Group discussion in progress. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

New ways to engage farmers through social entrepreneurs

Group discussion in progress. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Group discussion in progress. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

A new initiative has begun to better support value chains where farmers’ welfare is one key component, through the creation of social entrepreneur clusters. Social entrepreneurs are helping change the food system by taking a triple bottom line approach which involves caring about farmer welfare as well as the environment and ensuring the food is healthy and nutritious. These values are aligned with Smart Food, i.e., food that is good for you, the planet and the farmer. In a bid to identify models that will support social entrepreneurs and ultimately smallholder farmers, ICRISAT organized the first gathering of private and public sector organizations at New Delhi on 1 November 2018.

The first Smart Food social entrepreneurship clusters will be developed around millets and later expanded to other Smart Foods. The clusters will be instrumental in strengthening the whole value chain by providing more marketing and negotiating power to the social entrepreneurs, more credibility to the products and companies and more support for the farmers. A team will be set up to develop the model and core to this will be satisfying the criteria of being ‘good for you, good for the planet and good for the farmer’. This is expected to also evolve into a full certification program.

Perspectives from the broader economy were presented by Mr Ashish Bahuguna, who has vast experience given his former positions of Chairperson of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India; Agriculture Secretary, Government of India; and ICRISAT Governing Board Member. He shared lessons from India’s agriculture economy and urged entrepreneurs to think about balancing sustainability with the needs of the farmer. Mr Bahuguna has agreed to continue as a key advisor for setting up the model. Given the importance of insights from farmers’ perspective and the broader economy, Farmer Producer Organizations were also represented at the meeting.

Also important will be the formal structures to be put in place to operate the clusters. Lessons learnt on setting up SME clusters were shared by Mr Ashwini Saxena from JSW, who has years of experience with the UN in developing these. He has agreed to continue in an advisory capacity to develop the cluster.

Participants at the gathering. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Participants at the gathering. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Setting criteria for Smart Food and certification will be another important component. Quality Council of India (QCI) played a key role in providing direction with presentations from Mr Rajesh Maheshwari, Director, and Dr Manish Pande, Joint Director, Project Planning and Implementation Division.

Traceability along the value chain was identified as helpful in certifying Smart Food and to connect to the future block chain movement. Mr Rishabh Sood, Senior Manager, Rabobank, presented an overview on traceability and provided examples of financing opportunities including that for a new initiative for climate smart agriculture set up by Rabobank and USAID. Mr Anil Nadig, Co-founder of Jivabhumi Agritech, showcased “FoodPrint”, an app that uses block chain for traceability.

The group discussion marked issues raised by government organizations, (Odisha Millet Mission, QCI and RICH (Telangana government)), not-for-profit organizations (MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, SEWA, S3IDF, JSW Foundation and ICRISAT) and SMEs (SanLak Agro, Crop Connect, Taru Naturals, Mrida Associates, Jivabhumi Agritech, SlurpFarm, Gobhaarati, Rigdam, Vijaya Foods and Millenova foods). Following a discussion of the challenges and opportunities, the cluster model was recognized by the group as an initiative that can help empower farmers, support social entrepreneurs, ensure nutritious and healthy food for the consumer, grow the millet markets and better support the future food system with a triple bottom line.

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