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  • C Shambu Prasad and Deborah Dutta

Building a Community of Practice on FPOs: From Research Book to Good Practices

A recent workshop titled Good Practices of FPOs: Insights from Farming Futures and Beyond led to significant discussions on various themes related to incubation, sustainability and growth of FPOs. We reflect on the need for continuing engagement through cross-disciplinary dialogues to support the evolving FPO ecosystem


A book is a beginning


Farming Futures: Managing Farmer Producer Organisations in India” was an output of a sustained effort to create new, and grounded, knowledge on FPOs by the Small Farm Incomes team at IRMA. The book, released in 2023,  was the culmination of nearly 3 years of collaborations with 28 academics and development professionals to create 15 case studies of FPOs. Extensive, as the work had been in terms of developing interview protocols, negotiating constraints amidst the pandemic, conducting field visits and drafting each case, we soon realised that just publishing the book would not be the end of the story. In fact, it is an invitation to build on the narratives mentioned in the book. Two chapters were crafted as shorter case-studies for specific management courses, and plans are underway to design more teaching-learning materials from the book. Following feedback to reflect on some good practices followed in the FPOs studied, we decided to have a wider consultation involving FPO sector experts through a workshop in collaboration with SkillGreen to discuss, collate and synthesise the insights on what leads to successful FPO functioning .


 Enabling innovative dialogue artefacts


The 2-day workshop in April at the communal retreat at Visthar, Bengaluru enabled participants to spend time beyond formal workshop timings and carry forward conversations over several morning walks, dinner and evening strolls. The green campus lent itself to immersive discussions sans the fanfare associated with fancy conference venues. The immediate context was case authors drawing good practices from the Farming Futures book, but the workshop was aiming from the start to go beyond by inviting practitioners to critique, contribute and collaborate. The workshop participants included editors and case authors of the book as well as several leading sector experts in the FPO ecosystem. The session began by presenting the three-year journey of the book and the efforts to create a community of practice of leading and interested academics working together with development practitioners across the country. The organisers then introduced the novel format of the workshop that included a workbook where participants were to record their ideas on FPO good practices that could be taken up in future teaching and training sessions.



Sessions comprised of small group discussions, where participants actively made connections with their personal experiences to provide specific examples and analogies regarding aspects of management, governance, compliance, strategic partnerships and marketing.

One of the highlights of the workshop was a case discussion on a live managerial dilemma

of an FPO federation by Ajit Kanitkar of VikasAnvesh Foundation. The discussion facilitated by him reinforced the importance of supporting longitudinal studies to understand the complex negotiations made by FPOs as they balance various expectations while trying to optimise profit. Sessions on specific themes on “Engendering FPOs: Exploring the business case”, with lead presentation by Deborah Dutta and Shambu Prasad and Sudha Narayanan (International Food Policy Research Institute), “Access to capital” by Emmanuel Murray, Caspian (PRM 2) and Annapurna Neti (Azim Premji University) were features of the first day of the workshop. Day 2 began with a lead presentation on “Improving FPOs role in output markets” by Balakrishnan of Samunnati that was followed by a discussion on the 1000 thriving FPO initiative for scale and sustainability by C S Reddy of APMAS and Raghini of Vrutti (PRM 12) and a presentation by Pallavi GL (FPRM scholar IRMA) on “Assessing FPO performance”. The participatory workshop ended with a panel discussion on “Visioning FPO futures” with interventions by Abhishek Saxena (FPRM scholar), Vaibhav Bhamoriya (IIM Kashipur and PRM 20). Astad Pastakia and Shirish Joshi on ideas for future research and strategizing and organising for human resources for FPOs.


Cross-learning across communities of practice  

The workshop provided an interesting avenue for sector experts in marketing, governance, incubation and financing to understand each other’s perspectives in a more empathetic light. For instance, lack of credit flows FPOs has always been a sore point, but Emmanuel Murray explained the issues faced by financial institutions in assessing FPO performance and loan recovery rates. The ensuing discussion helped articulate some action areas that can help respond to the current credit shortage faced by FPOs. Similarly, ideas shared by experts on marketing helped representatives of promoting institutions think of alternate marketing strategies better suited to individual contexts. These forms of cross-disciplinary are relatively rare and need to be deliberately facilitated when dealing with complex environments and institutions. The overall workshop design actively allowed participants to make connections with their personal experiences regarding aspects of management, governance, compliance, strategic partnerships and marketing as they were asked to share specific examples.


Beyond feel-good narratives


Creating a safe space for unhindered thinking and reflection also allowed participants to voice concerns and ideas that don’t find ready acceptance otherwise. For instance, participants discussed the complexity of women participation in FPOs, and how their capacities and contributions need a more careful analysis as opposed to indiscriminate creation of women-based FPOs. The problems with FPOs aspiring for an end-to-end value chain was discussed, and the need for tier-type FPOs catering to specific nodes in a value-chain was explored. Such nuanced discussions are critical to creating policies and interventions aimed at ground-level transformation beyond feel-good rhetorics of FPOs doubling farmer incomes. Honest appraisals of existing issues also helped raise critical questions regarding long-term viability, leadership, extended relations with promoting institutions beyond incubation, feasibility of futures trading and so on. The value of the workshop was seen in the form of respectful disagreements, which then form the basis for pushing accepted ideas. Being able to create spaces for critical feedback is essential for expanding current theories and business ideas about FPO functioning. Astad Pastakia underscored the need for more academic involvement through long-term studies to develop performance metrics more suited to the role and scope of FPOs. Shortly after the workshop we compiled a list of 10 Contemplations from the workshop, and soon received additional points from participants, thus increasing the list to 12 and then 15, with more ideas trickling in. Participants continue to carry forward the discussions, and some themes are being written up as forthcoming blogs for a wider audience. Stay tuned!



C Shambu Prasad is a Professor of Strategic Management and Social Sciences at Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) and coordinates the Living Farm Incomes (LFI) project.

Deborah Dutta is a Senior Research Fellow in the LFI project, IRMA.


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