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The Farmer’s Lament: Innovation And Agripreneurship

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Editor’s Note: This is the third article in ‘The Farmer’s Lament’, a series of three articles on the agriculture sector in India.

In the private sector, there is always innovation. There’s always change. There’s always improving productivity, and if you’re not leading that, you’ll be passed and ultimately go out of business. So there’s an urgency to constantly update and renew and to rethink your enterprise.

-Mitt Romney

As much as the private sector can become an instrument of crony capitalism, it has its fair share of assets associated with it. Mitt Romney’s words above show the ruthless nature of the private sector that makes innovation the buzzword of the day. It also makes it a very oppressive system at times, but that shall be addressed in our context as the article progresses. Given the problems that beset the agricultural sector, I believe that innovation is the key and opening up the market is an act in the process of forging that key that can only be helpful to the sector. India’s liberalization in 1991 was out of the extreme economic crisis back then but its liberalization in agriculture further need not be such. Agripreneurship (agricultural entrepreneurship) needs to be promoted even in times of relative calm and growth to further augment it. The one area where this can help immensely is the one we tackled in the last article: procurement, besides elements in irrigation and storage. Has the government been doing absolutely nothing to address this in recent times?

Not quite.

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) was enacted by the Indian Parliament under the Food Corporations Act on December 10, 1964. Its primary purpose is the purchase, storage, transportation, distribution and sale of food grains and other food items. It also seeks to safeguard the interests of farmers, maintain buffer stocks and make grains accessible at reasonable prices to the weaker and vulnerable sections of society through the Public Distribution System (PDS). The FCI was useful when there were food shortages but with the aforementioned excess, its role is being questioned and potentially redefined. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), in the year 2012–13, only 13.5% of paddy farmers were willing to sell their output to procurement agencies.  A high-level committee that was constituted for the purposes of restructuring the FCI recommended, that the institution should hand over all procurement operations of rice, wheat and paddy to the states. It also suggested revisiting the minimum support price policy.

Even though the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of wheat and rice has been increased since 2004-05 but the Central Issue Price (CIP), the price at which the government sells food-grains through the Public Distribution System in ration shops, has not been revised since 2002, leading to a widening gap between the subsidy expenditures and earnings in the system. The food bill is estimated to be Rs 13,81,23,00,00,000 in the 2018-19 fiscal year as against the actual expenditure of Rs 10,49,01,00,00,000 crore in 2017-18. To reduce food bill, the government has introduced a policy of switching all the expenses on procurement and distribution of food-grains over to the Public Financial Management Statement (PFMS) platform as mandated by the Finance Ministry in August 2018. the government has also introduced a policy of usage charges for packing of paddy to further the cause of reducing the food bill.

The committee also suggested the gradual containerisation of the movement of grains to reduce losses in transit and have a faster turnaround time. It has also recommended that farmers be given direct cash subsidy so that spurious diversions of implements like urea can be prevented. Most importantly, the committee believes that,

 “The new FCI should be a market-friendly agency for food management, with a primary focus on creating competition in every segment of foodgrain supply chain, from procurement to stocking to movement and finally distribution in TPDS, so that overall costs of the system are substantially reduced, leakages plugged, and through it serving farmers and consumers.”

It also needs to prioritise the use of its grain management techniques in areas where farmers have often not been able to receive the minimum support prices. Above all—politically, economically and administratively — the FCI must look into getting rid of the occurrence of widespread hunger among the poor even with godowns brimming with grains. Recently, it has started to sell wheat in bulk to tackle the excess grain problem this year. Hopefully, the poorest of the poor will be benefited from this and from future formulations of distribution of grains not only in times of crisis but also in normal times.

I would go a step further in seeking to promote agripreneurship (agricultural entrepreneurship) to make it a competitive space and to make infrastructure and capital available at various points in the value chain. This, of course, has to be regulated and cannot be uncontrolled, since the exploitation of the weaker sections in the rural hinterlands may be possible. Emphasis should also be given on how local solutions, businesses and ventures can resolve problems of an area. After all, they may best know what the best resolution for a problem in their locality would be. The best case, for example, is that of Africa and how agripreneurship is making inroads and good change in many parts of the continent. Successful supply chain development projects have reduced not only the transaction costs but also the institutional barriers that break encumbering individual links in traditional distribution channels. They allow participants to achieve higher levels of service, products and solutions, and to capture substantial added value. This serves as a means to achieve economic growth as well as for poverty alleviation.

Where on one hand one has a dairy farmer in Eastern Cape who use uses the computer programme for herd management and feeding he helped innovate and develop and that has helped him increase milk output 30% at the same cost, on the other hand, one has Agriprotein, a firm that turns fly larvae from food waste into a high-value protein feed for chicken, pigs and fish.

However, one has to be cautious while considering agripreneurship as a solution: without proper capacity building, it may not be be sustainable. As the business grows, to keep the customers happy one needs to know the best possible ways to scale up for a particular product or solution in the sector. Thankfully, even there Africa is not behind. The recently started Young Innovators in Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development (YIELD) project seeks to build the capacity of agripreneurs. Africa was the cradle of humanity. I will not be surprised if they also give us the next stage in our evolution as a species and society, and it would be to India’s benefit to adopt the best solutions in this sector, including a sustainable agripreneurship model, albeit assessed and possibly customised for Indian realities and conditions. In India, in certain parts such as Rajasthan, the first such ventures have been coming up, including the agriventures under the ACABCS scheme.

A harmonious public-private partnership in agriculture and the primary sector is the only way the increasing pressures on this sector can be faced effectively without compromising on either the products nor the quality and effective timing of the distribution of these products. A sustainable model of agripreneurship that has ample training and support for capacity building and scalability can provide a robust model for sustainable agricultural practices as well as poverty alleviation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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