Agri Social Enterprises:Leveraging Social Capital and Solving the Puzzle of Doubling Farmers’Incomes
Farmers are back with a lot of hype across policy, media, and academic circles. For the managerial world, following the Ashok Dalwai Report of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI), there is a new possibility of engagement with agriculture as a value-led enterprise. The committee has drawn the DFI strategy on three variables - productivity gains, cost reduction and increased price realisation. While reading the report, I kept looking for managerial interventions that can transform the business of agriculture and help the nation achieve the arduous goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. And this is when I chanced upon the book ‘Farming Futures: Emerging Social Enterprises in India’, which presents compelling examples of such change agents silently improving the living incomes of farmers.
The fifteen cases presented in the book is worth reading for everyone concerned about the future of farming and farmers in India. The authors have carefully chosen the enterprises to show their role across the varied group of farmers including tillers, livestock rearers, vegetable, orchard, fish & poultry farmers; and even honey bee and flower growers.
The DFI report presents value-led enterprise of agriculture consisting of three pillars, - pre-production, production, and post-production activities. Each of these present different challenges in different states, and hence it is imperative to find customised solutions for each context. It pays more attention to strengthening post-production activities in terms of monetisation of the commodity, reducing the gap between the farmer’s selling price and the consumer’s buying price of an agricultural product. The fifteen enterprises documented in the book show how it is possible to strengthen one or more of these pillars, with a majority, eleven, of the documented cases are striving to find solutions for post-production challenges.
Hybrid organisations and Farmers First
The book captures the complexity of organisational design prevailing among social enterprises in the agriculture sector very well. Many enterprises work with two legal entities – one a for-profit company to engage with markets and another a not-for-profit organisation to facilitate farmer’s active participation in business.
Active participation of farmers is seen in most of the solutions proposed by social enterprises. An inspiring example is Ergos that promotes an asset-light micro-warehousing solution for small farmers in Bihar that also allowed them to decide the pricing structure for the storage solutions. Safe Harvest Private Limited’s unique organisational structure with ownership from a network of seven non-profit organisations that came together to provide tested and certified market linkages to farmers engaged in chemical-free agriculture. Farmer producer organisations (FPOs) can and might need social enterprises to enhance their market presence for increased farm income and a model worth replicating across the country.
While each social enterprise carves its way of doing business, their direct engagement with farmers is the feature that unifies them. Hence, it is imperative to analyse these businesses from the perspectives of social capital. A social capital analysis of these businesses will throw light on how they leverage the existing bonding capital between the resource-poor subsistence producers and create a value-exchange system.
The case authors have given due attention to describing the entrepreneurial journey of promoters, which brings out their continued commitment to the broader social good of empowering farmers. The case on AgSri that provides significant water and seed saving for sugarcane farmers through nursery plantation technology highlights the entrepreneur’s decision to forego more significant profits by keeping the intervention open-source to make it accessible to a higher number of farmers.
New Insights for Management Education
The book reinforces the value of field-based experiential learning components of the management curriculum in creating enterprises to respond to the diverse set of challenges faced by Indian agriculture. We find compelling examples of Krishi Star, Kamal Kisan, Tamul Plates,etc., which underscore the significance of rural internships in inculcating values of empathy and social consciousness in managers. In all these cases, extensive travel to rural areas and first-hand exposure to the problems faced by farmers helped these entrepreneurs to ideate and execute business solutions for the challenges faced by farmers. While most of the business schools engage with NGOs for the rural immersion segment (if there is any), the time has come to include these social enterprises and give exposure to management solutions for problems of Indian farmers. Together, these cases can inspire and encourage young students to unleash their potential to innovate and create social enterprises committed to the purpose of the farmers’ well-being along with the financial goals.
Additionally, these cases can be integrated into functional area courses in management to impart learning on practical challenges in the present socio-economic and politico-legal context of doing business in rural India. Some of those issues explained in the cases relate to working capital, sales & distribution, branding, capital infusion, adherence to social goals & financial goals, risk management, customer service and stakeholder management.
There are a diverse set of ecosystem actors who play a significant role in the evolutionary journey of any enterprise. Such actors, e.g. institutional incubators, seed capital providers, technical collaborators, financial institutions, and marketing partners together support the enterprises to sail through the complexity of the marketplaces. Academic institutions and policy labs keen to research social enterprises need to consider these ecosystem actors in their research design and strategies. Insights from such multi-stakeholder research would result in enabling policies and those policies, in turn, would help the social enterprises scale up the impact of their business on farmers’ prosperity.
This compendium of cases on social enterprises has been well-curated by the editors in bringing new knowledge on enterprises that are striving tirelessly to create a value-exchange system in subsistence marketplaces characterised by resource-poor smallholder farmers.
I strongly recommend the book to individuals interested in exploring business models which are guided by principles of conscious capitalism, equality, and empowerment of marginalised farmers.
Preeti Priya is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA)
She has taught courses on Marketing Research and Brand Management, Scale Development, Structural Equation Modelling and Multivariate Data Analysis at IRMA. She has worked on multi-disciplinary research assignments related to subsistence marketplace producers & consumers, pro-poor market-led livelihood interventions and subjective well-being.