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"Improving Livelihoods For Smallholder Farming Households" Punit Gupta, Country Director, TechnoServe India

India has approximately 126 million smallholder farmers, accounting for ~86% of total operational holdings in the country.

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India’s farming households, which comprise more than 50% of the country’s population, face severe demand and supply side disruptions such as loss of labour, lack of access to input/output markets and information channels, and supply chain and logistical disruptions , further aggravated by COVID-19. The COVID-19-induced slowdown has impacted smallholder farmer economics severely, and is expected to lower farmer household incomes by an average of over 30% across India. In an recent conversation with BW businessworld Punit Gupta, Country Director, TechnoServe India talks about smallholder farming households. Excerpts:

1. What’s the story behind this partnership?

Due to COVID-19, agriculture, which is the heart of Indian economy, is at risk of decelerating productivity and revenues. India’s farming households, which comprise more than 50% of the country’s population, face severe demand and supply-side disruptions such as loss of labour, lack of access to input/output markets and information channels, supply chain and logistical disruptions. These challenges have already caused massive dents in farmers’ incomes and are likely to hinder their ability to fund the next sowing season.

As part of Kellogg's Better Days purpose platform, they are committed to supporting 1 million farmers, workers and women through programs focused on climate, social and financial resiliency. They expanded their partnership with us to continue to support farming families in India.

Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) have emerged as viable mediums for crisis response relief work and will be leveraged by TechnoServe and Kellogg to protect smallholder farmer (SHF) livelihoods in the medium to long term, support them to remain on growth trajectories, and enable them to move back to economic viability. To this end, the partnership aims to improve crop productivity by promoting sustainable agricultural practices in wheat, a major Rabi crop for Uttar Pradesh farmers; improve access to better agronomy and post-harvest management practices, phone-based crop advisory services and better markets; and build the capacity of FPOs to become active market players in commercial agri-value chains.

2. How many farmers are involved in this initiative? What techniques and technologies are you introducing to them for farming?

The ‘Improving Livelihoods for Smallholder Farming Households in Uttar Pradesh’ program will be implemented with five Farmer Producer Organizations, with a membership base of at least 10,000 farmers, and will impact 2,500 farmers, at-least 50% of whom will be women, directly through Farmer Field Schools and Farmer Interest Groups.

The program will introduce farmers to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and weather-based crop advisory, through Farmer Field Schools and Farmer Interest Groups, taking into account social distancing measures as appropriate to improve crop productivity and quality of produce. Through the establishment of community-embedded systems, mechanisms for digitized training, and virtual weather and crop advisory services, the program will minimize the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on farmer productivity and incomes.

With a significant change in market demand and logistics, farmers will need information and support to navigate the bottlenecks posed by the pandemic. The program will aggregate data on mandis/institutional buyers, quality and quantity requirements, trends, and price information and disseminate to farmers. The program will also train farmers on post-harvest management techniques to meet evolving market demands.

3. How did this concept come about/ How was this concept generated 

TechnoServe has deep expertise in India and other parts of the world across different value chains. These concepts have proven to be game-changers for farmers and they are customized as per geographical and value chain requirements.

Under Good Agricultural Practices, the program will be training farmers in a comprehensive suite of agronomic practices, including soil testing, the technologies used in cultivation, crop varietal change and environmental protection. The program has also collaborated with a service provider with automatic weather stations (AWS) across the different districts to provide farmers with weekly weather-based crop advisory to inform their decisions in real time. Further, the farmers will be trained on post-harvest management practices, such as crop handling and storage, to maintain crop quality and marketability and avoid postharvest loss.  These concepts have been developed taking into account geographical and farmer requirements and are aim to increase productivity for farmers, while promoting positive environmental impact and resilience to climate threats.

4 .What are the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in India and how it is impacting the Indian agriculture sector? How will this partnership help them to resolve problems? 

India has approximately 126 million smallholder farmers, accounting for ~86% of total operational holdings in the country. Therefore, they disproportionately contribute to the agriculture sector. Smallholder farmers are consigned to subsistence farming due to small landholding size and are unable to generate enough incomes due to lack of access to remunerative markets and quality inputs, outdated farming practices and lack of farmer capacity building ecosystem, underdeveloped post-harvest management, warehouse and cold chain infrastructures, erratic climate and insufficient capital inflows. These challenges faced by farmers are limiting them from reaching their full potential, thus leading to the sluggish growth of the agriculture sector.

This partnership aims to demonstrate a solution for addressing some of the key challenges faced by smallholder farmers. By providing wheat farmers with technical assistance on GAP, post-harvest management practices and market and weather intelligence, it aims to address some of the key gaps in the present value chain.

5. What are your views on the participation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare when it comes to smallholder farmers?

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has been responding to the challenges faced by the smallholder farmers through key policy interventions/schemes e.g. doubling farmer incomes by 2022, the introduction of online marketing platform such as e-Nam, affordable crop insurance etc. Several of these initiatives have been not accessible to smallholder farmers due to lack of information and implementation bottlenecks. The ministry should work to ensure the efficient delivery of these initiatives at the state level to address the long-standing concerns of smallholder farmers.

Additionally, the introduction of recent farm acts focused on agriculture marketing, contract farming and essential commodities are pivotal steps taken by the Government in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and are aimed at addressing key issues faced by smallholder farmers.

6. Could you share an overview of the results achieved by TechnoServe and Kellogg in the last years? 

TechnoServe’s partnership with Kellogg in India started in 2015, with the Climate Smart Agriculture program which helped more than 12,000 farmers in corn, wheat, soy and legume-growing regions of Madhya Pradesh adopt profitable, environmentally friendly, and easily accessible techniques to improve yields, crop quality, and resilience to climate threats. The program worked closely with Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) across the four districts of Narsinghpur, Guna, Sheopur, and Dindori

As a result of the program, participating farmers have seen a 20% increase in income. Families have also learned how to develop personal kitchen gardens, which improve nutrition and reduce food expenditures. The average household with a garden now consumes vegetables daily, while their spending on vegetables has decreased by nearly 75%.

In November, 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center recognized Kellogg Company’s partnership with TechnoServeto help these farmers improve their climate resilience and their incomes. The 2019 Citizens Awards named the partnership, which assists more than 12,000 farmers in India, the year’s Best Economic Empowerment Program.

Building on these achievements from the previous program and to further expand the impact to other districts of Madhya Pradesh, TechnoServe along with Kellogg’s initiated a new program - Promoting Sustainable Agriculture for Experienced Farmers of Madhya Pradesh. The project aimed to promote sustainable agriculture, improve the economic wellbeing, and reduce the ecological footprint for experienced farmers in Barwani and Khargone districts of Madhya Pradesh in 2018-19. The project focused on three components- agri-horti-forestry or Wadi plantation development to create a sustainable source of livelihood for farmers, organic kitchen gardening to improve the households’ access to nutritious vegetable and an additional source of income, and the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) to improve sustainable sugarcane cultivation practices in the region.

7.Why did you select Uttar Pradesh as the next project? What are your expansion plans? 

Uttar Pradesh is one of the most populous states in India (~228 million) and over 65% of the population is dependent on agriculture. Among the farmers, ~91% of agricultural landholding is held by small and marginal farmers. These farming communities are unable to capitalize on the significant potential of their key crops, and agricultural profitability remains low. Wheat is UP’s main agricultural crop, and the state contributes approximately 32% of the country’s total wheat. With a strong farmer base in wheat cultivation, significant market demand and high levels of production, wheat is a commodity that can drive economic growth for smallholder farmers.

Working with farmers to improve crop productivity and helping them access better markets will play a significant role in bolstering farmer livelihoods.