This portfolio comprises - the small and marginal farmer, and the socially disadvantaged youth. A combination of both segments it is felt make up the bulk of the below poverty line families.

The small and marginal farmer
Affirmative action for youth

 

The small and marginal farmer

Today, in India, when you say ‘farmer’, the image that comes to mind is often that of a hapless, debt ridden, over burdened face full of despair searching for the nearest pesticide bottle to consume and kill himself. In spite of having nearly 60 per cent of India’s population dependent on the rural agrarian economy for a livelihood, freedom for an average farmer is defined as death. For those who survive the urge to commit suicide, freedom is selling their land for a pittance and migrating to urban areas in search of wage income. According to the World Bank’s projections the number of people in India who migrate from rural areas into cities will soon exceed the combined populations of UK, Germany and France. And a majority of such migrations are driven by the search for economic security .

All this is ironical since the bulk of Indian subsidies continue to be in the agricultural sector and India has been one of the champions of land reforms, which were intended to liberate millions of poor trapped in bonded slavery. India has also heralded the green revolution and its vibrant democracy ensures that governments are elected often on the strength of the votes of the farmers. What then ails the Indian agriculture? Why is it that an average Indian farmer continues to grow poorer by the day?

Through a number of pilot programmes in irrigated, rain fed and tribal semi wastelands, Naandi has seen first hand the tribulations of a marginal far working on land holdings that have been fragmented by sub divisions arising out of inheritance over generations, by mortgaging portions of land for debt, and so on.

The tenth five year plan says 78% of India’s farmers are small and marginal. They obviously cannot derive any benefits from economies of scale in their small, fragmented holdings. And as they are in the unorganised sector they are without institutional access to modern technologies and knowledge or financial services through which they can make investments to improve productivity of their lands. Poor infrastructure and connectivity (power, telecom, roads) further compound their competitive disadvantage. It is in this environment that we are expecting an average Indian farmer to become a successful entrepreneur. Indeed, the odds are heavily against him. Unless policy frameworks and institutionalised support systems are made available and accessible equitably to all, marginal farmers will continue to find impossible to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty, which they have been forced into.

 

The farmers’ collective: The end-to-end solution framework

Like all other developmental interventions of Naandi, the one on sustainable, livelihoods for farmers also begins with the process of social immersion. We spend months with clusters of marginal farmers understanding their problems, their situation and gradually convince them to take on Naandi as a partner in their struggle for liberation from poverty.

On our part, as a first step, we organise individual small farmers into groups and federate them into societies or collectives and register them legally as such. This institutional framework not only binds them together and enables easier transfer of knowledge to them but also gives them the opportunity to leverage economies of scale when contiguous land holdings are worked on together. The very fact that they are part of a farmers’ collective gives them a new sense of identity. Emboldens them that they are not alone and that they have a voice.

Naandi, through participatory methods identifies leaders and trainers from amongst this collective who in turn go through a capacity building process to emerge as key resource personnel for driving the agenda of empowerment and poverty alleviation. Exposure visits, training, linkages with relevant institutions and government bodies form part of this process.

For reaping economies of scale - along with enabling contiguity of land holdings, homogeneity of crop selection too is made an essential element of this strategy. Multi-cropping is preferred for both de-risking and for optimal income yield. In the long run, such farmer collectives, it is planned, will be linked across regions into a national farmers’ representative body - the Small and Marginal Farmers Federation of India (SAMFI).

 

Managing natural resources optimally

India’s agricultural productivity is one of the lowest in the world. It is now being recognised that the green revolution was not a sustainable model to improve productivity, and the depletion of land fertility, soil erosion and uncontrollable pest attacks are all going to crash the Indian farmers dream of an ever green revolution to a never green catastrophe.

While lack of water, defunct irrigation systems, excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides have plagued farmers in irrigated regions, those in the hills and rain fed areas have been victims of soil erosion and forest denudation – key players in causing man-made droughts. Naandi, therefore, offers a package that looks at reviving environment-friendly irrigation practices such as those using surface water from rivers through a lift system, and entrusting their management and maintenance to farmers though their collective. Naandi also provides comprehensive training on natural resource management practices ranging from crop selection, to crop rotation, soil enrichment, and fixation of nitrogen and water, and as far as possible combines them through scientifically certified organic farming standards to create eco-friendly sustainable land management and productivity formulas.

 

Adding value to the produce: enhancing its market value

Optimal use of natural resources and enhanced land productivity is followed by initiatives that enhance the value of the harvested crop. In the case of areas where Naandi is working with tribal farmers growing coffee organically, we have through coffee farmers collectives set up community-managed coffee processing plants as processed coffee beans command greater market prices. Non-timber forest produce including common use products such as tamarind, offer enormous opportunities for value addition through de-seeding / de veining and packaging. And in the case of horticulture crops, segregating and grading the produce itself fetches differential prices. It is planned to include food processing as the next step in the value addition chain.

Accreditation for the cultivation processes either in the form of organic certification or in the form of crop specific technical collaborations is another key feature of Naandi’s strategy to add value to small farmers’ produce. In this manner, the Coffee Board of India, SKAL International (Dutch agency for organic certification), and Solidaridad are linked with the present farmer collectives that Naandi has helped set up. They are enabling farmers to differentiate their products in domestic and international markets through co-branding opportunities that emerge out of these collaborations.

 

Linkages with institutional finance

The absence of well-defined institutionalised financial services for the small and marginal farmer has been an open invitation for moneylenders to entrap needy farmers into huge debt burdens. And many times it is this moneylender who graduates to function as the middleman and exploits the farmer with both low prices for his crop and usurious interest rates for loans. Any effort at livelihood strategies to offer complete solutions to farmers without eliminating the role of the middleman and replacing him with institutional financial services for the farmer would not only be incomplete but counter productive as well. Grouping of farmers and financial disciplining through thrift and credit usage is a critical area of work that Naandi carries out to make these farmers bankable customers for the formal financial services sector. Lower interest rates from banks automatically reduces the debt burden, and freedom from the compulsion of selling their crop to money lenders further enhances increased income possibilities. Overall, financial security and long-term planning of cash flows through their cooperatives that are trained to offer these inputs to their members becomes a definite possibility for these farmers.

Creation of high value markets

The last segment in the end-to-end solutions approach for small and marginal farmer is the one that links them with high value markets. Gathering the produce of the farmers, grading it and offering it in bulk is the first step in the value chain. This part is initially played by Naandi with a vision of transferring this role to the farmers’ collective after necessary training and capacity building. Apart from better bargaining power for prices, high volumes offer opportunities for trading in the wholesale and export markets. The international organic certification and fair trade accreditation processes that Naandi enables these collectives to earn through diligent processes and farming practices opens up a new window for high value markets, which according to conservative estimates offer 20 to 25 per cent higher prices than conventional wholesale domestic markets. In its menu of options Naandi intends to, in the near future facilitate farmers’ collectives to get into retail sales through partnership with high value agri-business chains.

Scalability

Naandi’s experience with this model with tribals in the rainfed semi wastelands of Araku valley located 600 – 900 mts. above sea level in south India, with farmers in the plains of Andhra Pradesh with irrigated lands, with farmers in the rich ecosystem of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and finally with farmers in the natural farming environment of Nagaland, have all proven that this approach is both scalable and adaptable to any region in India. A thousand such farmers’ collectives supported with end-to-end solutions and appropriate linkages with institutions and markets could well herald an era where farmers transform themselves from symbols of despair to beacons of hope for sowing the seeds of India’s second green revolution – a revolution designed to be evergreen.


Affirmative action for youth

Taking off from the Child Rights portfolio (hyperlink)that covers children's health, nutrition and education right until high school, and looping it to a comprehensive, life improving cycle Naandi felt the next step to take would be one that ensured capacity building and employability of adolescents and youth during high school and after.

Given the fact that in the higher grades the rate of drop outs is higher largely because young boys and girls start earning for their families early mostly through menial jobs, it is planned that attendance in school would be linked with a system of evening courses for vocational skill building to give high school students better employability preparedness by training them in a variety of skills such as computer literacy and so on. It is hoped that since only ‘in school’ children would be entitled to these courses free of cost, it would bring down the drop out rates in schools and ensure more children complete formal schooling.

But given that India’s demographic bulge is on the side of the youth, the task of equipping them, especially after they complete high school, with market ready employable skills appears to be a task too wide and deep for any one organisation to tackle.

Therefore, as a first step, it is planned to provide employability training support presently to those sections of youth that are the most disadvantaged, namely the scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) communities. This support Naandi hopes to provide by roping in companies from the private sector as investors for Livelihood Training Schools to champion a new wave of affirmative action that has been long overdue, to pave the way for being a more ‘equal opportunities’ society.

Modelled on the lines of conventional business schools, these institutions or training schools will have ‘smart and dynamic’ curriculum customised to meet the emerging employment opportunities in the region where the institution is located. The schools will also have mandatory courses on spoken English, basic computer literacy, personality development, communication skills and confidence building as part of mainstreaming these youth and helping them access sustainable livelihood options in the emerging markets.

As a beginning, Naandi could inspire Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd to entirely support the setting up of the first of such a Training School in Pune, Maharashtra. Christened Mahindra Pride School, this institution commences its courses with the first batch of enrolled SC and ST students in March 2007.

After training, these students will be placed in jobs relating to infrastructure, marketing, retail, hospitality and the ITeS sectors where the need for trained staff is immense. This has been proven by the recruitment offers Mahindra Pride School has already received for every one of the students it trained in the first batch.

The setting up of the livelihood training schools in various regions in partnership with various proactive corporates as part of the sector’s affirmative action plan for the youth is yet another example of a public private pluralistic partnership that Naandi champions, which completes the life cycle approach in Naandi’s Child Rights portfolio that spans the life of a child right from her birth till she gets her first job.