New hub promotes farmer producer organizations in India

A new resource at the Tata-Cornell Institute (TCI) for Agriculture and Nutrition’s Center of Excellence in New Delhi will help empower India’s 125 million smallholder farms to take advantage of growing opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Called the Farmer Producer Organization Hub, it features a first-of-its-kind database of Indian FPOs. Supported by a $1 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, the Hub will serve as a repository of lessons, information and knowledge for the advancement of the more than 4,400 FPOs in India.

On their own, small farms are disadvantaged when it comes to accessing markets, credit and agricultural resources. Through FPOs, farmers work collectively to reduce costs and improve market access, helping to drive higher agricultural productivity, enhanced food security and livelihood development.

“Farmer producer organizations are crucial for both improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and increasing the supply of diverse, nutritious foods that are increasingly in demand across India,” said Prabhu Pingali, director of TCI and professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, with joint appointments in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Through the FPO Hub, TCI aims to provide a foundation of data-based knowledge on top of which strong, effective FPOs can be built and sustained.”

A critical part of the Hub is TCI’s Database for Indian FPOs, a new platform that brings together information on thousands of FPOs to facilitate research on small-farm aggregation models. TCI’s database is the only centralized source of data on Indian FPOs. Through the interactive web-based dashboard, researchers can access a wealth of FPO data, such as crops produced, founding years and sponsoring agencies. Ultimately, the data will allow researchers to formulate models to boost smallholder farmer income and welfare.

Using an analytical, data-based approach, the Hub will aid in the understanding, development and promotion of effective farm-aggregation models and serve as a dissemination platform through which stakeholders can access information, technical help and guidance.

Farmers have formed FPOs since the early 2000s. Though interest promoting FPOs is high among philanthropists, corporations and the government, there are still significant barriers to entry for many farmers, including limited financing opportunities and the time required to become self-sufficient.

Julie Gehrki, vice president of philanthropy at the Walmart Foundation, said: “The Walmart Foundation is committed to helping improve livelihoods for smallholder farmers in India. With the grant funding to the TCI, we are meaningfully advancing research into farmer producer organizations, which serve as vital infrastructure for promoting market access and strengthening business and agricultural practices. With TCI’s expertise, the FPO Hub will connect multiple institutions who are directly engaged in supporting farmers and farm aggregators to strengthen the agri-value chain.”

To celebrate the launch of the FPO Hub, TCI hosted a virtual panel Sept. 1 to address the barriers faced by smallholder farmers and FPOs. Titled “Farmer Producer Organizations, Small Farms and the Future of Food Systems in India,” the event was attended by more than 130 researchers and representatives from government, donor organizations, the private sector and civil society organizations.

Among the issues and topics discussed by the panelists were the need for increased awareness of FPOs and their benefits among smallholder farmers, as well as the need for government policies around FPOs to evolve along with the changing market and the characteristics of successful FPOs, like strong leadership. The importance of including women in FPOs was also a key area of discussion, with panelists agreeing that tailored programs and policies are needed to surmount the social and cultural constraints faced by women in agriculture.