Kolar, the southern region and the easternmost district of the Karnataka State, is often referred to as the Milk and Silk City, known for vegetable crops, including tomatoes. The significant sources of employment are agriculture: dairy farming, sericulture, and floriculture. Farmers in Kolar depend on borewell water for irrigation and drinking.
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), with the support from Walmart Foundation, initiated Bolstering Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) in the districts of Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, with an intent to strengthen the FPOs in the region. The project trains and builds the capacities of these FPOs, including governance, financial management, and technology adoption. In addition, the foundation assists FPOs to overcome challenges to market their surplus produce and increasing women’s involvement effectively.
Higher Incomes, Thriving Communities
Narayan Swami, vice president of Markondeshwara Agriculture Farmer Producer Company Limited, heartily mentions FPOs as a shared goal and says, “When we unite with a shared goal and receive the right support, what once seemed impossible becomes attainable.”
The training helped the FPOs revive their governing body with five to fifteen active members each, and they include more women as FPO representatives, targeting at least 33 percent of women to ensure gender balance in decision-making. In the last year, 195 Farmer Interest Groups (FIGs) were formed in the five FPOs, including 58 women-only FIGs, benefiting more than 1,333 women farmers. The concept of women-only FIGs was just discovered.
Rathnamma, a Vrishabhavathi Agriculture Farmer Producer Company Limited member, Kamasamudram Kolar shares, “Women farmers want to join the mainstream and become independent earners but hesitate to express their views openly on a common platform. However, we have gained confidence with the training support we received under the project and exposure visits to different organizations and women entrepreneurs.” Since livestock rearing is one of the essential livelihood activities undertaken by women, Rathnamma’s FIG is thankful for the availability of power chaff cutters in their FIG, which helps save time, money, and energy and provides additional rental income for the FIG.
Narayan further shares, “The transformation of our FPO from struggling to attracting shareholders in big numbers is a testament to the power of collaboration and the impact of the project’s interventions. Our success is not just measured in numbers but in the collective progress of our community.” The FPO was incorporated in February 2021 in Budikote. With the support of different intervention activities, the FPO could mobilize 680 new farmers within ten months compared to just 210 members earlier. With the addition of the new members, they could also muster a share amount of Rs. 7,48,000/$9,039 from old and new members.
Real impact for the long term
In addition to the Markondeshwara Agriculture Farmer Producer Company, the Vrushabhavathi Agriculture Farmer Producer Company, Kamasamudram was also able to mobilize 500-plus farmers each within their first year of existence, with all compliances in place. Both FPOs received an equity grant of Rs 5,79,975/$7,733 each under a scheme after attaining the milestone of 500 members. This grant will serve as working capital and build input business for the FPO so that members can access inputs at subsidized rates, and the FPOs can also do business with other farmers, making it a win-win for both.
Before the project started, only three of the five FPOs were doing agri-input business worth approx. Rs 1.7 crores/$205,377. With the support of the project, all five FPOs were able to acquire relevant licenses and establish their input shops. They have done an agri-input business worth Rs 21,271,737/$257,000 and have gradually increased their annual turnover from a minimum of Rs 2,00,000/$ 2,400 to Rs 16,500,000/$199,000. The availability of timely and
quality inputs increased the FPO business and profitability, benefiting all its members. More power for the FPOs translates into growth for the members.
Continued strengthening through key collaborations
The output business journey has been very challenging from the start because of indent or quality issues. To strengthen the FPOs, improve their market linkages, and increase their profitability, the project facilitated valuable collaborations between FPOs and various entities, including wholesale purchasers, suppliers, financial institutions, transporters, and warehousing. In this chain, a successful buyer-seller meeting held recently in Kolar was attended by 600 farmers from five FPOs, including eighteen output buyers and companies at national and local levels.
The role of technology and a significant achievement of the FPOs also has been the revival of the Custom Hiring Centers (CHCs), which were defunct earlier. Through CHCs, FPOs earned Rs 4,61,000/$5,500 within the first year of providing farmers with farm machineries, such as multi-crop threshers, mulching paper spreaders, tractor-mounted boomer sprays, trolleys, and intercultural power weeders. The machines are beneficial in maintaining soil health, increasing crop productivity, reducing drudgery, and greater timeliness of agricultural operations.
To bring transparency to FPO systems and processes and to improve the efficiency of FPOs, the project team supported the digitization of systems, which enables the tracking of activities and transactions by FPOs and provides need-based advisory information about the market and agriculture.
In the last one-and-a-half-year journey with these five FPOs, the Sehgal Foundation team has focused on reducing cost through bulk purchases of inputs, the collective use of modern farm equipment, and marketing of farm produce—all small but essential steps to make these FPOs sustainable; and these steps will play a critical role in increasing farmers' income and holistic development of a Farmer Producer Company.