The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the state has caused regular markets to be either closed or partially functioning subject to protocols stipulated by the government thereby causing great economic hardship to many. This, however, has not deterred Mawhiang headman Bindar Sing Kharwar from moving forward by inaugurating a ‘Farm On Wheels’ (FOW) vehicle, a livelihood concept that was initiated by four Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) groups from the community in association with the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) on Friday (July 31, 2020). Mawhiang is located in Mawsynram C&RD Block of East Khasi Hills District.
The FOW is a platform for farmers groups to sell their produce directly to the consumers and at the same time, create sustainable livelihood opportunities for them as well. This initiative aims at allowing businesses to function while adhering to social distancing norms and actually take the market to the consumer. It will ensure the urgent need to safeguard domestic food security and also the ability to market their local produce right from buying to selling, which is important to help thwart any disruption in the supply chain owing to the various uncertainties in the prevailing situation.
“As the headman of Mawhiang and also as a member of the PGS group, it gives me great pleasure to be a part of an initiative which will help preserve our traditional local system. Here onwards, I will always ensure to make time for it to ensure smooth sailing of the business,” Kharwar asserted.
The FOW is literally a vehicle that sells chemical-free vegetables of PGS groups once a week whenever the produce is ready. It helps consumers to have direct access to local chemical-free vegetables and the PGS groups to have access to markets using a hassle-free and cost-effective livelihood methods.
NESFAS Executive Director Pius Ranee said, “As per the recent survey conducted by NESFAS, it was found that there is a market demand for local produce even at the local markets. Therefore, this innovative idea of selling local products via the Farmer’s Market on Wheel is a good initiative to help enhance the income of our farmers especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Despite heavy rainfall in the area, the launch was a runaway success as selected members from the four PGS groups – Iatreilang group, Iamonlang group, Iasnohktilang group, and Iatyllilang group – gathered at the venue, all while adhering to the COVID-19 protocols of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, use of hand sanitizers, etc.
After the launch, the headman of Mawhiang and community facilitator Aiolian Kharsyntiew rolled out the vehicle to the main road where they sold all the products in three hours. Kharsyntiew said, “We are very happy that we have managed to launch the FOW today with the help of NESFAS. This initiative will help awaken the importance of local produce which is most of the time chemical-free and healthy.”
Veronica Riwah, one of the customers who came out of her house to buy vegetables from the FOW vehicle lauded the initiative and wishes the PGS groups all the very best in their endeavors. “We will gain a lot of benefit from this local produce as they are fresh, healthy, and are available at reasonable rates. Thankfully, I will not have to go to crowded markets especially during these trying times to buy vegetables.”
This initiative of the four PGS groups has set an example to all other PGS groups collaborating with NESFAS and senior associate of the organization Janak Preet Singh said there are 24 more PGS groups from across East Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi and West Garo Hills who have agreed to initiate the FOW initiative soon.