India has a huge research and extension infrastructure for agricultural development. Yet, over 59% of the farm households in India received no assistance from either government or private agricultural extension services during 2013 (NSSO Survey 70th round 2013: Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households in India). Of the 40.6% households who received extension assistance, only 11% of the services came from physical government machinery- i.e. extension agents, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and agricultural universities. More farmers depended on other progressive farmers (20%), media including radio, TV, newspaper (19.6%) and private commercial agents (7.4%).
The public extension system is unable to reach many farmers in India; it is estimated that 17% of farmers get their information from other farmers and 13% from input dealers. Over 90% of the small scale farmers continue to remain detached from new technologies and guidance from public research institutes.
No wonder, agricultural productivity for major crops and livestock species in India is still lower than that of the world averages. Nevertheless, Indian farmers have found a new breed of enterprising farmers—the AGRIPRENEURS—who are the role models to follow!
Some creative farmers across India are innovating and applying suitable technologies and practices developed by them or integrating in their farms the technologies developed elsewhere. The farmers’ connection to farmer extension services, thus, is gaining ground in India. Such technologies have better adaptability and resilience to handle climate change impacts, too.
India putting successes in the spotlight
Such creative and entrepreneurial farmers were invited in good number from across India by the Indian Ministry of Agriculture at the largest Agricultural fair, Krishi Vasant-2014 at Nagpur. Nearly 100 exhibition stalls put up by innovative and successful farmers at Krishi Vasant attracted a big rush of farmers, since farmers were happy to learn from experiences of these innovative farmers from different parts of the country. Many agri-universities, Krishi Vigyan Kendras & the ICAR research institutions are now recognizing these agri-preneurs for their innovative practices during agricultural fairs. They are increasingly seen as role models by other farmers, so frequently consulted by them.
Farm magazines, newspapers and the newly launched farmer TV channel DDKISAN, broadcasting 24 hours day, share the success stories of innovative farmers to motivate Indian farmers. These smart farmers continuously explore ways to make their farms profitable just like any industrial venture. They always keep themselves updated on the latest technologies in farming from a variety of available sources. Also, they are good at using their own creativity in finding innovative solutions to the problems in farming.
Thankfully, the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, especially the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has taken note of these innovative farmers. Such farmers are being recognized and awarded by the government agencies at different forums for their creativity in farming.
Agripreneurial Success Stories
Following are some shining examples of agripreneurship in India:
Mr Shakti Dev
Mr Dev, age 27, is an enterprising youth of the village Jholna, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. He is a graduate in telecommunications. Quiting his job as a junior engineer, he opted for a career in farming in his native village. He is now a small farmer owning 0.6ha of land, engaged in many different agro-based enterprises. He has a small orchard of litchi and mango trees, and has a polyhouse to grow off season vegetables. He does floriculture and sells flowers as well. He has a mini dairy unit of three buffaloes and is able to produce 26-30 litres of milk daily. He has established a mini vermicompost unit and sells vermicompost as well. He maintains a small apiary and has a mini biogas unit.
Mr Dev earns thirty thousand Indian rupees per month from these different enterprises. He owns a smartphone and regularly uses Whatsapp and Facebook, and manages a Whatsapp group in which he posts agricultural based information. He uses the Internet to know more about farm practices such as silage preparation, vermicompost, drip irrigation and water management practices. Shakti has been selected as a motivator by the state agricultural department.
Mr Naveen Awasthi
Mr Awasthi is graduate and an enterprising youth of the village of Bir in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. He has run a small dairy unit of 20 animals for the last 7-8 years, selling 125 kg of milk from 10-12 crossbred Holstein and Jersey cows. In 2015, he received the Best Dairy Farmer Award (INR 10,000) from the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA). Recently, one female calf from his dairy was judged the best calf in a competition organised by the State Department of Animal Husbandry. He has received training on dairy farming from ICAR-National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal.
Mr Awasthi has a smartphone through which he accesses the Internet and social media to seek dairy related information. He has subscribed to Facebook groups in dairy farming and utilises YouTube for dairy related videos. He also shares dairy related information with his other contacts through Facebook and Whatsapp.
Ms Nikki Chaudhary
Ms Chaudhary, age 28, has a postgraduate in MSc Business Economics and Finance from University of Surrey London, 2008. She has been involved in dairy farming since 2011 at her family farm, Chaudhary Farms, in rural Uttar Pradesh, considered to be amongst the best dairy farms in the state for having a good infrastructure, well-bred high yield cows and good management practices. Ms Chaudhary manages the dairy unit of 50 exotic – Holstein Friesian and Jersey Cross cows. However, Ms Chaudhary has found that farms using these crossbreeds are spending too much energy and resources to create ambient temperature for the crosses which cannot tolerate the hot and humid weather of India. Despite the high milk yields of these breeds, they need to be kept in very high-cost, cool, all-weather shelters, and require much expensive stall feeding and medical care. At the same time, indigenous Indian milk breeds such as Sahiwal and Gir have shown resistance to hot and humid climates as well as to diseases and pests.
With this knowledge, Ms Chaudhary prepared a proposal for the Youth Agripreneurs Project, a pilot project providing seed funding to young agricultural entrepreneurs or “agripreneurs” by GFAR , CGIAR and YPARD. She proposed to purchase six pure Gir breed cattle and evaluate the performance of the climate resilient cattle over the period of one year to determine their suitability for dairy farming in India. In March, she learned that she had been selected as one of six YAP finalists to receive USD 5,000 to facilitate the startup of their projects, and was invited to attend the GCARD3 Global Event (5-8 April 2016) in Johannesburg to receive her first induction training, pitch her project to GCARD3 participants, and have the opportunity to network with agricultural specialists from all over the world.
Mr Anil Sawhney
Many farmers are in a depressing state and some are even committing suicide in India because of failing farm incomes. Yet Mr Anil Sawhney exudes confidence when talking about his farm- Godson Organic FARM in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. A drive of 270 km from New Delhi, this 40 acre well-diversified farm looks distinctively different than the other farms in the neighbourhood. The sugarcane he grows is much taller and sweeter; the crop varieties and legumes he grows are promising and nutrient rich. To reduce the cost of production, chemical fertilizers are replaced by bio-fertilizers and green manuring, in addition to the use of regular crop rotation. The farm has a rich diversity of rare herbs and medicinal plants, too, which are certified organic. As a result, produce can be marketed and even exported, fetching higher returns than the conventional farmers in the locality.
Mr Sawhney keeps himself busy, always in great demand for experience sharing at agricultural events, including conferences. He is different from most of the farmers in the area, for he owns a smartphone, laptop, and is active in social media groups like Facebook, Whatsapp, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. His farming experiences have also been profiled by press and media on various occasions (see here and here). He is an inspiration and role model for the farming communities. Recently (16 April, 2016), he was awarded a Special Achievement Award by ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, for his innovative farming practices in the area of organic agriculture.
These emerging agri-preneurs are telling us it’s not just a question of enhancing farm productivity, but also generating innovative approaches, diversifying production and increasing profitability from the farming enterprise. These successful and innovative farmers can ignite the hope in millions of small scale farmers in India. Such smart farmers need to be supported so they can grow in numbers and make farming profitable!
Guest blog post by Mahesh Chander (drmahesh.chander(at)gmail.com), Head, Division of Extension Education, ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute
The views expressed are personal, and cannot be attributed to ICAR or GFAR.
Photo credits: 1-4, 6: Mahesh Chander; 5: IISD