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Invisible Injustices-17.

India, Feb. 1 -- Export-oriented broiler poultry farms have become big business in India, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Within six weeks one kilogram of poultry meat can be prepared which fetches a net profit of Rs 5-7 on an average for a technically sound entrepreneur. The more the birds are inducted, the greater will be the quantum of profit.

Knowing this, somebody smart in business took a loan of rupees one crore at 18% interest from a bank to establish a broiler farm of 6,00,000 birds in a dry land agricultural area in one of the southern States.

Within four months be was able to set up his broiler farm with 6,30,000 birds including 5% mortality. He anticipated a sale of 6,00,000 broilers every two months to get an average of Rs 30,00,000 net profit. That meant by the end of the first year he was hoping to generate Rs 1,20,00,000 as net income enabling him to pay back the loan with interest (1,18,00,000) and to have a surplus of Rs 2,00,000 in hand. Thereafter he was contemplating to make a net profit of Rs 180,00,000 per year.

He was an outsider to that area and his plans were not unrealistic and he did thrive! The whole block belonged to dry land agricultural area. Most people were poor and had only one or two acres each growing dry land crops like jowar, maize, groundnut, cotton, arhar etc.

Ever since the poultry farm came up, there has been a demand for millets and groundnuts, by the owner of the poultry farm and he was prepared to buy any amount of jowar, maize, groundnut and arhar as raw materials for poultry feed. For the people, it was a blessing as he was providing a steady market to the local people to sell their crops easily and to get some much needed money.

The man now set up an oil extraction plant and bought up the entire groundnut in the region, and he sold, the oil which was another source of great income. The oil cake he turned into poultry feed combined with millets. Similarly, he set up a dal making unit and bought the arhar grain produced by the people around, which was their major source of protein. He produced arhar dal, which also became a great source of income as all dals are sold at high price. The by-product, dal chuny, he again used for poultry feed preparation.

He established a huge feed-mixing plant by the side of his poultry farm and prepared all the poultry feed required by grinding and mixing maize and jowar grain with groundnut cake and dal chuny. Thus the feed prepared was much cheaper and better in quality than what was available in the market. Feeding with better quality feed reflected in the growth of the broilers and the net income.

He was really a clever business man. He gave the poultry manure to the people who sold him millets, groundnut and arhar free of cost. People came with their bullock-carts and carried away mountains of poultry manure which if he were to clear would cost a huge sum every month. Thus he smartly solved the problem of disposal of what for him was a waste material. But for the people it was good quality manure for their fields. His poultry farm, oil extraction plant, feed-mixing plant and dal making unit provided job to some people from the neighbourhood whose families started living a little better.

A number of social action groups had also been active in the area since couple of decades. They conducted balwadis, adult and non-formal education schemes, cultural programmes, mahila mandals, youth clubs, etc. They also organized meetings of villagers, awareness and motivation camps, leadership training programmes and legal aid camps. As a result people had become quite conscious of their rights. They were able to voice their demands and protest against injustices.

Social action groups now began to have a look at the rich poultry man. Right in front of their eyes he had flourished. He wielded social and political power matching to his wealth. Soon, as a result of awareness campaigns by social activists, people began demanding higher wages, and higher prices for their grain and ground nut. The labourers in the man's plants also began demanding more pay, more allowances, better conditions of work etc.

Succumbing to pressure, the poultry farmer increased the price of millets, groundnuts and dals by few paise per kilogram of the produce he bought, increased the pay and sanctioned certain allowances to his workers. But he began charging a nominal amount for the poultry manure which he till now used to give free and, in the process, was taking in a bit more than he was giving to them.

Not aware of exactly what was happening, the social activists were very happy. They published about their success in the newspapers. It featured in their newsletter and annual report. They became heroes and were garlanded at village meetings. Foreign money poured in as many funding agencies too wanted to feel they were contributors to the social developmental process. The activists now started aspiring more. They were elected to the panchayat and thus moved into politics. After a year or two, people again staged protest marches and demonstrations. The poultry man accordingly increased the pay and the prices. But the poultry manure also cost a little more. Simultaneously the prices of all consumer items also increased; hence the economic status of the people remained the same.

The businessman, by giving a little to the people, was making sure the flow of raw material he needed for his plants would be maintained uninterruptedly, that he would have enough labour.

The poultry man grew richer and richer, and the people remained at the same level, if not gone down a little, due to rising prices of all the consumer items. But the social action groups thrived. The funding agencies too found a project to channel their funds on some tangible results. The people had grown in awareness but they had remained poor, illiterate and sick. The work of social action groups continued, the prices of produce and wages rose steadily every year, and funding agencies kept channelling money for socio-political development but not economic. It was a cycle that went on and on. "Many people sold their farm lands to the poultry former and moved out to cities. Some of those who had shouted slogans were no more; new people had taken their place. But economic conditions had not changed proportionate to the demands in life.

How can we improve their economic conditions? Some of the workers in the Social Action groups raised the question once in a way in the social action meetings. But the heads of the social action groups turned a deaf ear to such questions. They seem to be unaware of the following possibilities.

Couldn't the social action groups, for example, have organized people and started a poultry cooperative with 1,200 beneficiaries with 500 broiler chicks each per beneficiary with a total of 6,00,000 birds equivalent to the above mentioned broiler farm? For this they could have arranged the money from the same funding agency. That would have meant distribution of the capital of rupees one crore among l,200 families; and the net profit, of Rs. 180,00,000, could have been shared by them instead of being appropriated by just one man. If need be they can have another unit of 1200 or 900 or 600 or even 300 family units. If they can organize people for social issues why can't they organize for economic matters? The social action groups who organized so many programmes could easily have taken over the work of marketing too. The funding agencies, in turn, could have provided both finance and marketing management expertise.

Similarly the units for oil extraction, dal making and feed mixing could be also set up under the management of the social action groups. All these could be done on a cooperative basis. Even export of the products is possible. The share of the additional income to the people would have improved the economic conditions of the people, children could have been sent for higher education. What a single poultry farmer did could have been done by a unit of 1200 to families and the profits could have been distributed equitably among the people. Why didn't the action groups and funding agencies think of this? Because, they seem to want the people to remain where they are so that, they could continue to do social action programmes for their own benefit.

Social action groups could organize people to manage their own resources in production, processing and marketing (PPM) approach. They rarely enter into management of cooperative service societies for the people. Nor are the funding agencies ready to finance such enterprises. They are blind to such economic possibilities but are very much alive to social realities. So really huge viable economic units are set up by the clever individuals from outside and they will become richer and richer, burrowing into not only the assets of the people, but also their lives. Social and political development of people without economic development will not be sustainable.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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