The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) backed the scheme. “NABARD funded us for three years to gain technical knowledge. We travelled and learned organic practices and applied them in our villages,” says Balasubramanian. From 2011 to 2014, the bank supported organic farming initiatives by working capital loan, crop loans, and milch animal loan totalling 5.5 million rupees. This encouraged the farmers to bring more agricultural land under organic farming.

They covered marketing aspects like procurement, processing, value addition and sale of their organic produce. But they soon realised that for successful marketing, a certificate of guarantee from an accredited certification agency was necessary. In 2007, the group which had 170 members by then, registered for formal third-party organic certification from IMO Control Private Ltd, an accredited agency, under which the products were marked with the “Truthfully Tested Label” (TFL). In a unique approach, SOFA produced and marketed labelled ‘Organic Seeds’ of Paddy under the brand name of “Akshaya Seeds”.