal and external issues.

Producer organizations were promoted to address the concern of small and marginal growers as recourse to cooperatives. Since more freedom could help cooperatives to operate in a competitive business environment, the Companies Act 1956 was amended to include the Producer Company as a separate chapter in the Section 581A based on the Alagh Committee report. A producer company operated in liberalized regulatory environment as applicable to other business entities and had some unique characteristics of cooperative. Therefore, the entity was said to be a hybrid of cooperative and private limited company.

Producer companies appeared to be effective since they adhered to the principles of member ownership and control, member participation in governance, efficient operating system, and transparent processes for sustainability6. These companies had gained salience performing a host of activities, namely, provision of inputs, attainment of economies of scale, value addition to primary produce and marketing in addition to developing competitive primary markets and generate surplus in successive stages of the value addition.


Producer companies were to be registered under the provisions of Part-IX-A, Chapter one of the Companies Act 1956. The company could engage in production, harvesting, procurement, grading, pooling, handling, marketing, selling, and export of primary produce of the members of import of goods or services for their benefit. Their membership could be 10 or more producer organizations/institutions or a combination of both. Though they were deemed to be private limited or limited liability companies by shares within the meaning of Section 581C(5) of the Companies Act 1956, there was no restriction on membership – voluntary and open; the provision of minimum paid up capital of INR 0.1 million would not apply to and number of members could be more than 50 7 . They were also permitted to buy other producer companies’ shares and to incorporate subsidiary or joint venture or new organization.

Benefits to Members

Companies retained one member – one vote principle regardless of shares or patronage except during the first years when it could be based on authorized share capital. They offered a limited return on capital similar to traditional cooperatives8 but could issue patronage bonus and dividend. As they were named “producer company limited”, they could issue only tradable equity shares within the members based on their patronage in the business.


These companies could have five to 15 directors, chairman, and ex-officio chief executive but multi- state cooperative societies could have more than 15 directors for a year or so. They could co-opt expert or additional director without allowing them to exercise voting rights. Companies focused on member education and co-operation among producer organizations. However, failing to start business within a year of incorporation could attract cancellation of the registration. The audit had to be conducted by a chartered accountant. Producer companies should maintain a general reserve in every financial year and in case of insufficient funds, members had to contribute in proportion to their patronage in the business. Dispute relating to companies were to be settled by conciliation or arbitration under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 as if the related parties to the dispute could consent in writing.

Evidences from USA, New Zealand, and Denmark revealed that cooperatives and producer institutions could register and operate under a parallel legal environment as governed companies. In backend, these were producer owned enterprises and in frontend, they functioned as a corporate entity.

While there was no comprehensive report on the functioning of producer companies in India, about 150 such registered organizations were operating in several states, such as Indian Organic Farmers Producer Company, Vanilla India Producer Company and Banana India Producer Company in Kerala, Coinonya Farm Producer Company (for turmeric) and Karbi Farms Producer Company (for ginger and chilies) in Assam, Masuta Producer Company (for silk) in Jharkhand, Rangsutra (for artisan) in Rajasthan, and 17 producer companies (for seed, grain, pulses, spices and poultry) in Madhya Pradesh, Mahi (for milk) in Gujarat and Prayas (for milk) in Rajasthan, among others. These organizations participated in aggregations, backward and forward linkages with farmers and corporates for various agricultural/horticultural products in addition to participation in milk and poultry business.

Notwithstanding a strategic approach to shape up collective action by these companies, they had yet to draw the attention of Union or the State for required support or incentive. Obtaining licenses from Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee remained a major hurdle for producer companies as traditional cooperatives often blocked the opportunity to enter regulated markets. Access to formal credit institutions, on one hand, continued to impede the prospect for scaling up, i.e. value addition and marketing and entry barrier to the capital market for fund raising, on the other, was a limiting factor to the sustenance. Further, legislative issues complicated hassle-free functioning of the producer organizations in India following J J Irani Committee’s recommendation on the inclusion of producer companies in the Companies Act.

Salient Features

Producer companies were expected to more competitive than cooperatives. Business format appeared to be in favor of legitimacy and credibility. This encouraged the organization devoid of altruistic image of cooperatives and accommodated both registered and non-registered groups/user groups as equity shareholders in the company. Amendment in the Act permitted only primary producers to hold in the ownership in that outsiders were not encouraged to control the company and allowed for raising funds from other producer interest groups. In emerging markets, where retailing had a long way to go for sourcing and managing supply chain, scale in operations and skilled manpower could be essential to sustain producer organizations.