The second of a series of roundtable meetings on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) organised by YES BANK was held on the 22nd February 2017 at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. These workshops are being held as part of the ACIAR-funded project on Promoting socially inclusive and sustainable agricultural intensification in West Bengal and Bangladesh, and aim to provide a platform that brings together on-ground institutions and market professionals to discuss challenges to effective PPP and identify ways to overcome these barriers. There were over 20 participants at the recent workshop representing a broad range of private and public stakeholders and research institutes, including Shri Jagdamba Samiti, National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited (NCDEX), Reliance Foundation, Indian Council of Food & Agriculture, ACIAR, Innovative Change Collaborative (ICCo), ITC, Reserve Bank of India, Tata Cornell Agriculture & Nutrition Initiative, CDHI, and Annamrit Foundation.
It is recognised that there are inadequate linkages between smallholder farmers and the markets required to sustain their economic viability. One key challenge is to bridge the disconnect between the development organisations and institutions working at the grassroots and the commercially driven market institutions. The focus of this second workshop was to discuss these ‘linkage’ and ‘institutionalisation’ issues. The roundtable discussion opened up a wide span of ideas and perspectives from the broad range of participants and their experiences. Some of the key points that emerged include:
- The need for a shift in the perception of smallholder farmers, including their own perspectives and that of the private and public institutions. The mindset of all must change from its focus on staples to a broad diversity of agriculture. New and growing food value chains provide an opportunity for smallholder farmers, however there are constraints that hinder this opportunity including poor market infrastructure for non-staples, financial systems designed for rice and wheat only, and policies that are also centred on staples.
- New skill sets and capacities are needed by farmers. Collectives, or Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), need to be well managed to ensure they transition into successful business enterprises. Rather than making the role of an NGO central to the collective, there must be members with the right skills to ensure the group self-sustains in the long-term even after the NGO leaves. NGOs and the public (and possibly private) sector can be a major conduit for this skill development and extension.
- Bottom-up approach to agricultural intensification. There is no cookie-cutter approach to developing a successful farming enterprise. It is imperative that farmers are supported to make their own choices to ensure long-term sustainable agriculture and self-reliance. This entails providing farmers with the capacity to make, for example, crop choices based on market information and their local conditions.
- Scale-neutral technologies to help bridge the gap. While collectives provide the scaling up needed to compete in certain markets, scale-neutral technologies, particularly IT-related led (e.g. e-National Agri Market) are another opportunity for smallholder farmers to reach new markets. Digitization may also help in the delivery of subsidies and other policy mechanisms.
Transforming marginal and smallholder farmers to profitable farming businesses requires a shift in the perceptions and policies of both public and private institutions including NGOs, and building the capacity of farmers in skills to meet market needs. Through this discussion we have started to identify a number of potential mechanisms and opportunities to build and strengthen the linkages between farmers and markets. There has been great interest from the participants to continue this conversation through further workshops, and to build a framework that can be implemented to support these rural communities.