With the wind beneath our wings, we soar together and higher

By the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Credit: IRRI

Dutika Pujari, Hemanti Pujari, Pramila Gopal, and Dharani Gopal are farmers that have something in common: they all endeavored to improve their well-being, social, economic, and health status. Today, they are proud shareholders of the Adarsh Dharmagarh Women Farmers Services Producer Company Ltd (ADWFSPCL) in Kalahandi District in Odisha.


Women with dreams take the first step

Until recently, women farmers in the area were struggling to meet their needs and sustain their livelihoods. To become food secure, farmers need timely access to affordable quality seed of preferred varieties. They depended on village mandies (wholesale markets) and moneylenders for loans to buy seed.

In 2018, these women farmers took the first step towards their economic empowerment collaborating with International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment (DAFE) in Odisha, and Access Livelihoods Consulting India (ALCI) – a social enterprise.


Nurturing women leaders

ADWFSPCL is a women-led and managed Farmer Producer Company (FPC), aiming to work with 3,000 women farmers in Kalahandi.

Adarsh Sathis, trained local resource persons, work with the women farmers each covering at least 30-40 families per village to support the FPC activities. They support procuring seed, generating orders for agricultural inputs, delivering groceries, collecting baseline data, selling paddy seed, and provide technical support.

The Adarsh Sathis in Kalahandi are all women. Evidence shows that women farmers who worked with female extension agents showed relatively higher levels of awareness of and participation in extension activities, better technical knowledge of recommended technologies and practices and higher adoption of improved practices.


Reaching out to small farmers

The FPC procures and sells agricultural inputs such as seed, fertilizers, and bio-pesticides to its members at lower than prevailing market prices.  Thanks to the FPC, Ms. Dutika Pujari, who used to mortgage her jewelry to buy seeds, now has a much better alternative to the local mandies.

“Because we were dependent on local mandies for seeds and inputs we were always burdened with huge debts from the local moneylenders” she said. “We don’t feel the same way today. Our self-respect and confidence have been restored. I had never left my village in my entire life. Having participated in two exposure visits with the FPC, I am now confident to travel and interact with people even outside my state!”

Credit: IRRI

Changing the seed market

It is not only the lives of the women farmers that are changing. The FPC is also changing the nature of the seed market.

“About 180 FPC members produce paddy seed and they sold it to the FPC at USD 251 per ton” said Smt. Reena Patel, vice president of FPC. “If farmers sold this seed to mandies or to middlemen, it would have fetched them only about USD 200.00 or even lower per ton. A paddy seed processing unit has been set up in Boden Village and the processed seed will be sold under the Creyo brand”.

“FPC now directly purchases the foundation seed from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-National Rice Research Institute and Krishi Vigyan Kendra and distributes it among its members for seed production as per the requirement, making the process cost-effective and organized,” Ms. Patel said.


The benefits of credit

All member farmers now also enjoy the benefit of credit facility for buying fertilizers from FPC. The farmers need to repay the principal amount within six months of crop harvest. However, an interest rate of 18% has to be paid annually. This is 7-8% lower than what local moneylenders charged the women.

“I joined the group so that I don’t have to go through the cumbersome process of obtaining agriculture loans from the banks,” said Ms. Hemanti Pujari. “As a woman I face particular challenges in accessing credit without the land title in my name. Now, I can also avail other kinds of support from FPC where we are the shareholders. I can benefit from the continuous training, exposure visits, and technical support provided by IRRI and ALCI.”


From marginal invisible farmers to knowledge-rich business women

“Registering with FPC, the members are planning to cultivate paddy in both the kharif and rabi seasons,” said Aparajita, one of the FPC directors. “They have widely adopted line transplantation. They have now learned to preserve seeds with the correct moisture content and the method to use healthy seeds at sowing by dipping the seed lots in salt solution and removing the floating seeds.”

“The business perspective of women farmers has improved manifold. Through exposure visits, they are now aware of other livelihood options,” she added.

Credit: IRRI

And future leaders

“Our women farmers have developed leadership qualities, the impact of which can be seen in the next two to three years,” said Ms. Patel. “They are now capable of analyzing the performance and assessing the profitability and suitability of enterprises and make decisions and plans on their own. They are now aware that year-round crop cultivation is possible and that it could improve their livelihoods”.

All the members unanimously agree on the positive impacts of FPC on their lives. They all felt empowered with confidence, leadership skills, and farming-related knowledge. They acknowledged the support and appreciation of their work and achievements from their family members and their community. They are unified in their vision to elevate their FPC to match the bigger and more established ones they have seen in Kesingha and outside the state.


Spreading their wings

The women farmers also expressed the need for more training on machinery usage, seed-specific and pest-specific management techniques, pesticide use, water and drainage management, drought-resistant cropping, and rabi crop cultivation. They also require technical and input support for crops other than paddy, particularly vegetables.

“Farmers, even after being trained in machine transplantation, still use manual transplanting as they do not have support from either the agriculture department or banks to procure mechanical transplanters,” Assistant Agriculture Officer Hemananda Majhi said. “In 2021, the FPC plans to procure some machines and set up a Custom Hiring Center.”

The FPC has ushered in a new era of farming practices with tangible socio-economic benefits, especially for the women farmers. This became the wind beneath their wings that has enabled them to soar!

This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for July is ‘Farmers at the center of innovation’.  

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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