Krishnan Sianathan - Agrocel, India

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For the last three years Krishnan has been managing the organic Fairtrade cotton project in three southern states of India.

About Krishnan

Krishnan Sainathan lives in Bangalore, south India, with his wife Srividhya, daughter Akshaya, who is studying at secondary school, and his mother Sowdamani. He has a postgraduate degree in botany with 26 years experience in agriculture-related fields including sales, marketing, research, and product development.

Krishnan Sainathan works for Agrocel Industries Ltd, based at Bangalore. For the last three years he has been managing the organic Fairtrade cotton project in three southern states. This involves organising small-scale farmers into functioning farmers associations to help them improve production methods and meet organic and Fairtrade standards so that they can access higher value markets and increase their incomes. His work includes spreading the Fairtrade philosophy and encouraging pride in farming, particularly to younger farmers many of whom drift to the cities, disillusioned with the status and financial prospects of farming.

Agrocel Organic & Fairtrade Cotton Project

Agrocel’s agriculture service division works with 20,000 farmers across India promoting organic and Fairtrade production and marketing of cotton, rice and nuts. One of Agrocel’s major current projects is the Organic & Fairtrade Cotton Project. Agrocel has developed long term partnerships with groups of farmers to assist in meeting certification standards, improve farming techniques, reduce production costs, market their cotton, and increase their profits.

Five Fairtrade certified organic cotton farmers groups in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and Karnataka are currently participating in this project. Agrocel Pure & Fair Cotton Growers’ Association from Kutch in Gujarat was one of the earliest participants in the project and typifies the scheme. With guidance from Agrocel, this previously unorganised group of 50 farmers was formalised into a legal entity in 2005. This was the first step in successfully gaining Fairtrade certification, which enabled the farmers to supply the UK market when Fairtrade certified cotton products were launched in November 2005. Products made with Agrocel Fairtrade cotton are available from Bishopston Trading, Traidcraft, Marks & Spencer, and many more retailers.

The success of the group has enabled them to extend membership to farmers in neighbouring Surendranagar district. Membership now stands at 1,930 farmers, including 77 women farmers, and covering over 6,000ha.

Fairtrade Premium Projects

As well as the Fairtrade minimum price and organic premium, farmers’ groups receive the additional Fairtrade premium for investment in business or community projects agreed by members. Recent projects include:

  • Short-term loan scheme for farmers to finance agricultural improvements
  • Relief fund to pay medical costs of poor farmers
  • Installation of on-farm drip irrigation & construction of village ponds to conserve rainwater
  • Construction of a kitchen and provision of clean running water for a village school
  • Provision of schoolbooks and clothes for children of poor farmers and villagers
  • Rehabilitation of degraded farm land; farmer education and training programmes
  • Technical assistance to develop compost pits to make organic manure and fertilisers
  • Regular veterinary checks for farm animals
  • Free vegetable seed distribution scheme for farmers
  • Homeworking embroidery scheme to improve women’s incomes
  • Footwear stands for village schools (considered holy places so footwear must be removed)
  • Provision of solar street lamps in villages
  • Provision of pump equipment for the lift irrigation system
  • Provision of a tractor and land clearing equipment for the use of farmers
  • Provision of community hall for village meetings, weddings, and other social events
  • Integrated crop management practices to encourage pollinators, predators and parasitoids (P3), the natural enemies useful in reducing the population of insects known as sucking pests that attack cotton.