Agriculture workers are 55% of all workers in India, where 58% of rural households work in agriculture. Small and marginal farmers (with less than two hectares of land) account for 86% of all farmers in the country, but they own just 47% of cropped land and are generally excluded from modern market arrangements such as contract farming or direct purchase. These farmers are often deprived of perspectives such as climate-smart agriculture and use ecologically harmful methods such as pesticides or genetically modified inputs for better yield.
The SwitchON Foundation (Environment Conservation Society) works on issues of global importance like climate change, and local issues of poor and marginalized farmers in India’s rural and Indigenous areas. Established in 2008 we are dedicated to creating climate-smart livelihood opportunities in underserved communities, with a team of over 100 people across 10 states in India.
To address the problems of small and marginal farmers, SwitchON works to make agriculture sustainable and equitable, by introducing climate-smart agriculture and promoting organic, farming, creating market linkages and value addition, developing a training framework and empowering women farmers by building their capacities and linking them to technologies and services, built around the concept of institutional functioning, through the Farmer Producer Organization model. Since 2013 we have successfully promoted more than 35 FPOs in east, northeast and western India.
Our FPO promotion activities are able to address intersectionality in agriculture where farmers are provided with the necessary agricultural training and knowledge to generate and expand livelihood avenues to help alleviate poverty by improving their income. The model also helps sustain legal and institutional bodies worked by and for the farmers. The entire process from raw materials procurement to production and market linkage is taken care of by FPO members, who are also shareholders, giving them agency. And we address gender empowerment, by focusing specifically on women farmers and their socioeconomic development. The project was able to motivate farmers to form groups of 15 FPOs and bring their produce together and add value to it by creating a product ready for consumer use. We plan to expand the project to 3 more states soon.
Case Stories of Implementation
Implementation phases included enabling farmer access to financial and non-financial inputs and services, and appropriate technologies, reducing transaction costs, primary-processing the produce at the local level, improving access and use of climate-resilient practices, increasing the use of resources, and increasing farmer knowledge of conservation techniques to tap high-value markets and enter into partnerships with private entities on more equitable terms.
With the fragmentation of landholdings due to generational transfer unlikely to abate, FPOs are a form of aggregation that leave land titles with individual producers and use the strength of collective planning for production, procurement, and marketing to add value to the members’ products. Gathering voices from the field, we bring you these testimonies of successful implementation. They show some milestones in the lives of the farmers in the journey of achieving an ever-increasing positive impact.
- The Tylli Deimaia Joint Farming Cooperative Society Ltd., Meghalaya
This FPO in Laskein, Meghalaya was registered in December 2021. In less than a year it had 104 registered shareholder-farmers. The training provided to them by the FPO includes organic plantation, piggery training, knowledge training on lactic acid bacteria, indigenous microorganism training, and rechargeable trench training. The farmers have also undergone other thematic training to enhance agriculture productivity and livelihood expansion.The cooperative society provides market support to farmers through linkages with schemes like the Piggery Mission or Mission Lakadong, for turmeric. Farmers are able to use modern techniques of farming as well as organic farming practices to cultivate and maintain the quality of crops (including turmeric, ginger, maize, rice, potato, and tomato), attaining higher profits. Recently the FPO was able to procure a turmeric washer and dryer under the Lakadong Mission by the Department of Horticulture, Government of Meghalaya and a playhouse from the Bethany Society, Shillong.With the formation of the Tylli Deimaia Joint Farming Cooperative Society Limited, farmers have stepped out of traditional methods of farming and are engaging in new techniques and skills adapted to the changing climate and erratic rainfall, such as making their own biofertilizers through LAB and IMO for better produce. The FPOs are also imparting farmers with additional knowledge on entrepreneurship, networking with government departments and forming partnerships with the various block and district-level agencies. The FPOs also keep the farmers up to date on new schemes and the application process for them.These FPOs display the power of collectivization, whereby farmers work together as a collective and a team to help each other grow by increasing productivity and achieving better economic status for the farmers. The society aims to connect with registered buyers and traders to help the FPO members sell their products in large quantities, and ensure agricultural inputs to the farmers from block-level departments.
- ONFarm Fresh Innovation Producer Limited, Hanskhali, Nadia, West Bengal.
The SwitchON Foundation identified issues such as inadequate knowledge of organic production practices, and inefficient and costly marketing channels for selling organic produce faced by small and marginal farmers involved in producing organic crops. To address these issues, 500+ small and marginal farmers were collectivized into forming the FPO under NABARD in 14 villages of Hanskhali block in Nadia, West Bengal.The FPO was registered on 1 August 2016 with 415 shareholders and ₹200,000 shareholding money as per equity grants. The collectivization of the farmers was done to turn the FPO into an effective business entity, increase their income through organic farming, use advanced farming techniques, and develop a marketing strategy and channels for their products, including post-harvest processing and value addition.Today the farmers cumulatively own over 700 acres of land in the region. They have received training on various methods of making growth promoters, vermicompost, farmyard compost, bone meal, biofertilizers, organic pesticides etc., making them self-sufficient and helping reduce their input costs by 50–70%. Farmers are following the recyclability of farm waste and ensuring healthy livestock by using weeds and hay as fodder, creating a zero-waste sustainable organic farming model.
SwitchON also has enabled ONFarm to create linkages with ONganic Food Pvt. Ltd., which procures organic produce directly from ONFarm farmers at 10% above market prices. Farmers are saving on marketing costs, middlemen charges, and 10% on transportation, and storage costs. By growing indigenous crops (red and black rice) they have seen a 10–25% increase in incomes. Over 350 farmers have benefited through organic farming input-marketing subsidies such as the RKVY, FSSM scheme, and seed procurement licensing from the state seed certification departments.
Organic farming practices have improved soil health, water availability, and the overall growing condition of crops, reducing the need for irrigation and improving groundwater levels. Socio-economic upliftment with income enhancement has led to enhanced rural mobility, farm mechanisation, and improved quality of living.
SwitchON’s first FPO is an innovative sustainable model, where economic, social and environmental sustainability is ensured by organic agricultural practices, farmer capacity building, and market linkages.
Scalability and Future Plans
Efforts through the FPOs have the potential for further scalability, as planned for the future scope of the project and demonstrated by the FPO interventions in West Bengal in 2019-20, where the farmers have received better incomes and excelled as FPO leaders to sensitise a greater number of farmers in their communities. In many cases, they have formed their own production companies.
The SwitchON Foundation is already thinking about expanding the number of FPOs across more states in India in the future. Efforts made through village-level meetings will result in creating more sensitisation, and building more linkages and networks among farmers. SwitchON will also continue to promote women, youth entrepreneurs and farmer producer companies, to build efficient irrigation systems, establish climate-smart villages, innovative business models, and explore working on integrated systems that can collectively mitigate the risk of climate change to meet Sustainable Development Goals.