. It is not unsurprising that in today’s world, most small farmers do not want their children to follow in their footsteps. With a monthly household income of less than ₹6,000, fragmented landholdings and a 30 per cent probability of buying seeds and pesticides that could be adulterated or spurious, small and marginal farmers in India are playing a yearly roll of dice with the monsoons, with a good monsoon meaning plentiful crops and accompanying price drops and a bad one wiping out the entire crop.
Possible solutions to these challenges include increasing the price the farmer receives, improved practices to reduce inputs, value addition at farm gate, insurance, and credit models that are farmer-friendly. But there is one issue that underlies all these solutions and that is of reach. There is a practical challenge of reaching these small and marginal farmers, who number around 70 million today and the costs involved in such an effort. Collectivisation is a way of addressing this, while also giving them more ‘bargaining’ power as a group.
Collective models are well known and respected. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) began promotion of 2,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in 2014-15. The government also realized the potential of the FPO in the context of doubling farmer incomes and in 2019 launched a 10,000 FPO scheme. While over 7,500 FPOs have been registered so far, only 15 per cent of these are active. Most of them only provide inputs to farmers. The real value of an FPO, to help farmers get credit or better prices for their produce is not happening.
An FPO should help grow the farmer base, provide inputs, buy output, give them advice on crops, give them credit and insurance, facilitate post processing, etc. The breadth of activities becomes a key challenge here. How can an FPO made up of 500 to 1,000 local farmers, run by a CEO (on a salary the FPO can afford), manage such a broad set of responsibilities? In addition to working with the farmers, the FPO also has to engage with the broader farming ecosystem to set up and manage post processing activities to increase value for the farmers. Imagine a CEO sitting in Barabanki, UP, trying to negotiate prices with a big organised retailer.