Ease of doing business: Still some miles to go for a FPO
(All the names and the characters in this blog are fictitious but not the circumstances)
Aashish was on his two-wheeler, riding on a dusty road in some small town in the central state of India. He had yesterday’s matchmaking meeting for his marriage running in his mind. One old man from the prospective bride’s side asked him, ‘The post of CEO of a Farmer Producer Organization (FPO) is impressive, but see if you could apply for the forthcoming peon’s vacancies for a government job…… Yes, I know you have an MA, but frankly, anyone could get that nowadays. A government job is a government job!’ This was not the first time that Aashish had had such an experience. Aashish was determined to make his FPO a glaring example for success.
Aashish recollected the training he undertook during the formative years of the FPO. ‘The easiest thing a FPO could do is to facilitate the farm inputs, like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. A FPO can earn at least 15 % of the overall transaction amount.’ These were the words of Vikas Singh, an experienced trainer for FPOs. The promoting organizations had arranged many training sessions at the start, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, everything came to a standstill for the last 6 months. ‘You need to start with the Form A for obtaining the dealer’s license for seeds. A farmer can choose not to use fertilizers, but they cannot afford to not sow the seeds,’ he recalled Vikasji laughing loud. Since then, Aashish has been carrying a copy of Form A in his pocket, soiled and torn in multiple places, a reminder of the number of hands and offices it has gone through.
For these few months, Aashish has been getting a recurring nightmare — a paper sitting on his desk had turned into a huge monster and tried to choke him to death. Waking up all scared, he has had a feeling of the monster being Form-A. In reality, Form-A is just three pages long with two pages of Terms and Conditions of Authorisation, and a list of 10 documents to obtain the seed license. Why has this form become the protagonist of Aashish’s nightmare?
After multiple follow up with new farmers to become the members of FPO, the balance also crossed over 50000 INR. The mandatory condition to get the license was now fulfilled. As the demand for low price, premium quality seeds was increasing with the incoming farming season Aashish spent many days in and outside the state’s Agricultural Department’s office to understand the legalities of Form-A. He only had three documents readily available — photographs, mobile number, and permanent residence proof required to obtain the seed licence. From the FPO, he could get the CIN (Corporate Identification Number), that was one more off the list. For the attested site plan for the FPO office, he had to visit the revenue department at the block/taluka office. Now he only needed qualification certificate, Form ‘O’, and challan for a treasury fee of INR 1000. He was still waiting for the responses of the authorisation letter from the popular seeds companies. Form A was growing into a monster; this wasn’t how it sounded during the orientation training.
After a successful FPO members’ meeting to obtain consensus on two or three seed varieties that they must order instead of nine different varieties that the farmers had originally demanded, Aashish went to Gram Pradhan to obtain the No Objection Certificate — the last bit for submitting Form-A. The Gram Pradhan insisted that he should think seriously about his daughter’s proposal for marriage. Marrying Gram Pradhan’s daughter was another horrific dream that was streamed intermittently along with Form-A dream in the last few days. After a few bitter words, and with clear hints that he would face a tough time in further matters at Gram Panchayat office, he obtained the No Objection Certificate.
Aashish called Vikasji, ‘Vikasji, I successfully submitted the Form A!’ His voice was filled with the sense of achievement, euphoria, to which Vikasji replied, ‘Badhai ho, now come down sometime, I will hand over the other necessary forms to obtain the Fertilizer license, Pesticide license, Kiosk space proof, Warehouse space proof, qualification certificates of management…………..’ !!!
Aashish was able to get the necessary seed licence, albeit missing out on one farming season. He was able to save grace — his own and fellow farmers who trusted on the FPO as an entity to progress.
Few months down the line, Aashish was at the counter of the post office, ‘How long would it take for the speed post?’ The post office clerk muttered something from behind his mask. Aashish did not bother to ask again, he just hoped that his application for the peon’s post for the government job would reach on time. He dreamt of being a peon in some government office where a CEO of some FPO would approach him and helplessly request him for some guidance. With drooping shoulders, he called home, ‘Amma, I have applied for the peon’s post!’ His Amma showered a mouthful of blessings from the other side of the call.
What we have learned:
The requirement and paperwork needed for obtaining input licenses are long, tiring and cumbersome. The visits to different offices to collect the required documents are time-consuming, to say the least. Can we explore the possibility of easing the requirements for FPOs?
Providing access to inputs are a part of almost every FPO. Can there be a one-point centre to address all queries and concerns with respect to inputs? Digitising the licensing process could be one huge step in that direction. The thought we would also like to provoke — can the entire spectrum of input services that a FPO needs, be made accessible at one stop?
Is it possible to include access to input licenses at the time of registration of the FPO? A lot of paperwork is needed for the process of FPO registration, so redundancy of work can be avoided.
Note: This blog is inspired from the insights gained from the CEO’s of FPOs with whom we interact as part of the research. The purpose of this blog is to bring out the struggles of these CEO’s in fulfilling one necessary part of their job.
Form 0, or Certificate O is an authorised letter issued to the applicant to undertake wholesale retailing and sales. This is issued by the Department of Agriculture of the state.