Microenterprise Development: An Opportunity in Times of Crisis
In India, women farmers often face challenges accessing the same information, networks, and capital as their male counterparts. TechnoServe is helping women like Rajkumari Akhilesh improve their livelihoods and overcome significant obstacles by starting their own microenterprises.
In March 2020, as cases of COVID-19 began to spread throughout India, the pandemic led to a nationwide lockdown, which caused severe disruptions to agricultural supply chains. For smallholder farmers like Rajkumari Akhilesh in north-central India, this meant a drastic reduction in income, coupled with a significant increase in food prices.
Rajkumari is a 33-year-old smallholder farmer and mother of two who grows maize and cotton on her three-acre plot in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Farmers in this region face immense uncertainty even in normal times, often dealing with fluctuating crop prices and other market risks. As a result, Rajkumari was always on the lookout for ways to supplement her income, which she relies on to send her two young daughters to school.
Microenterprise Development for Women Entrepreneurs in India
Empowering women in Madhya Pradesh to set up their own microenterprises can help them supplement the income from their farms. Women often run these small businesses from their homes, which means they are typically more accessible and require lower start-up costs. In a region where social and cultural norms often restrict women from engaging in activities outside of the home, training on microenterprise development is an opportunity for economic independence and personal growth.
In 2020, while searching for additional income opportunities, Rajkumari heard about TechnoServe’s Pioneering Rural Women Empowerment in Key Agribusinesses through Sustainable Initiatives (PRAKRITI) program, funded by the Visa Foundation. Soon after, she joined the program’s women microenterprise development initiative.
Since 2017, PRAKRITI has been working to improve smallholder women farmers’ livelihoods in Madhya Pradesh by strengthening farmer business groups called farmer producer organizations (FPOs) and developing women’s entrepreneurial capacity by helping them start their own microenterprises.
In its first two phases, the program provided an in-person 42-hour training module called P.A.C.E (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement) for 1,327 women to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Through the training, women gained knowledge and skills on:
- Effective communication
- Time management
- Stress management
- Water and Sanitation
The P.A.C.E. training has given me a lot of confidence. It enabled me to explore new avenues.”
— Rajkumari Akhilesh
Microenterprise Development as an Opportunity for Growth
Rajkumari had just joined the PRAKRITI program when farmers were beginning to feel the impact of COVID-19. With farmers facing supply chain disruptions, there was an increase in demand for several agricultural products.
The TechnoServe team saw this challenge as an opportunity to meet an unmet demand for integrated pest management in the region and suggested supplying yellow sticky traps. Sticky traps are low-cost, low-input, non-toxic products that help farmers trap and monitor pests in their fields.
The team began to actively seek market linkages for the sticky traps and eventually got in touch with SRIJAN, a local non-profit organization that works closely with farmers.
Through coordinated efforts with a farmer group called Khargoan Producer Company Ltd. (KPCL), the FPO secured an order for 38,400 sticky traps worth $5,908 (INR 430,464). Upon receiving the order, 68 PRAKRITI participants and KPCL shareholders sprang into action to produce the sticky traps with help from TechnoServe’s training team.
The materials for the traps were procured on credit, and with support and guidance from the TechnoServe team, KPCL arranged the logistics to deliver the sticky traps to SRIJAN.
The Impact Training Opportunities Can Create
Along with larger market players, the TechnoServe team also helped the women sell an additional 15,110 sticky traps to local farmers and farm supply shops. In all, 106 PRAKRITI participants earned $6,554 (INR 477,500) by supplying 53,510 cards. The team is also using its existing relationships in the region to establish further linkages with retail stores and other farmers, with a plan to scale up production in the coming months.
“During the lockdown, while we were not able to make a lot of money because we couldn’t access markets, I am very happy that I could depend on yellow sticky traps as a source of revenue. I was able to earn additional income, which I have saved for my daughters’ school fees,” says Rajkumari. She adds that her experience has enabled her to explore avenues she wouldn’t have even considered in the past. “I feel so much more confident now,” she says.