In India, Better Harvests Lead to Better Education

As India grapples with a second wave of COVID-19, farmers around the country face another related challenge: maintaining their livelihoods in times of great economic uncertainty. TechnoServe is helping smallholder farmers like Dhirendra Mishra increase their incomes by connecting them with large buyers through participation in farmer producer companies. With this additional income, farmers can invest in their families and communities.

For Dhirendra Mishra, a smallholder farmer in Uttar Pradesh, India, times were tough even before the COVID-19 crisis. Dhirendra produces peppermint, rice, wheat, and potato on his land near the city of Raebareli and relies on the income from his farm to support his wife, three children, and aging parents. 

Education During the COVID-19 Lockdown

Last year, when the local school closed at the beginning of the lockdown, Dhirendra’s 12-year-old son, Deepak, asked his father to buy a smartphone so that he and his younger brother could continue their studies online. 

Even in normal times, farming life is unpredictable, and there is not always enough money for unexpected expenses like a new phone. Last year, the pandemic made the situation even more challenging. 

“We were looking forward to a good harvest,” Dhirendra recalls. “Thanks to our local farmer producer company, we had access to good quality seeds and manure [last year], which helped us increase our yields. However, the harvest was upon us, and there were no workers to help because of the nationwide lockdown.”

Agriculture in India: The Challenges

The agriculture sector in India feeds 1.38 billion people and employs 54% of the country’s workforce. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to India’s GDP, but deeply entrenched structural challenges limit farmers’ abilities to earn a decent living. 

Smallholder farmers owning less than 2 hectares of farmland account for 94% of all farms in the country, and contribute substantially to India’s agricultural GDP. However, most of them do not profit enough from agriculture to meet their families’ needs and must rely on daily wage labor to supplement farm incomes. They also suffer from information asymmetry and a lack of easy access to quality farm supplies, markets, and services. 

Due to the absence of effective community-level business institutions — such as farmer producer companies — to mitigate risk, smallholder farmers often contend with low prices and financial vulnerabilities. 

Agriculture in India: The Solutions

With funding support from the Walmart Foundation, TechnoServe has been working for the last two years on the Sustainable Livelihoods for Smallholder Farmers program in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, India. The program aims to sustainably increase incomes for 29,090 smallholder farmers, of whom 14,171 are women. 

Over the last two years, the program successfully engaged smallholder farmers from 27 farmer producer organizations in both states across 12 crop value chains, including: 

  • Coffee
  • Cashew
  • Turmeric
  • Pineapple
  • Banana
  • Mango

The program also strengthened and transformed farmer producer organizations into sustainable enterprises through institutional capacity building, making them active market participants in the value chain.

By improving the quality and volume of smallholder farmers’ produce and increasing their ability to successfully sell to large buyers through farmer producer companies, the program helps farmers access new buyers and increase their incomes. 

Better Harvest, Better Education

For Dhirendra, participation in a farmer producer company has allowed him to continue to support his children’s education, even as it moved online. 

Dhirendra is a member of the Raebareli Farmer Producer Company Limited (RFPCL). As the pandemic and resultant lockdown hit rural communities hard, RFPCL mobilized its resources to give Dhirendra and his neighbors access to farm machinery, including a harvester and thresher, just when they needed it. The timely harvest was then collected by RFPCL and supplied directly to buyers.

As a result, Dhirendra was able to earn a better income than expected during the pandemic, which allowed him to keep his dream of a good education for his children alive by buying them a smartphone to use for their studies. 

“We had a basic phone before, but this was our family’s first smartphone,” he says. “Thanks to Walmart Foundation and TechnoServe, who helped us increase our yields and earn a good income from our crops, even in a bad situation, we could make sure that this pandemic did not halt our children’s education.”

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