We imagined the work as a land-to-loom process.
Purchasing the lone farmer’s organically grown brown coloured cotton was the easiest part of our work in the first year. It had become economically unsustainable for the local buyer. The cotton used to be purchased at a price way above the Bt white cotton rate, but finding a market which could absorb the ‘true’ cost was difficult.
The farmer led us to the ginner just a few metres from his house where he stocked the harvested ‘kapas’. The first challenge came at the slivering stage. The plant at Chitradurga processed cotton in million bales. In the absence of any small scale slivering machines locally, it was a long wait until the big machine accommodated the few quintals of our un-baled cotton. The challenge was also to take care that no white cotton mixed with our brown. This led us to understand that lack of access to alternative seeds aside, small landholding cotton farmers can neither earn the right price for their produce nor process and sell a value-added product like home-spun yarn in the open market, due to lack of small-scale post-harvest processing units.
Santosh Koulagi at Janapada Seva Trust [JST] took charge from there on, with the ambara-charaka spinning and weaving. The first generation weavers at JST became the first weavers to weave brown yarn on both weft and warp.
While the production of cloth is a natural culmination of our work with the farmer, we learnt that the textile is only a by-product. While our attention to the cloth, and creating a market for it is necessary, the core of our work is towards a future where women farmers with small landholdings, while restoring the balance between cash crop production and food security, process their cotton and maybe sell yarn. By adding value to cotton, farmers may explore their potential to exercise agency and forge an ecological and economic future for themselves, through cotton.
Meanwhile, we prepped for year 2 of the farmer’s harvest. The previous lower-than-expected harvest had discouraged him enough to sow only in half the number of acres from the previous year. Our work was still finding its ground, so we decided to stand by his decision. Several discussions later we also arrived at the ‘right’ procurement price for cotton. It took into account several formulae - from M S Swaminathan’s report, to Ramanjaneyulu’s, from the GoI’s Minimum Wage report of 2018, to the Karnataka Government’s Agriculture Price Commission’s report on Minimum Support Price, to what the farmer believed was the right price.
As with much else in our universe, our plan to include 2 more small landholding women farmers in Year 2 was thwarted by the onset of Covid.
JST’s weavers continue to weave.
The farmer has harvested the first round of his Year 3 produce as we eagerly wait for you, the consumer to receive Kandu.