'Project Krishi Unnati' Doubling Farmer's Income

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Project Krishi Unnati

Doubling income of farmers is a buzzword in the agriculture-space in recent months. ‘The What’ and ‘The How’ to achieve such increase remains a distant dream, with a mask around the very question of how to double the income. What are the real indicators, which need to be addressed to raise the income bar and how do we address various components essential to double the income piece are very basic fundamental issues, which require a serious debate.

While most policymakers feel that doubling income can be achieved bydoubling production capacities of farmers, not realizing that doubling production capacities through existing practices have distinct fault lines and such a thought is a mere fallacy. Production alone cannot increase farmer’s income. To make an impact on the farmers’ incomes, the bottom line is to address market linkages and work upwards on the market needs and quality. Hence it is important to understand the basic rudiments of good workable ‘Sustainable practices and Institutional linkages’, which are foremost in all agriculture growth and sustained value creation.

Toward this drive, Jindal Stainless Limited as part of its CSR initiatives, have engaged with farmers through our implementing partner ‘Gram Unnati Foundation’, led by a young entrepreneur, MrAneesh Jain from IIT Kharagpur. This young entrepreneur, who after his graduation in Computer Science at IIT, worked in USA with the top consulting firm, McKinsey and then decided to give up a so called lucrative career only to return to India and work with farmers. The perceived aim of the young entrepreneur was to bring technology into agriculture processes.

Project Krishi UnnatiJSL CSR team gave Gram UnnatiFoundation a platform to work with farmers in Odisha and in mid-2016,launched ‘Project ‘KrishiUnnati’, with the aim of doubling income of farmers initially atJajpur, Odisha and then scale up across nine districts in Odisha, in collaboration with the State Government and other stakeholders. The biggest challenge since launching the project has been to change the farming practices and make farmers understand that multi-cropping, especially with the impact of climate change was a good practice and that farmers should be encouraged to try new models with advancement in technology. The farmers have been traditional in their approach to farming and changing some of their agriculture practices has been a herculean task.

Traditionally economy of Odisha has been associated only with the metals and mining sectors. However with a 4 million strong farming population, large swathes of fertile agricultural land and a long coastline promises great potential for developing agriculture & allied sectors in Odisha, which produces plenty of milk, marine produce, maize, vegetables, finger millets, etc. However, farm holdings are small and availability of water for irrigation in the non-monsoon months remains a challenge. It is also important to realise that most farmers lack relevant technical knowledge, which in turn impacts productivity if they have limitedaccess to finance and inadequate connects to lucrative markets.

Project ‘KrishiUnnati’, as the name suggests relates to building capacities of farmers and I often used to think as to whyshouldJindal Stainless, along with other power and steel industries, based out of Odisha should get engaged insupporting agriculture-related initiatives. However, when I look at the larger dynamics of our CSR ‘Farmers Initiative’, I realize thatsuch an intervention willdirectly contribute toward sustainable communities not only from a perspective of business opportunities, butfrom the standpoint of doing ‘Social Good’ and providing farmers market accessand encourage them toadopt resilient climate changepractices.

I believe that partnerships and collaborations, essentially SDG 17, is important for success and to reach scale.While good practices can be jointly demonstrated by the Government and private sector, scale can only be assured though Government support. It is also a disturbing fact that gen next is losing interest in farming and is always on the lookout for alternative options. Moving out of their own areas lends toward migration of people and such patterns impact social structures and causes language and other social barriers.

To arrest such migration, there is a need to strengthen the farming sector and provide farmers adequate agriculture linked skill sets, which will make farming attractive and dynamic. There are a large number of areas, which ProjectKrishiUnnati is currently addressing. The most discerning factor is when farmers are forced to sell their produce around harvest when prices are usually low. The major reason for selling their crops at low price, which could be acknowledged as distress sale, is primarily because the farmers lacksafe storage facilities as also capital for their immediate pre- or post-harvesting requirements.

Project Krishi UnnatiWhile NABARD and other governmental agencies, have taken initiatives like creating warehousing facilities and the like, the benefits have not been accrued by the marginalized farmers, with small farm holdings. The farmers’ problems need to be understood holistically and solutions found. I would like to state that despite whatever logistic infrastructure is available in the country is firstly inadequate and secondly has many strings attached on its usage and remains out of reach of the poor and marginal farmers. There are issues around heavy price tag attached for use of storage facilities with warehouse operators requiring quantity and storage duration guarantee, whichfarmers can ill afford.

Hence to understand the needs of farmers, before we got the project started, Gram Unnati Foundation carried out a deep dive into the project and conducteda baseline survey to analyze various components of the problem and addressed different touch points on increasing farmers’ incomes. The first outcome from the survey was around strengthening existing value change, which was not available and the second point was on the need for farmers to shift to higher value crops. Both these points had to be addressed before the third aspect on the need to focus on diversifying income sources of farmers had to be tackled. Finally the fourth outcome from the baseline survey was the realization on conservation and natural resource management.

Over the past months we have been exploring various opportunities to bring stakeholders together and discuss how we can develop and share good agriculture practices and create opportunities for downstream industry to meet the agriculture requirements for specific needs of marginal farmers. We have taken steps to promote innovation and technology by providing co-working space for an ‘Incubation Centre’ for agriculturestartups. In November 2017, an Accelerator program for agriculture startups was launched in partnership with a Japanese Corporation, ANEW. At the end of the in-house sessions spread over five weeks, the startups were sent for a field immersion program inJajpur and Odisha, where the startups will engage with farmers working under ‘ProjectKrishiUnnati’.I would like to sharethat after a thorough due diligence process involving over 100 startups in agriculture, 12 startups were initially selected. Finally after a thorough process only three were selected to undergo the Accelerator program at the Stainless House, Gurgaon.

Trithi (3Thi) Robotics is an agriculture drone technology service company working in the field of drones spraying precision pesticides and other related agriculture services. It is also working with the Governmenton legislation issues relating to using drone policies in India, where flying drones is becoming extremely difficult due to security reasons and the like. ‘Ourfood’ is optimizing on post harvest supply chain and is vigorously working on building warehousing facilities using mini processors to keep middlemen out of the supply chain process and directly connect with large buyers. JananiAgriserve is really an Indian auction platform working with small farmers growing spices etc.

There have been substantial gains in farmers’ incomes during the past year, from reducing input costs, to better pricing and most importantly seeing a change in the overall perceptions of farmers especially in the space of farmers having a ‘Say’ in the supply chain management process. I am confident that farmers will continue to increase their incomes through concerted efforts on market–led production and crop resilience enhancement techniques. For it is in such patterns of engagement that will bring about a positive social impact on communities, which in turn will contribute towards inclusive growth and development.

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Corporate Head – CSR* Jindal Stainless Limited