Journey of becoming Agripreneurs – Challenges and way forward for women farmers

Promoting women led agricultural enterprises is no more a choice but a necessity for sustainable development. Ensuring women driven businesses in rural set-ups will not only unleash the untapped potential of the agriculture sector but also reduce poverty, generate employment and build a more gender equal society.

Jamna Devi, 56, is a resident of Mokhei, a remote village in Phalodi Block of Jodhpur district, located in the vast expanse of India’s Thar desert. She is a farmer and an active participant of various agricultural programmes implemented by GRAVIS in her region. She is a member of the Budhar Das Farmer Interest Group (FIG) of her village as well as one of the Board members of Dhora Dharti Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO).

When Devi joined the FIG in 2019, she would regularly participate in the monthly meetings. This wasn’t easy for her but eventually, she along with several other women members received trainings on leadership skills, financial literacy, business planning, book keeping, on-farm training on cumin cultivation including production technology, pest and disease management, nutrient and water management and post-harvest management.

One of the key challenges that regularly came up during these discussions was the lack of availability of cumin seeds locally. The idea of opening a seed bank that had stayed with her during one of her exposure visits, started taking shape. She immediately pooled in 60 kgs of cumin seeds (GC4 variety) (which are rarely found in the market) and stored in earthen pots using the local and traditional technique of farmers. She created this bank at her home and manages it along with the other members of the FIG.

In the next sowing season, FIG members distributed 60 kgs of stored cumin seeds among 25 farmers. Once the farmers harvested the crop, double the quantity of cumin seeds was procured from them to be used for the next Rabi season which was later distributed among 50 farmers. As on today, 240 kgs of seeds are with the seed bank. Farmers of her village are able to access good quality seeds at their doorstep saving both time and money while reducing their dependence on input suppliers and commission agents. Jamna Devi has also been instrumental in mobilizing several women from her village in using advanced agricultural practices.

As a Board Member, she has been actively involved in the development of 3-year sustainability/business plan activity for her FPO and is geared towards contributing in making it a functional farming enterprise. While it is going to take some time and learning for the enterprise to become a success, Jamna Devi’s story is still an exception and not the rule in the difficult-to-survive region of Thar, an area marred with the impacts of fluctuating climate, recurring droughts, scarcity of water, sand erosion and salinity, adding to the woes of small and marginal farmers. Women here are often the worst affected as a large share of their time is spent in fetching water from long distances in addition to their role of caring for family members in the household, daily agricultural as well as animal husbandry activities and other domestic chores. These obvious impositions on them limit the time they have to study, care for self or develop on income-generating opportunities.

Women led farm enterprises

Women led farm enterprises in rural set-ups face several barriers on their path to sustaining themselves as profitable business establishments. These include lack of access to affordable and quality agricultural supplies and inputs, working capital, market, technology, personalized mentoring and handholding in addition to various other factors like lack of education, limited mobility, lack of access to professional networks and limited industry knowledge. Existing societal arrangements limit women to traditional gender roles instead of encouraging them to take up entrepreneurial ventures.

Generally, they are involved in works like weeding, sowing, transplanting and harvesting in agriculture along with caring for livestock. Everything related to market and sales have been typically considered the domain of male members of the household. And despite their heavy involvement and contribution to agricultural and allied activities, women’s work isn’t identified as economically productive. They are seldom labelled as entrepreneurs as it is difficult to draw a clear line of difference between their household chores and entrepreneurial activities. Though, the overall situation is now changing.

Due to the rapid feminization of Indian agriculture as a result of increased migration of male members, more women are choosing farm entrepreneurship as a natural choice. And while this shift is visible, whether women have the eco-system that will enable them as micro-entrepreneurs and offer upskilling, access to capital, markets and supply chains is the bigger question to answer. The emergence of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) has proven to be beneficial for small and marginal farmers and have enabled them to come together, access better markets and enhance their economic potential. Joining FPOs has changed the lives of many farmers but did women secure equal opportunities as men within the system? Most of the times many women are not able to participate in these organisations due to rigid socio-cultural norms, time constraints because of family responsibilities and lower social mobility. Men constitute a vast majority of FPO membership and leadership roles. Women are mostly underrepresented in the boards of these organisations and even when they do become members, they do not attend meetings frequently or even speak up when they do.

India has one of the lowest female labour participation rates in the world. Not to mention, in agriculture they are systematically excluded from owning most resources of production. While more than 70% of rural women work in agriculture, less than 13% own any land. In 2020, the Indian Government issued detailed guidelines for the setting up of 10,000 FPOs scheme in the country by 2024. But unfortunately, in the scheme, neither there is any mention about the minimum number of women FPOs that must be formed, nor there is any specification about the minimum number of women members to be included in an FPO. Access to information, mobility and money is much lesser for women farmers and hence, special efforts will be needed to include women as they will not consider being a part of FPOs on their own.

 GRAVIS is currently working with 2 FPOs and 50 FIGs and while doing that has ensured at least 33% of the members are women who fully participate in decision making and market related activities. Women in these groups have been inducted to leadership positions as board members and shareholders through appropriate skilling and capacity building. They have been also trained in learning through digital platforms, good agricultural practices for productivity enhancement of spices, integrated spice organic farming and sowing, on-farm trainings and demonstrations, technical equipment for land preparation, procurement, inventory management, pricing, coordination with buyers and understanding as well as access to a range of financial services.

One thousand small and marginal cumin and coriander growers of Osian and Phalodi Blocks in Jodhpur district, Rajasthan, have been enrolled and have begun to conduct business collectively through the FIGs and FPOs. There has been a substantial increase in the individual and group capacity of the spice farmers. With 914 acres of land under improved technologies and management practices, there has been a countable increase in the volume and value of incremental sales. 100% of male and female farmers and other value chain participants have access to financial services through banks and Kisan Credit Cards. All farmers have individual bank accounts and are benefitting from its financial services. It is still a long road for the farmers involved to achieve sustenance and GRAVIS will continue to handhold the FIGs and FPOs of the spice farmers, especially women, by supporting them with an efficient socio-economic environment to access resources, enabling direct linkages as well as get quality agricultural inputs for better incomes and profit margins.

Strengthening women agripreneurship

In order to conquer the challenges faced by rural women wanting to pursue entrepreneurship, a supportive environment that offers mentorship along with skill training, value addition inputs, improved financial access, risk sharing and market collaborations must be nurtured. Some of the other factors that could strengthen and promote women’s agripreneurship are:

  • Digital financial literacy training programmes for women entrepreneurs.
  • Equipping women with skills to develop the FPO from a production-oriented company to a market led social enterprise. Producing enough quantity is important but it is also necessary to understand the demand and prepare farmers to meet the quality and process requirements of the market. Only value addition might help to sustain FPOs.
  • Increased women’s participation in economic activities should become a matter of national priority.
  • Priority to women in accessing credit on soft terms from banks and other financial institutions for setting up their businesses, buying properties and building houses.
  • Provision of alternative and better employment opportunities through policies and programmes to eligible agricultural women laborers in rural areas.
  • Programmes targeting women entrepreneurship must address their time and money related issues. Customised financial products and services to cater to the needs of women farmers should be made available.
  • Creating alternative credit score system for women, registering them on various e-commerce platforms to market and sell their produce, to overcome the mobility constraints and other socio-cultural factors.
  • Helping small and local FPOs to get on multiple state and national level producer collective platforms to gain the benefit of aggregation.
  • Encouraging women to participate in national and international level Trade fairs and exhibitions to improve their access to information on latest and affordable machinery and technology, etc.
  • Helping women entrepreneurs access government schemes by providing information on the ones relevant for them. Central sponsored schemes can be a decent source of funding for enterprises that struggle with finances.
  • Bringing in skilled professionals and industry experts to help women led farm enterprises with communications, branding, quality management, pricing and distribution channels for them to be viable in the market.

Promoting women led agricultural enterprises is no more a choice but a necessity for sustainable development. Ensuring women driven businesses in rural set-ups will not only unleash the untapped potential of the agriculture sector but also reduce poverty, generate employment and build a more gender equal society. A cross-sectoral approach whereby public, commercial and civil society sectors are involved, will be crucial in channelising innovation and growth while bridging the many gaps that hold back the aspirations and progress of women, the original torchbearers of agricultural landscape in India.

Krupa Gandhi

Communication & Dissemination Consultant, GRAVIS

3/437, 458, M M Colony, Pal Road

Jodhpur, 342008, INDIA

Email –

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