Pranjal Baruah

Ashoka Fellow
India,
Fellow Since 2003

Citation

This profile was prepared when Pranjal Baruah was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
Ending exploitation of farmers is one of the toughest of challenges in Northeast India's political economy. Organizing farmers has proven to be a dangerous endeavor in the past. Realizing this, Pranjal Baruah works through the medium of mushroom cultivation, a fairly new crop that is not yet tied to territorial middlemen, to organize farmers. He is developing systems for every point along the mushroom cultivation chain–from spawn to market. To strengthen farmers' control over their crop and their market, he has established a mushroom farmers' network. By standardizing price and quality, he gives power to the farmers to collectively demand a fair minimum price. They also have greater freedom in deciding to whom and where to sell their crop. He feels that the farmers' unified voice is their only chance at growing their businesses to a point where they can "dictate terms and beat the middlemen at their game."

Pranjal's idea involves simple technology, requires negligible investment, and offers quick returns–ideal for the agro-climatic conditions of Northeast India's economy. Pranjal's high-tech mushroom lab provides a continuous supply of quality spawns at low rates, while his farmer network offers training and a buy-back guarantee as an incentive for farmers to get involved. He is establishing strong links throughout the system to grow mushroom cultivation into a sustainable livelihood, especially for the unemployed and the landless poor. He is preparing mushroom entrepreneurs in every district of Assam. In addition to running their own farms, these entrepreneurs will motivate, train, support, and coordinate other growers in their geographic area. They provide leadership and technical support to their network of local mushroom growers. His win-win strategies place control directly into the hands of the farmers and show a way by which growers can gain maximum benefit through organizing.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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