In an effort to empower India’s 125 million smallholder farms to take advantage of growing opportunities in the agricultural sector, the Tata-Cornell Institute (TCI) for Agriculture and Nutrition launched a hub for Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs). The hub features a first-of-its-kind database of Indian FPOs. Created with grant funding from the Walmart Foundation, the hub is expected to serve as a repository of learnings, information, and knowledge for the advancement of FPOs in India.
Small farms are disadvantaged when it comes to accessing markets, credit, and agricultural inputs such as seeds. By joining together in FPOs, farmers work to jointly reduce costs and improve market access, helping to drive higher agricultural productivity, enhanced food security, and livelihood development.
Farmers have formed FPOs since the early 2000s. Though interest promoting FPOs is high among philanthropists, corporations and the government, there are still significant barriers to entry for many, including limited financing opportunities and the time required to become self-sufficient. In 2014, the Indian government began a renewed push to promote FPOs.
“Farmer producer organizations are crucial for both improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and increasing the supply of diverse, nutritious foods that are increasingly in demand across India. Through the FPO Hub, TCI aims to provide a foundation of data-based knowledge on top of which strong, effective FPOs can be built and sustained,” said Professor Prabhu Pingali, Director, TCI. Prof. Pingali is also the Chair of ICRISAT Governing Board.
The TCI’s database for Indian FPOs is a new platform that brings together information on thousands of FPOs to facilitate research on small-farm aggregation models. TCI’s database is the only centralized source of data on Indian FPOs currently available. Through the interactive web-based dashboard, researchers can access a wealth of data on FPOs, such as crops produced, founding years, and sponsoring agencies. Ultimately, the data will allow researchers at the hub to formulate models to boost smallholder farmer income and welfare.
During the virtual panel discussion held to mark the launch of the hub, Dr Padmaja Ravula, Senior Scientist, Gender Research, ICRISAT, outlined multiple challenges to explain the limited participation of women in FPOs.
“Though small in number, there are some very successful examples of women-led FPOs in India. Among the challenges that women face in being part of FPOs or leading them, first is the limiting social cultural and gender norms that manifest varyingly in India. There is a need to create awareness of how aggregation and FPOs would benefit women individually as well as at a larger scale. Awareness building needs to be linked to capacity building. As men and women experience challenges differently, the training approaches may have to be different and tailored to women,” Dr Ravula said.
“Access to resources like inputs, credit, knowledge or even technology is another limiting factor. If we look at access to technology, even at something as simple as a mobile phone, not all women in remote villages own a mobile phone. This limits access to new information and knowledge, and may create hesitancy or deter women from coming together to form FPOs,” she added.
Dr Ravula underscored the importance of value chain stakeholders’ perspectives on gender, and argued that it has a bearing on the participation of women in FPOs. Mobility restrictions, time constraints and the burdens on energies are other factors limiting factors mentioned.
Looking at lessons that could be borrowed from the success of India’s Self-Help Groups (SHG) movement to improve women participation in FPOs, Dr Ravula reiterated the need for creating more awareness of to build social capital, as was done for SHGs. “The SHGs were able to federate, leading women to participate in planning, gender budgeting and all other activities.”
Dr Ravula also said that as discussions are underway, it remains to be seen if converging SHGs and FPOs is a fruitful approach. Drawing a parallel to the SHGs movement in the area of microcredit, she stressed the need to have a common business activity and helping women groups interested in forming or leading FPOs to find such activities.
To view the entire panel discussion, click here.