Success Story: From smallholder farmer to FPO Board Member: Meet Irapa

"I am feeling happy for being a part of the FPO...[and] to share my knowledge with my fellow farmers for increasing their income." - Irapa Rajamma

In India, Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and Farmer Producer Groups (FPGs) are important mechanisms for smallholder farmers to organize their efforts, receive valuable training, connect to buyers of their produce, reduce the influence of pernicious middlemen, and increase income. Tanager’s expertise in the support and growth of FPOs has helped tens of thousands of farmers improve their social and economic outcomes. However, as valuable as engagement with FPOs is for smallholder farmers, many of these organizations still face a persistent problem of gender-inequality – especially at the leadership level.

With grant funding support from the Walmart Foundation, Tanager launched the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Market Readiness Project (APFMRP) program in 2017 with a goal to strengthen FPOs and build more sustainable linkages to markets. Tanager believes that increasing women’s participation at the leadership levels of FPOs is one of the surest ways to improve social and economic outcomes for participants and that the only path to shared economic prosperity runs through women’s empowerment. Over the past two-years, Tanager and Walmart.org have seen first-hand that gender-sensitive training opens doors to a new generation of women leaders.

Irapa Rajamma is one such leader. Irapa is a 39-year-old smallholder farmer from Kommugudem village in Andhra Pradesh. Before meeting with Tanager representatives, Irapa grew maize on three acres of irrigated farmland. Her options beyond farming were limited due to the persistent constraints of gender bias and inequality.

After Irapa participated in APFMRP-supported gender training, she became excited at the prospect of becoming part of the leadership of her local FPO. She approached the Tanager team and submitted her nomination to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty – the governmental organization that oversees the formation of FPOs in the region. In 2019, Irapa became the first woman on the Board of the Directors of the Maize cluster in Buttaigudem Mandal.

APFMRP's Maize Cluster FPO Board of Directors.

But she was not the last. Thanks to her example, by the end of 2019 the FPO added two more women on the Board of Directors. These women now not only participate but lead in collective marketing, bargaining with buyers, and accurate weighing of their produce. Thanks to Irapa’s example, Walmart.org’s commitment to support more sustainable market access for FPOs and their farmer members, along with Tanager’s longstanding local expertise, these women have taken an important step towards gender equity in their FPO.