THE LATEST: Expert Analysis: Nurturing smallholder farmers in India

by Amit Kumar Singh, Country Representative India, Tanager

Today is National Farmers Day in India, an important time to reflect on the plight of the rural farmer and examine how Tanager is working to improve social and economic conditions in rural communities. In the Indian economy agricultural accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP, employing roughly 50% of the country’s workforce. In most of the cases farmers in India work less than an acre of land and rarely own more than 2 acres. These smallholder farmers face a unique set of challenges that Tanager works to address through our co-created projects in India. To understand how Tanager co-creates projects help to improve economic and social outcomes for these farmers, we must first understand the challenges of smallholder farming in India.

Smallholder farmers in India face a persistent problem of under production, and they often cannot produce food in sufficient quantity to feed their families and earn a decent income. There are many factors that contribute to the low yields – smallholder producers normally farm predominantly rain-fed crops which are cultivated using traditional practices. In addition, smallholder farmers will often take land on lease and at harvest time they either give a portion of their produce to the landowner as rent or pay a portion of the sales to the owner.

Most smallholder farmers in India are generally unorganized and fragmented and as a result, are highly prone to under-pricing at various stages of production. The government of India has taken steps to address these problems, but in many rural states, the farmers are either unaware or reluctant to take advantage of subsidies and schemes provided by the government.

After harvest the difficulties continue. In most parts of the country smallholder farmers sell their produce almost immediately due to lack of postharvest processing, storage units and marketing systems. This lack of market access is another factor that drives down prices.

Women smallholder farmers, who make up a large percentage of the overall workforce, face even more obstacles. Their contribution in agricultural production is not taken into consideration and they are made to play a dual role as caretaker of their families along with burdensome responsibilities on their farms.

Finally, the most crucial challenge which impacts food production is climate change. As growing seasons change, as water becomes scarcer, all of the factors mentioned above become more pronounced and dangerous for the farmers.

As we’ve seen, the Indian government has taken up initiatives for these small and marginal farmers through the creation of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) to help organize the sector. Collectivization of small and marginal farmers into FPOs is one of the most effective pathways to address the many challenges of agriculture including improved access to technology, inputs and markets.

However, FPOs need help to reach their full potential. Stakeholders must help connect farmers to sources of capital and increase farmer capacity to address supply and demand challenges. Low quality inputs, limited access to services, weak market linkages, and price volatility limit the agriculture sector.

In India, Tanager has been working since 2009 to help smallholder farmers increase yields, improve access to markets, and address issues of gender-inequality. We bring stakeholders to the table to align interests – from smallholder producers to major consumer brands – to improve the productivity and profitability of Indian farmers and strengthen sustainable supply chains. We have been successful in combining technical expertise and business perspective to assess markets, analyse supply chains, and pilot new technologies and tools in collaboration with thought leaders.

Our programs also work to improve women’s socioeconomic status through structured Self-Help Groups as a mechanism for helping women collectively overcome gender-based constraints. Self Help Groups provide a safe space for small groups of women to save money, improve their financial literacy, and learn more about their rights as women. We have also assisted women fruit and vegetable farmers to develop better production and marketing systems. This initiative empowered 6000 female vegetable farmers by addressing both market and social barriers that constrained their economic opportunities.

In Uttar Pradesh, Tanager is working with over 16,000 small and marginal farmers to double their incomes from mint and reduce water usage by 30%. Through our interventions, farmers’ incomes have increased by 250% (from mint). As of now, four Farmer Producer Companies (FPC) have been formed. The FPC at Fatehpur is projected to have a turnover of over $300,000. Over 160 villages have access to quality planting material and there has been about 40% increase in oil production. The program has formed 354 Self-Help Groups so far.

In Andhra Pradesh, Tanager is working to improve farmers market readiness by helping to build farmer collectives and strengthening their relationships with market stakeholders. Tanager works with nine FPOs in the region. The project is working towards create a replicable market readiness approach to scale up the work we are doing with the farmers and farmer organizations in Andhra Pradesh. The project is looking for partnerships with large scale commodity buyers to help them integrate this model into their current supply chains.

In Telangana, Tanager is working with 5000 smallholder women farmers to bolster their decision-making roles in FPOs so that they have access to markets and sources of income for the vegetables they produce and are strengthened with business acumen. We are connecting the farmers with buyers who are looking for vegetables grown with organic farming practices in and around Telangana.

In Gujarat, Tanager works with peanut farmers in the Junagadh region. The main goal of the project is to enhance the livelihoods of peanut farmers by improving quality, increasing yields, and the amount of income smallholder farmers receive from peanut cultivation. The project aims at establishing a sustainable FPO capable of supplying quality and aflatoxin free peanuts to organized buyers. It further aims at increasing farmers’ access to good agricultural practices training, quality inputs, and services through the FPO.

This work is only possible with partners who are committed to seeing smallholder thrive. Bringing stakeholders together – corporations, foundations, smallholder farmers, and government institutions is one of Tanager’s core responsibilities. On National Farmers Day, we thank all of our partners for their commitment to the communities we serve.

Amit Kumar Singh
Country Representative, India

Amit Kumar Singh is an agribusiness and market development expert with more than 16 years of experience conceptualizing and executing agriculture and livelihoods development programs in a wide range of value chains in agriculture, horticulture and forestry. As Tanager’s country representative for India, he provides team leadership and direction for Tanager’s portfolio of supply chain strengthening activities, with a focus on women and landless farmers. Amit has dedicated his career to strengthening communities and has been responsible for projects that organized more than 100,000 smallholder farmers into self-help and producer groups. He also brings expertise in conducting large-scale research studies, including baseline and end-term assessments for USAID, DFID, the Ford Foundation, and UNIDO, among others, and is passionate about developing new tools using Participatory Rapid Appraisals (PRA). With a master’s in agricultural economics from National Dairy Research Institute, Amit has co-authored two books on value chains and has eleven publications in national and international journals of repute.