AEGF supports lakhs of farmers to access schemes, generate revenue and stay safe during COVID-19

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AEGF supports lakhs of farmers to access schemes, generate revenue and stay safe during COVID-19.

The Agri-Entrepreneur Growth Foundation (AEGF), launched in 2019 as a collaboration between Tata Trusts and Syngenta Foundation India, has the vision to create wealth for resource-poor smallholder farmers in India through innovation, sustainable agriculture, and connecting them to value chains. As the world grapples with the deadly Covid-19 Pandemic, Indian agricultural workers found themselves in unchartered territory as their livelihoods were put at stake. The pandemic overlapped with the country’s rabi season at the time when harvested produce is sold. Ironically, a bumper harvest was predicted for rabi2020. Syngenta India Limited, Syngenta Foundation India, and AEGF collaborated to extend support to farmers through the vast AE network.

To support farmers, 1782 AEs, across 8 states, spread awareness covering a total of 1.58 million farming family members, directly through over 3 lakh farmers. This incredible feat was achieved over a month starting 24th March 2020. Each AE spread awareness about the practices of social distancing, hand washing, and connecting them with the local health workers (ASHA). Other than that, information on market pricing and traders was shared regularly with farmers along with making available various equipment and material for following good post-harvest package of practices.

Through the lockdown, armed with sanitizers and gloves, 148 AEs collectively sold 1996 metric tons of produce across the country and served 5021 smallholder farmers earning revenue of INR 2.95 crores. As a standing rabi crop waited to be harvested, extensive efforts were made to connect farmers with local markets. As of mid-April, over 500 boxes of grapes were delivered to housing societies in Pune, grapes were transported to Patiala, vegetables from Nasik were delivered to e-commerce player, Go4Fresh, 100 metric tons of maize were delivered to online agronomy player Agri-Bazaar in Bihar, 10 metric tons of onions were sold in Delgur, 70 metric tons of yield was sold in Kota, and 42.5 metric tons in Alwar. 301 MT of jackfruit and watermelon was sold from Jharkhand and 10 MT of tea leaves from Assam.

AE’s providing digital financial services has proven to be of immense significance during the program. Digital financial transactions of INR 13,61,916 in March and INR 13,77,442 in April were conducted across the 10 districts of Bihar Project locations with Spice Money and IDFC tools. This enabled over 2000 women, farmers, to access their Jan-Dhan accounts and helped over 2000 farmers to access the fruits of the national direct cash transfer scheme, PM KISAN.

In collaboration, with the State Government of Bihar, AEs made 13,266 ration cards available to below poverty line families. This enabled them to access a central government scheme designed to support the poorest of the poor.

Partnering with Arya Collateral, AEGF conducted a comprehensive training on Quality Parameter Assessments and The Importance of Quality in Industry. The training was the first-ever digital training session conducted by the firm for the development sector. In addition, AEGF switched to an online format to train 101 AE Mentors about Rice Agronomy through Zoom.

In these trying times, citizens’ solidarity has been truly remarkable in rural India. AEGF is taking significant steps to fight the rapid spread of the deadly disease and safeguard the interests of rural citizens, who are disproportionately affected by these unprecedented measures.

What is the AE Program?

Indian agriculture has made significant progress in the last few decades. However, vast numbers of smallholders still struggle to earn decent incomes. These farmers could benefit from many existing technologies and innovations but cannot get hold of them. The problem here is inadequate ‘first-mile access’ – or from the suppliers’ point of view, ‘last-mile delivery’, which essentially means that farmers are not able to access new technologies in an efficient manner. This is a challenge across many sectors in rural India, but agriculture displays a particularly persistent and damaging lack of access to:

1.Information about the new technologies
2.Credit to buy or rent them
3.The actual technologies, i.e. in a nearby shop
4.Know-how and guidance on use (e.g. appropriate agronomy)
5.Small and Fragmented landholdings limit the benefits of scale

It is in this context that Syngenta Foundation India launched its Agri-Entrepreneur (AE) initiative in 2014. The program aims significantly to increase farm incomes and to create sustainable livelihoods for young rural entrepreneurs. The Foundation selects and trains unemployed village youth to provide products and services to 150-200 smallholders in two to three villages. The AE network replaces conventional and inadequate ‘point solutions’ with one holistic provider.

To scale up the AE model further, Syngenta Foundation India and Tata Trusts have created the AE Growth Foundation (AEGF). This new organization will focus exclusively on developing AE’s across India. AEGF aims to launch 100,000 over the next five years. This will create an entirely new network for transactions between agribusiness companies or start-ups and ‘pre-commercial smallholders. AEGF will use a small portion of the value created, in order to invest in further AE’s. As of April 2020, 2500, AE’s were providing services to about 250,000 farmers across 9 States, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Telangana.  SFI aims significantly to increase both the total number and the proportion of women.

The program is run in partnership and support from Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), State Rural Livelihood Missions (SRLMs) of Maharashtra, Bihar, and UP, Rabobank Foundation and IDH, CABI, NIRDPR (Ministry of Rural Development), Star Agri,  ESAF Bank NeML and Mother Dairy.