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India’s food security depends on the production of cereal crops as well fruits, vegetables and milk to meet the demands of a growing population with rising incomes. However, India is still facing challenges such as low yields, inefficient irrigation, low productivity and agricultural debt.
AEs have four critical functions:
- Providing better-quality inputs
- Sharing knowledge and crop advice
- Linking farmers and markets
- Facilitating credit
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The AE model can provide:
- Additional sources of household income for smallholder farmers
- Improvements in farmer’s productivity and incomes
- Improved socioeconomic indicators
The Syngenta Foundation
2014 – present
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The Agri-Entrepreneurs Model by Syngenta Foundation incentivizes youth to play an active role in their region’s agricultural development. An agri-entrepreneur (AE) brings together services such as access to credit, market linkages, high-quality inputs and crop advice for a cluster of 150-200 farmers. The model is currently active across 16 states in India. With over 40 partner organizations, the programme has stitched together a robust ecosystem to support smallholders.
In India, 85 per cent of farms are less than two hectares in size. The country’s food security depends on the production of cereal crops as well fruits, vegetables, and milk to meet the demands of the world’s second-largest population and its rising incomes. However, India is still facing challenges such as low yields, inefficient irrigation, low productivity and agricultural debt.
Indian agriculture has made significant progress in the last few decades. However, vast numbers of smallholders still struggle to earn decent incomes. These farmers could benefit from many existing technologies and innovations but are not able to access them. The problem is inadequate first mile access, or from the suppliers’ point of view, last mile delivery. This is a challenge across many sectors in rural India, but agriculture displays a particularly persistent and damaging lack of access. Farmers need not only new technologies but also credit to buy or rent them and information on how to use them. Additionally, small and fragmented landholdings limit farmers’ ability to take advantage of benefits of scale.
Syngenta Foundation India launched its Agri-Entrepreneur (AE) initiative in 2014. The programme aims to significantly increase farm incomes and create sustainable livelihoods for young rural entrepreneurs. The Syngenta Foundation selects and trains unemployed village youth to provide products and services to 150-200 smallholders in two to three villages. The AE network replaces conventional and inadequate single-problem solutions with one holistic provider.
AEs are a one-stop solution for smallholders. They provide four services: crop advice, agricultural input sales, market linkages and access to digital financial services. AEs provide farmers with high-quality inputs at prices lower than the local markets’, reducing the cost of cultivation. AEs earn commissions on the sale of agricultural inputs and produce. To link farmers to markets, AEs coordinate harvesting schedules to ensure there is sufficient produce for either a trader to come or for transport to market. Although 42% of associated farmers were aware of the marketing services offered by the AEs, only 23% used them. The AEs were aggregating the produce of the farmers in a collection centre to sell it to wholesalers. All AE’s in business for more than six months reported an increase in income.
Digital financial services alleviate the stress that farmers face and the costs that they incur in reaching out to banks. Digital financial services augment the role of traditional buying and selling by generating a continuous stream of income and increasing the reach of digital financial services. Access to resources such as health services and insurance helps farmers mitigate risk. The model also allows for specific community needs to be addressed – for example, by using solar-powered irrigation facilities and climate-smart solutions to improve crop residue management and overall soil health.
The presence of village-level agricultural service providers accelerates smallholder farmers’ adoption of new technologies. In addition to selling new technologies and products, AEs also visit famer’s fields and provide crop advice, which plays a key role in helping them improve their crop yields and incomes.
Although the programme is designed to improve the income of smallholder farmers, it also creates livelihood opportunities for rural youth in the villages.
- As of January 2020, more than 4,000 AEs reached over 400,000 farmers. Paddy productivity for farmers linked with the programme increased by 27 per cent, and the number of farmers growing vegetable crops – which are more profitable than paddy – increased by 48 per cent.
- Net income per acre for paddy increased by 53 per cent under the programme, and net income per acre for vegetable cultivation rose by 62 per cent. Nearly three-quarters of associated farmers attended capacity-building programmes conducted by AEs, resulting in increased confidence in growing new crops.
- The AE model has also been profitable for the AEs themselves, especially women and youth. All AEs in business for more than six months reported an increase in income. Young people saw their incomes rise by 10-12 per cent, and more than 22 per cent of women AEs increased their incomes by 25 per cent in less than two years.
- The programme has also increased access to solar-powered drip irrigation systems in Jharkhand, leading to an 85 per cent increase in farmers’ net incomes. Additionally, the systems helped farmers to increase their vegetable production, thereby strengthening food security
Lessons Learned/Potential for replication
Smallholders served by AEs enjoy significant income increases. The main boost comes from switching to higher-value crops, such as moving from rice to vegetables. Diversifying crops also lowers smallholders’ risk. The AE programme has been successful in improving the productivity for both paddy and vegetable production and increasing farmers’ incomes. It has also enabled farmers to explore alternative sources of income such as vegetable cultivation and helped reduce seasonal migration. This has resulted in more secure livelihoods for farming families with improvements in spending on health, nutrition and education.
Programme elements vary widely in the impact they have had on farmers. The most utilized benefits are access to quality inputs and crop advice, while the use of market linkages and credit facilitation lag somewhat behind.
To scale up the AE model further, Syngenta Foundation India (SFI) and Tata Trusts have created the AE Growth Foundation (AEGF). This organization will focus exclusively on developing AEs across India. AEGF aims to launch 100,000 AEs over the next five years. This will create an entirely new network for transactions between agribusiness companies or start-ups and ‘pre-commercial’ smallholders. With a small portion of the value created, AEGF will invest in additional AEs. SFI aims to significantly increase the proportion of women AEs.
Additionally, there will be a focus on promoting climate-smart agriculture. The AE network will help spread proven techniques and technologies to lessen farming’s impact on soil, water and the environment while also increasing smallholders’ resilience
Last update: 29/06/2021