A group of ambitious farmers came together in 2001 to start Manarcadu Social Service Society (MASS) with the objective of helping the farming community in Kottayam and Idukki districts of Kerala adapt to sustainable agriculture practices, thereby creating a better livelihood and a better planet. Today MASS is a strong cooperative community of organic and Fairtrade famers, with 17 cluster groups that consist of 25 to 50 members each. These groups meet once a month to discuss their prospects and requirements including Fairtrade Premium projects.
MASS believes in improving the lives of its members by training them in sustainable farming practices and equipping them for newer markets. As an example, the high altitude farms, many without proper roads or communication facilities, inspire the practice of biowaste reduction and recycling. MASS also promotes improved infrastructure for processing (box fermentation of cocoa, solar drying of spices) and storage.
Fairtrade Premium projects include crop rehabilitation, crop renovation and, for soil conservation, the planting of 150,000 cocoa seedlings and 100,000 spice saplings. The farmers also construct small ponds in their land to conserve water.
A portion of the Premium is pledged for training the farmer groups in plant protection methods. The co-operative invests in the supply of organic manure and other organic measures to increase productivity. The ‘Plant Doctor’ team provides systematic advice on organic farming and climate change to the entire farming community.
Of the 1,050 small and marginal farmers, 144 are women, many of whom hold leadership roles. Their bi-monthly newsletter, Jaivashree, gives a voice to the entire farming community.
MASS has insured more than 600 farmers, mostly from hilly areas that lack proper medical facilities. The farmers have an added incentive in the form of utilizing the Fairtrade Premium for their children’s education.