Stories tagged: India

Prabhu Pingali: Women’s Groups as Conduits Towards Resilient Communities

Our guest author, Prabhu Pingali, Professor of Applied Economics & Director of the Tata-Cornell Agriculture & Nutrition Initiative at Cornell University, continues our series of blog articles on resilience published in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ahead of the conference Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security” 15-17 May 2014.

Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are becoming ubiquitous across rural India.  There are currently around 3 million registered women’s SHGs in the country. These groups are becoming integral to the lasting resilience of its rural food systems and communities, and can provide some useful lessons for the rest of the developing world.

Initially set up for facilitating microfinance, SHGs are now playing an important role as conduits of overall empowerment of rural women in India, giving women the strength to create change that they could not have been able to achieve individually, in terms of access to finance, environmental stewardship, and even political empowerment.


This year I have visited many groups that demonstrated the impact women’s SHGs are having on building a resilient community. In Gufu for example, a village located a few hours outside of Ranchi, Jharkand, we visited an SHG that was helping women break their dependence on local moneylenders and stop selling valuable assets (often land) when they needed access to credit. It began life as a savings and loans group and is now operating a cooperative store selling seed and fertilizer and has helped its members purchase irrigation pumps for their land.

The leader of an SHG in Kunti, a neighboring area to Gufu, told us proudly, “We now have a bank account and I go to the bank to manage the account. I never went into a bank before I started with this group.  I always thought banks were for people with money. We have money now.” This new sense of confidence has women increasing their participation in village-level meetings and talking about their aspirations to run for local government offices.

In Jharkand we visited PRADAN, an NGO that has a long track record of working with women’s groups. PRADAN was helping one rural community improve the supply of water to its drinking water wells by changing the way it uses land on the upper watershed. The women in the community participated in mapping the watershed, in making decisions on cropping pattern changes, and in implementing the change.  Today perennials have replaced annual crops in the upper watershed, soil erosion has reduced significantly and well water is available throughout the year, even during the peak summer months.


The evolution of SHGs from savings and loans groups to become an access point for political decisionmaking and natural resource management is truly astounding – but not all groups are able to step up to taking on the broader development and local governance challenges.  So what makes an SHG flounder or flourish?

Many of the groups we visited lacked leadership or managerial skills, or exhibited poor group cohesion.  In many cases, the leaders were overburdened by numerous and competing demands from the various development projects that are trying to use the SHGs for accomplishing their objectives. All too often, external organizations, eager to see change, have elected to channel projects through SHGs. They are perhaps unaware of how the splintering of limited time and resources of SHG women might undermine the capacity for SHGs to manage their own affairs, a fundamental dimension for change.


Institutions, donors, and organizations looking to leverage the power and potential of SHGs should be optimistic, but keep in mind the ultimate goal of enhancing women’s empowerment and opportunity. Individual ”buy-in” and group ownership of decisions are vital to ensuring that SHGs are a platform to facilitate transformative change that will build a more resilient community.

As development agencies, researchers, or practitioners, we need to proceed with caution so as not to undermine the potential of SHGs. Equipping SHGs with the financial and managerial resources they need to meet goals determined by the group and forgoing projects that could highlight the differences amongst women (educated versus non-educated, young versus old) will remain critical principles of practice.

Certainly, it will require a more nuanced view of SHGs, one that looks at them as organizations on a pathway to determining their own future rather than simply vehicles for project implementation that can provide heartwarming stories about women.


This blog article is part of an ongoing series on resilience being published ahead of an upcoming IFPRI conference to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2014. Building resilience means helping people, communities, countries, and global institutions prevent, anticipate, prepare for, cope with, and recover from shocks, not only helping them to “bounce back” but also to become better off. This conference aims to help set priorities for building resilience, to evaluate emerging threats to resilience, and to draw lessons from humanitarian and development responses to previous shocks.

Climate Smart Agriculture: Stories of Success

A series of success stories of climate smart agriculture in action, has been released by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) to demonstrate the varied ways climate smart agriculture can take shape.

In an effort to inspire future policies and investments for making the world’s one billion farmers most resilient to the immediate threats that climate change poses on their livelihoods, the new booklet Climate Smart Agriculture Success Stories from Farming Communities around the World examines sixteen up to date examples from around the world.

A woman farmer tends works in a paddy field in the Eastern Indian state of Orissa

A woman farmer tends works in a paddy field in the Eastern Indian state of Orissa

Did you know:

– Over 5 million ha of degraded land in the Sahel have been restored through a practice known as ‘farmer-managed natural regeneration’, increasing the food security of millions of people and enhancing their resilience in the face of climate change.

– Weather-index-based crop insurance has encouraged over 12 million farmers in India to invest in their crops, boosting food security and the resilience of smallholder production systems.

– Denmark’s Green Growth policy has helped reduce the agriculture sector’s carbon footprint while ensuring the sector remains vibrant. Smart measures, such as improved use of manure and a 40% reduction in the use of inorganic fertiliser, have contributed to a 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2009.

The lack of progress at the UN climate talks, still underway in Warsaw, Poland, have left farming organisations frustrated. The examples set out in this new booklet must serve as inspiration to continue collaboration and knowledge sharing that is already helping to equip farmers with the tools they need to cope in the face of a changing climate.

Download your copy of Climate Smart Agriculture Success Stories from Farming Communities around the World here.

Digital Green: Agricultural Extension Goes Viral in India

Agriculture accounts for between 50-60% of the workforce in India. India is also the country that dedicates the second largest workforce to agriculture extension, employing more than 100,000 people to share knowledge on best agricultural practice.

Yet several barriers have hindered adoption of best practice in India, from illiteracy levels in rural communities, to lack of access to cost-effective technology and the limited mobility of extension agents. In 2006, US born Rikin Gandhi set up an organisation that would significantly break down these barriers for the first time. Six years later, his platform Digital Green has reached nearly 118,000 Indian farmers.

“We like to say that Digital Green is essentially American Idol for Indian farmers”, Rikin smiles. This means that Indian farmers are coached to ‘star’ in their own videos that demonstrate an agricultural practice that is relevant to their local area, in their local language. These videos are then shared, by the numerous extension agencies that Digital Green partners with. The extension agents use a low-cost, battery operated pico projector, that is able to work in areas with limited electricity. Since the programme’s inception in 2006, over 2,000 videos have been produced.

“The aim is to improve the efficiency of the existing extension agencies that we partner with”, Rikin comments. Digital Green now works in six states in India, across 1200 villages, reaching well over 100,000 farmers. Video content produced varies greatly, given that the challenges that face farmers across India vary with each region. Rikin commented that the most popular video on Digital Green is one teaching farmers about the cultivation of Azolla. Azolla is an aquatic fern that when fed to cattle can boost their milk production by up to one litre. “This practice started off in one corner of a state we worked in about six years ago, and now we see it all across the six states we work in.”

This example video demonstrates the key aspects of all Digital Green videos. Videos are recorded in local languages and dialects, making them easy to understand, and local farmers are the ‘actors’, meaning they are by farmers, for farmers, of farmers. The reconnection with local communities is the defining feature of this extension model; as the farmers that watch the videos feel inspired by fellow farmers in similar circumstances. Statistics available on the Digital Green website are testament to the success of this model, showing that of the farmers adopting new agricultural practices, over half had seen a Digital Green video in the last 60 days.

The Digital Green revolution is growing, with an average of 80 videos shown to farmers daily. To find out more, visit, or follow @digitalgreenorg on Twitter.

New Publication Debates Issues Surrounding India’s Future Food Security

Last week, a publication by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), written in collaboration with Oxfam India was launched, entitled ‘Standing on the Threshold: Food Justice in India’. The special bulletin brings together the views and opinions of several of India’s leading practitioners and thinkers, as the country stands on the ‘threshold’ of the much anticipated National Food Security Bill, which is currently working its way through parliament.

Since the 1990s, India has seen enormous economic growth, with the OECD estimating a growth of more than 7.5 percent in 2013. Yet 46 percent of children in India are classified as malnourished, and 31 million children under the age of three weigh too little for their age, as identified in the 2005 National Family Health Survey. Today, of the estimated 925 million hungry people in the world, 230 million are found to live in India.

The proposed National Food Security Bill aims to provide legal entitlement over subsidised food grains to the poor. This concedes that it is in fact the government’s responsibility to provide nutrition and public health, as the right to food is directly related to the constitutional guarantee of a right to life. Yet the new IDS special bulletin aims to stimulate debate around a much wider set of topics that are vital to achieving food security, such as how to stimulate agriculture in the context of a changing climate and how to protect the land and mineral rights of the marginalised.

In a recent article on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog, Biraj Swian, Oxfam India’s campaigns manager, commented:

If India’s second green revolution is to contribute to an accelerated reduction of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, it has to be a state-led project. Far from being old-fashioned, the state’s pricing policies, legal entitlement system, public distribution and natural resource management programmes are key to reaching the poorest of the poor. If food security is about having certainty about the future, the common goal must also be growth in agriculture and food security that gives the same rights on the land to men and women farmers.

Lawrence Haddad, IDS Director also commented that India’s National Food Security Bill could in fact serve as inspiration for other countries to follow suit in address their national food security issues:

India is taking the largest step toward food justice the world has ever seen through National Food Security Bill (NFSB). Although the Bill alone won’t fix India’s food system, the world will be watching to see if it can provide a template for other countries to follow.

The Food Security Bill marks a big step forward for India in eradicating hunger, as the bill will cover around 70 per cent of Indian households, the highest proportion of households covered by such programme anywhere in the world.

Click here for more information or a copy of “Standing on the Threshold: Food Justice in India”.



Global Conference on Women in Agriculture – New Delhi, India

Conference Themes:
  1. Assessing Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture
  2. Agricultural Innovations for Reducing Drudgery
  3. Linking Women to Markets
  4. Role of Women in Household Food and Nutritional Security
  5. Access to Assets, Resources and Knowledge: Policies and Services
  6. Impact and Responses to Climate Change Related Risks and Uncertainties

In addition, there will be Working Group discussions to have a Framework for Action on Engendering Agricultural Research, Education and Extension.

More information here

Mobile technology boosts farmer income in India

Agriculture is crucial to India’s economy, as it provides 23% of GDP and employs 66% of the workforce. However, most of India’s poorest people are subsistence farmers who have little or no access no technology and markets for their produce. Farmers lack knowledge on which markets to target and what price to charge.

Deepa Bachu, Director of Emerging Market Innovation at Intuit sought a solution to this problem. The research she carried out in Karnataka back in 2008 found that 40% of the time, farmers were accepting lower prices in order to sell perishable goods and up to 100% of the farmers she visited were unsure of whether the prices they were charging were correct.

As a solution, Deepa developed a free SMS based product called Intuit Fasal that connects rural farmers with buyers and provides them with real-time price information via mobile phone. It is described as ‘a basic supply and demand calculator’. Farmers register for updates by calling a toll free number and will then receive three text messages daily from the service. These messages are tailored to the farmer’s crop and location, thus helping them chose the right market to target in order to get the best price.

The service currently has more than 500,000 users who earn an average of 20% more income thanks to the technology.

Mobile technology has been used increasingly to enhance agricultural productivity. Access to up-to-date market pricing information is essential if farmers are going to increase their profitability, and in turn, increase production rates. (Farming First Principle 5)