Story No 4:
Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company Ltd (COAPCL) is a wholly farmer owned cotton and food crop trading company that works with small and marginal organic farmers and focuses on the marketing of agricultural produce grown by its member farmers. COAPCL works in close co-ordination with its partner organization Chetna Organic Farmers Association (COFA) – a wholly farmer managed not-for-profit that provides training and capacity building activities for the farmers. Together, these organisations constitute the Chetna Program which is a unique intervention forming a 360 degree support service for small and marginal cotton farmers in rain-fed regions of India. Chetna’s motivations are to foster co-operation amongst communities, promote self-reliant agricultural practices (organic farming), and develop ethical market linkages.
The Chetna Program has been operating since 2004 and today works with over 10,000 farmers spread across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha (formerly Orissa).
This note illustrates the process of ensuring integrity of organic and Fairtrade cotton through Internal Control Systems and product traceability.
Internal Control Systems
Chetna’s Internal Control Systems (ICS) are considered to be one of the most stringent amongst all organic projects in India and many clients value the authenticity of the organic cotton that comes from Chetna. Chetna’s organic systems are based on three important aspects: No Intrinsic Bias, Empowerment, and Control.
No Intrinsic Bias
The Chetna systems are designed in a manner which does not give any intrinsic motive to ‘cheat’. This ensures that the systems are internally robust. Following are some aspects of its bias free systems:
A wholly small -farmer owned set up
All entities involved in the Chetna program are collectively owned by its 10,000 small and marginal member farmers from three different states of India. These members speak different languages, belong to different communities but enjoy exactly equal rights and equal voting powers in the company. This diversity has helped build a system where the potential for extra benefit by subverting the system is inherently difficult and hence absent.
Farmer managed approval committees
Additionally, all approval committees for internal inspections are constituted of representative farmers who take a decision on the compliance level of farmers. Since there is no material benefit or loss for the approval committee member when judging compliance level of a certified farmer, decisions are more objective and unbiased
Internal inspections are a key component of the ICS and are done on the basis of a peer-to-peer inspection. While care is taken to ensure that an inspector does not have material interest in the inspected village, the very absence of a direct benefit from subverting the system inhibits it.
The Chetna program empowers farmers to be able to meet stringent organic standards. The following initiatives help create an enabling environment for the farmers so as to not make compliance a burden.
Continuous certification training
Chetna conducts regular training on organic certification practices, handling and documentation. Trainings are conducted three times a year – pre-sowing, mid-season and post-harvest – where farmer representatives are trained and re-trained (refresher training) on organic handling practices and certification related issues. This ensures that farmers are conceptually clear and understand the technicalities of the system.
Extensive technical training and handholding
Helping farmers with the most appropriate package of practice suited to their agro-climatic condition as well as training on more efficient practices help farmers increase yields, save costs and motivate them to practice organic methods. So compliance is more intrinsic than forced.
Research on best practices
All training is backed by extensive research that is participatory in nature. Issues such as most efficient cropping practices, ideal composting methods suited to local situations, right application of compost, organic pest management practices, intercropping etc are researched and then recommended. Hence farmers benefit from information which is suited to their immediate requirement.
Collective seed purchase
Availability of non-GMO seeds is a growing problem and a last minute rush is always unproductive. At Chetna, farmer co-operatives place indents well in advance with seed dealers, pay part of the money upfront and hence are able to book seeds as well as negotiate better rates for their farmers.
Seed research and multiplication
Chetna is also engaged in seed varietal trials as well as seed multiplication pilots with a long term view. The idea is to develop seed independence by identifying reusable varieties that are market friendly as well as can be recycled by farmers across years. Currently, Chetna is testing over 700 different varieties in collaboration with University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad – a prominent Agricultural University in India.
Exhaustive and stringent monitoring of organic implementation helps Chetna identify non-compliance early and take timely corrective action. Chetna’s monitoring mechanisms are based on the following four pillars:
Detailed farm diary
A Farm Diary is like the blue print of all farming practices of a member farmer during the season. This covers comprehensive information about facets such as land size, location, land preparation exercise, seed varieties used, cropping pattern, pest management practices, harvesting cycles, expected yields etc. Such a farm diary is regularly filled by the farmer – though supported by the Chetna Staff – and helps capture the complete information of a farmer.
100% internal inspection
A 100% internal inspection is conducted twice in a year to monitor compliance levels of farmers and identify lapses as well as check actual field implementation with that mentioned in the farm diary. The internal inspections are a precursor to the external inspections conducted by an organic certification body and help weed out potential non-compliances early.
Insistence on full farm organic
Farmers cannot practice organic and chemical farming in parallel. Regardless of the land of a farmer being contiguous or not, they tend to store their produce together which can lead to contamination. At Chetna, a member has to practice full farm organic to ensure that there is not even a remote chance of contamination.
Contamination free handling
Set systems and procedures like cleaning of vehicles before loading of produce, separate heaping at ginning units, dry run of rollers and pressing unit before ginning etc ensure that there is no contamination at the handling level either.
“Chetna Cotton is Traceable” – is one of the key attributes of Chetna Organic. In a time when many brands are experimenting with traceability from fiber to garment, the Chetna systems are already geared to achieve this. Such traceability is important because Chetna works with farmers from three states and seven districts who are divided into nine different clusters (federated as co-operatives). But despite such diverse sourcing bases, every cotton bale from Chetna can be traceable to its source. Such traceability comes from maintaining of an elaborate system of labelling, lot creation and lot wise handling, sequential processing as well as documentation procedure at every stage.
Another aspect of traceability – and probably more important from the perspective of quality control - is the farmer-level tracing of cotton. Here too an elaborate system of cotton packing and labelling, accurate recording at the field level, and counter checks by farmers themselves helps maintain transparency in the movement of goods from the farmer to the ginning unit.
Chetna’s traceability systems can be explained in two parts: Farm to Gin Traceability, and Seed Cotton to Bale Traceability.
Field level traceability
This involves the traceability of cotton from the farm to the ginning unit and the system enables Chetna to trace cotton coming to the ginning unit up to the farmer who has supplied it. The following diagram briefly explains the process from the farm to the field:
The key to field level traceability lies in practices such as (i) using farm diaries to cross check yields when procuring, (ii) delivery of cotton in bags with proper labels (which have a unique code for every farmer), (iii) recording of procurement and gradation details – against each farmers cotton in designated formats and registers, (iv) countersigned by farmers – at the time of procurement, and (v) dispatch of cotton in the same lots as procured from the farmer – with the labels – along with detailed packing lists to record truck wise incoming details at the ginning unit. Additionally, practices such as issuing individual farmer slips, counter signing of procurement, and gradation registers by farmers etc help transparency as farmers know exactly what their produce quality is, what the worth of their produce is, and are assured about the exact value they would get for their cotton.
The above system of traceability helps primarily in ensuring that only cotton which is organically certified gets procured. Additionally, in the case of an errant farmer or group, such lapses can be identified and corrected immediately. At the same time, this also builds confidence amongst farmers as regards the transparency of the transaction thus building a continued loyalty.
Gin level traceability
Unlike the field level traceability – where the focus is more on controlling non-compliance and maintaining a transparent transaction system – gin level traceability is all about detailed tracking of produce from different areas and its movement through the ginning process up to the finished goods. The following diagram describes the system at the gin to maintain traceability:
The key aspect of traceability from seed cotton to bale lies in maintaining segregation of cotton from different sources throughout the ginning process and accurate records of the input and output at each stage in a combination of registers such as heaping register, processing register, storage register, bale output record, and dispatch registers.
The process starts right at the stage of:
(i) Cotton heaping, where cotton from different sources/clusters is heaped separately with sufficient segregation distance to avoid mixing.
(ii) This is followed by the ginning process where each heap is ginned separately and sequentially to avoid mixing of heaps. Also, ginning of each heap is preceded by a 30 minute dry run to ensure cotton residue of earlier heap does not mix with the following one.
(iii) Post ginning, cotton needs to be stores in overnight storage houses – called Pala Houses – for mandatory cooling. In such cases, cotton from different sources is stored in separate Pala houses. The ginning schedule is calibrated in a manner where at no point does cotton ginned exceed the capacity of the Pala houses.
(iv) The last stage is the pressing of ginned cotton into bales. This is also done sequentially with each pala house. The input and output from each pala house is accurately recorded and mapped to unique bale numbers – Press Running Numbers – which allows a bale to be traced right to its source.
The internal control and traceability systems outlined above are further complemented by a strong team of 150 staff who are present during the entire cotton procurement period, overseeing and monitoring the process, and helping farmers at each stage with documentation, gradation etc. Similarly, Chetna staff is present at the ginning unit complex for the entire process – often staying over at the unit itself – to ensure that transparency is maintained at each step through the movement of the goods. Such exhaustive monitoring aids in having complete visibility right through the life of the product at Chetna.
Chetna realizes the business of organic cotton needs to be part of a larger agenda of agroecology, food security and livelihoods and is committed to making investments in the farms and enabling policy changes in favour of smallholder agriculture.
Rama Krishna Yarlagadda
Textile Exchange Find A Producer: Chetna Organic Farmers Association