The small holding size of 86 per cent of our farmers makes adoption of mechanisation and modern marketing tools difficult, leading to stagnation or even declining yields.

Aggregation of farmers to empower them has been a focus area for long. Cooperatives played their role in this effort. More recently the Self Help Groups movement through empowering women and provision of a legal framework for Farmer Producer Companies have given a new fillip to this effort.

From a few hundred FPCs five years ago, today there are around 8,000 plus registered FPOs and the number could double by 2024, if the government plan is any indication.

Though women dominate various spheres of farming, their contribution has been largely neglected. This needs to change to ensure inclusive growth in the rural economy.

In FPO space too, the engagement of women in governance and managerial positions is negligible. But not all is not lost. Since, NCDEX started actively engaging with FPCs to make them aware of price risk management using modern market tools several success stories of women led FPCs are coming to the fore.

In Rajasthan, Apni Saheli FPO is an example of women empowerment. There are over 50,000 women working under 5,000 SHGs in Dholpur, which is among the most backward districts in Rajasthan. Apni Saheli is working in forward integration, from crop procurement to establishing the linkage with the futures market for better price realisation.

The FPO developed training modules for women which have raised productivity by 60-70 per cent in bajra and wheat with a simultaneous cut in cost of production. The FPO is also exploring tie-ups with Big Basket and Subziwala for direct marketing of their produce. As a result household income for most of the women farmers has increased by 70-100 per cent in the last 3-4 years.

The story of Bihar’s Sahyog Women Jeevika Agro Producer Company, an eight-year old 100 per cent women FPO with membership of around 2,000 small farmers is awe inspiring. Going beyond traditional localised marketing today it is highly successful in using modern marketing tools such as futures trade to hedge prices and provide much higher returns to hundreds of member farmers.

The example of Kiran Devi, a daily wager struggling to feed her six-member family a decade ago, with a small piece of land and laden with huge debt of the local moneylender is inspirational. Today Kiran Devi is a dynamic board member of Aranyak Agri Producer Company Ltd (AAPCL), again in Bihar and supported by the rural livelihood promotion agency JEEVIKA. The 3,000 member strong AAPCL gained immensely from the futures platform for marketing their maize crop that resulted in a 20 per cent extra income for about 800 farmers in the in the State.

Thousands of enterprising women are exploring various models of women FPOs in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka among others.

Policy support needed

Specific policy support that recognises women led FPCs can pave the way to make them the beacon of women empowerment.

a) Government schemes such as Dena Shakti Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana may be tweaked to for easy access to capital for twomen FPCs.

b) NITI Aayog’s Moving the Needle programme through The Women Entrepreneurship Platform can specifically target women led FPCsl.

c) RBI may create guidelines under PSL norms for easier access to capital for all women FPOs with practically no collateral.

d) Increasing digital literacy through training and capacity building of women farmers through their FPOs will go a long way in keeping them up to date with technological tools.

e) Leadership and governance training of such FPOs will ensure their long-term and financial viability.

Apart from support from government through the above measures other players such as NGOs can also play an important role in creating the right eco system.

a) Corporates may allot their CSR funds to building capacities of women FPOs and helping them with business linkages.

b) Technologies should be developed to suit women farmers as well as ease the drudgery of household work.

c) Not-for-profit organizations may work towards changing the mindset among both women and men in villages towards supporting women in the entrepreneurial activities, operate their own bank accounts and become more self-reliant.

We need more focus on developing and supporting women led FPOs which will have a multiplier effect on agriculture, families and rural economy. FAO report of ‘The state of food and agriculture’ says that women can achieve 20-30 per cent higher yields than men in agriculture. It is in the interest of the country to pay attention to women led or women-only FPOs.

Kaundinya is Director General, Federation of Seed Industry of India; Mukerjee is Chief Operating Officer, NICR and Head Strategy- FPOs in NCDEX. Opinions expressed are personal