Women farmers have been the invisible backbone of the Indian agri-economy for decades. As per the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20, more than three-quarters (75.7%) of women in rural India are engaged in agriculture. Despite the facts at hand, women seldom get to reap the monetary rewards of their work. Niru ben’s story is that of a woman who took this matter into her own hands and turned life around not just for herself, but for many more female farmers that strive to support their families.
Niru ben Khokhariya from the Choliya village of Sabarkantha, Gujarat, is a smallholder farmer. In 2018, she had less than 5 acres of land and an average income of INR 40,000-50,000/annum. At the time, she and her family were struggling to make ends meet, faced with problems like fragmented land holdings, limited access to credit systems, quality agri-products and services in their village region, among others – making it difficult for them to sustain their livelihood. Niru ben wasn’t alone in this as many farmers from the tribal region faced the same issues. In 2018-19, smallholder farmers from Niru ben’s area came together to form a self-help group – Laxmi Mahila Gram Sangathan – with a little support from the Collectives for Integrated Livelihoods Initiatives (CInI). The group would meet every week to discuss their issues, probe solutions and how to best implement them, as well as explore ways to make savings and incorporate improvements into their agricultural work.
Gradually, Niru ben and many farmers adopted several best agri practices: they started crop basket diversification, as well as income source diversification to become Lakhpati Kisan. As the demand for better agri products and services rose, many community members came forward to take a lead and fill in roles of entrepreneurs, service providers, and group leaders. Niru ben was an active part of this growing ecosystem in her community. All the women from the Khedbrahma block (her block) were enthused by this growing momentum & became participants of SabarAart Farmer Producer Co. Ltd. (an FPC that had been in their region since 2015).
With the support of FPC, Niru ben started a polyhouse nursery in 2018-19 and became an entrepreneur, as well as a supplier for high value agriculture to farmers in her region. In 2019-20, she started buying more agri-input supplies (seeds) from the FPC and grew her outreach. The same year, she also took a step ahead and procured harvests from farmers in her region to supply to the FPC. This made her an end-to-end vendor for both farmers and the FPC. With strong links, connections, and sincere efforts, she gradually grew as both – a farmer and an entrepreneur.
In 2019-20, she took a loan from the FPC to start a dairy. The next year, she started procuring vegetables from her region, making her farm gate a collection point for her farmer neighbours and for the FPC too. She is an essential part of the ecosystem in her region. There are 10-15 more entrepreneurs like her at the block level who support the farmers and the FPC’s growth. These agri-entrepreneurs are key growth drivers for the FPCs, the farmers, and the whole region.