In Asia, nearly 85% of the farmers are small and marginal farmers, in India this number if close to 82%. They have small landholdings and limited resources. World Bank calls them ‘One Dollar Farmers’. Securing the future of these farmers holds key to securing food security for all, ensuring reduced carbon and water footprint, and arresting climate change. However, availability, accessibility, and accreditation of inputs, best farming practices, technologies, equipment, and facilities is skewed in favour of large farmers.
In India, nearly 82 percent of farmers are small and marginal farmers (FAO, 2020), called as One-Dollar famers by the World Bank. In most Asian countries total land cultivated by smallholders represents a sizable portion of agricultural land in the country. Nearly 85% of the farmers in Asia are small and marginal farmers having land holdings less or equal to 2 hectares (FAO, 2010). Securing the future of these farmers, making them future proof hold the key to not only ensuring the transformation in the lives of such farmers but also in securing a better future for our planet – food security for all, reduced carbon and water footprint and arresting climate change.
However, availability, accessibility, and accreditation of inputs, best farming practices, technologies, equipment and facilities is skewed in favour of large farmers. Small and marginal farmers suffer from lack of awareness about best farming practices, availability of good inputs, access to good farm machinery and equipment, poor technology, high amount of losses and poor leverage in the market-leading to widespread exploitation at the hand of big traders and middlemen.
In this article, we put the spotlight on two future proof leaders – Deo Datt Singh, CEO of People’s Action for National Integration – PANI a non-profit organization and Vishal Mishra Manager – Farmer Resource Centre & Business Development, PANIworking at the grassroots in the Indo-Gangetic plain for more than 70,000 small and marginal farmers. This article is an attempt to articulate their future proof strategies that on one hand aims to create social empowerment (through self-reliance) and economic empowerment for them and on the other hand are trying to create a sustainable environment through the reduction of carbon and water footprints.
WATER IS A COMMUNITY RESOURCE AND NOT AN INDIVIDUAL PROPERTY
The top functionary of PANI participated in the climate change summit at Copenhagen in 2009 and since then People’s Action for National Integration – PANI had started working on climate change and natural resources.
Deo Datt Singh informs that they observed a lot of changes happening with regards to Crop Cycles. and coping-up with sowing time. Small and marginal farmers were not having good access to seed, agricultural inputs and measures to be taken for a healthy soil.
It was also observed that in the Indo-Gangetic plain where water is plenty, farmers were using the water very irresponsibly. Water table was going down sharply, to the extent of 80 cm per annum. If this trend continued, then there will come a time when water shortage will be felt.This will destroy the crop cycle. The main crops grown in this region that include wheat, paddy, sugarcane, mentha and vegetables all are water-intensive crops. It will be difficult to cultivate them. if these crops will not be cultivated, then food habits of people have to be changed. New Crop cycles, crop practices will have to be adopted, new technologies and practices would have to be adopted, all of which will be extremely difficult.
Farmer’s community of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, a northern state in India,is poor and does not have money for adopting new practices or for buying new farm implements and machinery. Say for instance, if farmers are asked to adopt drip irrigation as a water-saving technique, farmers do not have enough resources to adopt drip irrigation since it is a costly affair.
PANI decided to work on water considering that it will become the scarcest yet most demanded resource in the future. PANI had been implementing various agriculture and livelihood projects with a special focus on efficient use of water since 2014. The aim was to establish water as a public good, as a community good. The general perception of the farmers is that this is my land and water underneath is my water and I can use it the way I like. I can exploit it. But this should not be the case. Water is a community resource and should be used judiciously and responsibly. This was one of the starting principles.
PANI then set out to understand what work is occurring in the area of responsible use of water in agriculture in the country. On exploration, it was discovered that in the Panchayati raj institution (local administration body in Indian villages) there is a provision for a water management committee, yet most of these committees in villages were defunct. The farmers were not even aware that they were a part of such a committee. In short, water was last on their list of priorities.
PANI wanted to establish that water is a community good and it should be used for good of the community. Water should be used democratically. For making this a reality they started working with farmers. The small and marginal farmers, with whom they work, are having small land holdings but they use a lot of water. These farmers tend to exploit the resources more thinking that this will help them to reap more profits from that limited land holdings that they have and hence many times use water indiscriminately. They desperately invest many resources more than it is actually required that includes fertilizers, pesticides and water. Water is a near free resource, the only cost incurred in water is the fuel used to withdraw it from underground. Hence water tends to be used even more indiscriminately. PANI started working with farmers and to help them adopt practices and technologies that would prevent exploitation and wastage of water, recognition of water as a community resource that must be used responsibly and in a sustainable manner.
MAKING FARMING COMMUNITIES SELF-SUSTAINING – COMMUNITY RESOURCE PERSON (CRPs)
As PANI kept working with these farmers, they realized that there will be a time when the NGO will need to get out of the projects and for that the farming communities would have to become self-sustaining taking responsibility of their future challenges.
Hence, they decided to build the capacities of community people so that they can take some decisions when we are not there on the ground. So, with that philosophy PANI started identifying Community Resource Persons (CRPs). They were all identified from the villages. All CRPs were women. Identifying them, recruiting them and motivating them took a lot of effort. Vishal is doing a lot of work for making this happen. The CRPs were trained on some basic technologies. The practices and technologies prevalent in the local farming communities are video recorded. These mediated videos are handed over to the CRPs who then visit the local farming communities and disseminate various agriculture interventions relevant to their crops through these videos. The mediated videos ensure uniformity in message. The farmer becomes aware of the good farming practices of another farmer living in a neighbouring village. CRPs help in technology dissemination.
With sustained efforts PANI has been able to raise the income of the CRPs that acts as a huge motivation. The CRPs besides getting a fixed salary paid from the project, are also paid a performance linked incentive. This quarterly performance incentive is linked with the number of farmers a CRP is working with; number of farmers a CRP could convince for a particular technology, how much water potential could be created by the CRPs as a result of water-saving due to adoption of better water management practices. Till recent past, the performance linked incentive would be meagre amounting to about 3000 INR for three months. But with continuous motivation of the CRPs, this June, the performance incentive of the CRPs has gone upto 32000 INR per quarter, that is a ten-fold increase over the previous.
MAKING FARMING COMMUNITIES SELF-SUSTAINING – FARMER RESOURCE CENTERS (FRCS)
Technology dissemination and sustainable use of resources, especially water makes the small and marginal farmers more efficient. Hence after taking care of their food security they are able to produce an extra yield that they can sell in the market for economic gain. But the problem with small and marginal farmers is that they do not have enough marketable surplus to enable them to negotiate in the market for a better price of their produce. Hence the idea came that there must be some aggregation of the produce and the aggregation must occur at the site of production.
PANI worked on four principles
- Availability – Just making farmers aware of the good farming practices and technologies is not enough. There must be some place where the elements of these practices or technologies must be made available.
- Access – Along with the availability, the farmers must also have access to these elements. Access is a critical issue considering that even government centres have availability of many of such elements, however access remains difficult for small farmers.
- Utilization – It is important that farmers can make use of these elements whether they are farm machinery, good farming practices or good technologies.
- Aggregation – Aggregation of the surplus produced by the farmers at the site of production to give the farmers some leeway time to enable them to negotiate a better price of their crop with the big traders.
And thus the idea of Farmer Resource Center (FRCs) was born. Farmer Resource Center will be a one-stop place where these small and marginal farmers will get inputs, information, insurance and a place where they can aggregate their produce before selling it in the market.
Farmer Resource Centres also act like Knowledge-Hubs, making small and marginal farmers aware about various government schemes and other schemes from the development sector, link them with those schemes and ensure that they can utilize them for their benefit.
One FRC covers minimum 5 village panchayats and about 1000 farmers. Added to these another 400 walk-in farmers who are generally laggard when it comes to technology or practices adoption but wish to join later-on when they see the benefits reaped by other fellow farmers.The person who operates the FRC is chosen from the farming community. He should be a graduate, preferably an agriculture graduate and must have some basic idea of finance.
Going forward the objective is to establish more FRCs and eventually make them self-sustaining.
PANI is also linking the Community Resource Persons (CRPs) to the Farmer Resource Centres (FRCs) so that even after the project is over they can take it over as an entrepreneur, can keep working and earning and at the same time continue the good work for the small and marginal farmers.
REDUCING WATER AND CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND INCREASING PROFITS FOR FARMERS
Crops are perishable products and there is a huge possibility that on certain days more farmers can bring their surplus produce for aggregation creating a glut like situation. Hence there must be some way to preserve the excess produce and not just aggregate. This will give the farmers power to negotiate better for their produce.
There was a need to create some kind of storage facility at this farmer resource centers where farmers can store their produce for a couple of days.
But this could not be done under the umbrella of an NGO as this is an economic activity with a motive of profit. Hence a company under the aegis of PANI called Agriroute Foundation was established. This is a section-8 company and according to Indian company act, section-8 companies are those, whose motive can be profit with a condition that all profits must be ploughed back into the company for reaching out to more farmers for ensuring their benefit.
Agriroute Foundation has a mandate to establish farmer Resource Centers and cold storages for farming communities. Traditional cold storages are out of reach for the small and marginal farmers owing to the high cost and lack of proximity from their villages leading to the high cost of transportation and storage. Additionally, they have small surplus quantities that they need to store and hence large cold storages do not allow such small inventories.
The lack of cold storage facility for these farmers poses them many disadvantages that include reduced shelf life of crops especially vegetables and fruits and distress selling where farmers have to sell their produce at a lower price to ensure that it does not get spoiled and they lose margins completely.
Necessity is the mother of all inventions and also innovations. PANI and Agriroute Foundation have started installing solar-powered portable cold storages among the farming communities that they are currently working. Each of these solar-powered cold storages are of 5 metric ton capacity built in a marine-grade container, solar-driven completely stand-alone, and off-the-grid. The hydrating cooler does the cooling by blowing air taking temperatures down to 2 to 4 degrees Celsius. The energy is stored as ice.
PANI and Agriroute Foundation were supported by Tata Trust in this initiative who connected them to another organization called Sustain + with whom Agriroute Foundation worked on this project.
These cold storages are easy to manage. Just a person is needed to monitor it and ensure farmers can store their surplus produce. The creation of such cold storages that are in close proximity of FRCs is now a priority. The solar-powered cold storages are giving farmers, push-cart sellers the leverage to store their surplus and not engage in distress selling leading to low prices. They also prevent spoilage and wastage of farmer’s produce. This spoilage primarily happens because of the absence of a cold chain right from the farmer’s site of production, hastening the ripening process.
The indirect benefits are no less. The wastage in the supply chain also means wastage of resources. For instance, suppose if in producing 1 kg bottle gourd a farmer utilizes 1000 litres of water, then spoilage of 1 kg bottle gourd in the supply chain would also means wastage of that 1000 litres of water used in its production. This increases the water footprint. The fuel used to extract and pump the water into the field is also wasted, leading to a higher carbon footprint as well.
The cost of the portable solar-powered cold storages are met partially through funding from the project, partly by the community or through government schemes. Recovery of the cost is through rentals.
The farmers cultivating cut-flowers, fruits and also those having livestock and having milk products can also take advantage of such solar-powered cold storages.
The attempt is also in the direction of making citizens in general awareness about their responsibility in reducing water and carbon footprint and also their role in supporting any and all such initiatives that help in doing so. Everyone has a role in it.
Going forward, PANI and Agriroute Foundation plan to attach this feature with the Agri produce (as responsibly cultivated produce) that might give farmers a niche market and better price, like they have been able to do with Mint. A crop that needs 12 irrigations, through PANI’s better water management practices, the irrigations have been brought down to 7.Farmers using PANI’s strategies market that Mint as a water responsible mint. Mint is bought by many pharmaceutical companies as well who need it as a raw material.
Earlier failures were also instrumental in inducing the birth of the idea of solar-powered portable cold storages. Cold storages are generally very costly. To offset the cost and make cold storages available to small and marginal farmers, in the year 2009 PANI used a Coolbot technology where a condenser is connected to a normal air-conditioner fitted to 5 metric tonne capacity rooms, many times made up of mud. This unit itself would be enough to generate the desired cooling, taking temperatures close to 4 degrees Celsius. This worked very well until the failure of power in villages aborted the innovation. It was realized that villages would need something more economical and off-the-grid so that power dependency would be mitigated and cold storages for small and marginal farmers would become a reality. And hence solar-powered portable cold storage was born. In future PANI and Agriroute Foundation wish to promote such cold storages in more villages and eventually sell this idea to the government to ensure this becomes a pan-India affair.
CRISIS RESPONSE STRATEGIES
The response of PANI during the current pandemic that has engulfed the world is a glowing example of how they are working towards securing the future of small and marginal famers. The ensuing pandemic and resulting lockdown made it difficult for the farmers to access seeds for sowing in their fields. The seeds available in the government centres were only enough for the large farmers. Large farmers also have more resources to access seeds and even if they do not get enough, they can still survive the pandemic. At most it might mean lesser profits for them. However, for a small and marginal farmer not having access to seed even for one season may spell doom for him and his family. It was a question of their survival. PANI helped distribute 15 metric tonne of hybrid paddy seed to over 15000 famers. The objective was that each of these 15000 farmers get at least 1 kilogram of seed to sow in their field, enough to ensure at least food security for themselves and their families.
PANI has also created a kind of seed bank for these farmers. Small and marginal farmers find it difficult to store seeds for the next season owing to their own livelihood sustenance economic pressures. They end-up selling most of the seed they store from their previous crop before the next sowing season to offset their short-term financial needs. Later during the sowing season, they find it difficult to access the seeds. Recognizing this problem. PANI created a kind of seed bank for such famers wherein they can sell their seeds to PANI when they need money and later on during the sowing season, they can buy the same seeds for cultivation. This improves their access to seeds, the most important input for cultivation.
The COVID 19 pandemic also saw a huge reverse migration of workers from cities to villages. This created huge disruptions in the lives of these workers and their families. Their integration into the villages with their extended families has also been a challenge. Government ensured that these reverse migrants get grains through the public distribution scheme and get employment through the rural employment scheme. But beyond this PANI is working on creating sustainable rehabilitation of these migrants. They have provided them paddy and vegetable seeds to ensure the food security of these migrants and their families. But the biggest initiative has come in form of app-based profiling of these migrant farmers so as to connect them to various government schemes. Based on the profile of each of these farmers, they are connected to appropriate schemes. The app also allows the farmers to upload the necessary documents and the NGO helps them in online submission. PANI has set a target to connect about 7000 migrant farmers in the region to about 7 Crore of financial benefits under various government schemes.
EQUITY, NOT EQUALITY
Recognizing the role of small and marginal farmers in ensuring food security, securing their livelihoods, recognizing the role of women in agriculture who although account for 65% of the work and 43% productivity of the total Indian agriculture but they do not receive any recognition from the government because they do not own land titles.
The government schemes, entitlements and benefits must reach to these under-represented sections of the cultivating community and this is possible only when we focus on creating equity not equality. Looking at all famers with the same lens does not work as there is a vast gap between the large famers and small/marginal famers. Gender blind approach in viewing farming community excludes women who are significant participants in agriculture.
Equity approach works on the principle of inclusivity and is consistent with the Principle to Leave no one behind (LNOB) of the sustainable developmental goals articulated by the United Nations. Leave no one behind (LNOB) is the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
PANI is working towards ensuring minimum food and nutritional security for the farmers and their family; and then ensuring that they get good economic advantage of the surplus they produce, while making sure that they reduce their carbon and water footprints, embracing modern agricultural practices and technologies.
Microfinance is another area where PANI and Agriroute Foundationareworking aggressively. Small and marginal farmers need small amounts of money on a seasonal basis. Big financial institutions do not do such small and seasonal lending. The only resort left for these farmers is to borrow from the local money lenders who lend them at an exorbitant interest rate and generally put them in a debt trap. PANI and Agriroute Foundation are trying to bring in a formal institution intoAgriroute Foundation. The microfinance institution will provide small amounts of loans to individual farmers on a bullet payment basis i.e. farmers pay back after the harvesting season. The salient feature of this funding is that whenever a farmer borrows, the MFI does not give cash to the farmers, instead issues them a cash card that they can use to borrow equipment or buy agri inputs from the respective FRCs and money is credited to the account of FRC. Hence the risk of default of financial transactions is also avoided using this scheme. This is another way of ensuring equity of these small and marginal farmers.
As organizations like PANI and Agriroute Foundation and future proof leaders like Deo Datt and Vishal continue to make a difference in the lives of these small and marginal farmers, create strategies and initiatives that secure the future of the marginalized and ensure the sustainability of our planet, we need more such future proof organization and leaders to lead us towards a better future.
ABOUT THE FUTURE PROOF AGRI-LEADERS
DEO DATT SINGH is Chief Executive Officer at People’s Action for National Integration an Indian organisation not for profit. He has 20 years of progressive experience in leading development projects and managing agri- and allied programmes. He has managed private sector-led agriculture development programs for Indian agro-industry and international development organizations. He specializes in ecological farming, climate change, rural economic development, policy and programs for agribusiness, and rural enterprise development & management. He has worked with several not for profit and for-profit companies. He holds Master’s degree in Plant Pathology from Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar.
VISHAL MISHRA, Manager Farmer Resource Centre & Business Development at PANI, is an agro-professional with over 20 years of experience in agriculture input and allied sector with specialization in development, marketing and changing the behavioural mind-set of the conventional farm operations. He has developed expertise in understanding the requirement of agriculture inputs, is passionate in general administrative activities and policy implementation. He has worked in various capacities with leading agriculture companies in India having foreign collaboration. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, India and Master’s in Business Administration from MDS University, Ajmer, India.
FAO. (2010). Characterisation of small farmers in Asia and the Pacific. Retrieved from FAO: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/ess/documents/meetings_and_workshops/APCAS23/documents_OCT10/APCAS-10-28_-Small_farmers.pdf
FAO. (2020). FAO in India. Retrieved 08 13, 2020, from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/