A lot has been spoken and written about attaining the ‘magical’ number of 10,000 FPOs to achieve the larger goal of doubling the Indian farmer’s income. What seems to be widely missing from the mainstream discussion is the inclusion of the most vulnerable - ‘Divyang Kisan’ (disabled farmers). The disability-inclusive organic farming experiment by Purvanchal Gramin Seva Samiti (PGSS) and CBM India in Eastern Uttar Pradesh could prove exemplary for creating an FPO ecosystem such as the Annsh Laghu Krushak Producers Company Ltd (ALKPCL) that includes close to 200 Divyang Kisan across the value chain.
Disability in Rural India
The vast majority of India’s disabled live in rural areas (18.4 mn); many of these individuals have no educational opportunities and no inheritances. Because of various social taboos, people with disabilities face discrimination and denunciation, which creates several attitudinal, environmental, physiological, and psychological barriers in their lives. The economic empowerment of the disabled is essential, as it reduces poverty, and boosts the productivity of society as a whole. Rural India still relies heavily on agriculture as its primary source of income. As agriculture requires physical labour, disabled people are often excluded by default. Therefore, PGSS and CBM India's efforts to empower disabled people through agriculture-based livelihoods are worthy of consideration
PGSS way of Disability-Inclusion
PGSS is guided by the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) approach promoted by its funder, CBM India Trust. Inclusion and equal respect for people with disabilities are the DID’s goals. It emphasizes people-centricity, community engagement, and human rights.
PGSS and CBM identified individuals with disabilities and assessed their rehabilitation needs. They developed personalized Individual Rehabilitation Plans (IRPs) describing each individual in detail and strategies for addressing their health and livelihood challenges. More specifically, the document contained details on health interventions, training support, customized agri-tools, and environmental modifications for mobility and farming.
Campaigns were conducted to promote an understanding of disability inclusion and strengths among community stakeholders. DPOs were formed to advocate for the rights and entitlements of people with disabilities. DPO members underwent accessible skill development programs and assessed their livelihood possibilities. Later, disabled farmers were inducted into various inclusive community-based organizations at the local level, such as SHGs and FIGs.
ALKPCL – A Disability-Inclusive FPC
PGSS and CBM India teamed up on a disability-inclusive farming initiative in 2012 across 83 villages of Gorakhpur that culminated in Annsh Laghu Krushak Producers’ Company Limited (ALKPCL) in 2017. In Phase 1 (2012-2016), farmers were able to meet the food security needs of their families and reduced the use of pesticides. Growing organically on a small scale led to increase in income and a healthier lifestyle for small-scale farmers, motivating them to expand their participation in formal markets to leverage sustainable and greater economic returns. The organic farming practices of 288 farmers with disabilities (or their caregivers) resulted in the registration of 40,245 hectares of land as organic farmland. 83 Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), 83 FIGs (Farmers Interest Groups) and 15 value-addition centres were also promoted. Moreover, 99 women and people with disabilities joined the FIGs and SHGs, thereby forming inclusive collectives.
During the second phase of the project (2017-2020), on 5th January 2017, the Annsh Laghu Krishak Producer Company Limited (ALKPCL) was incorporated under the Companies Act of 2013. ALKPCL currently has 501 members from the disability-inclusive organic farming project, of whom 186 (102 men and 84 women) are disabled. The farmers belong to the three districts of Kushinagar, Maharajganj, and Siddarthnagar. Four Seed Banks have been set up for the member farmers. For the year 2019-20, ALKPCL registered a revenue of Rs 16,98,947 and booked Rs 41,195 as profit after tax.
In 2020-2021, ALKPCL purchased wheat at a 10% premium over the MSP, and the procurement process was kept open throughout the year. In addition to operating accessible processing plants for farm products (e.g., wheat, rice, turmeric, coriander, and red chilly), the company sells the final products under the brand name Eco Samriddhi Green (ESG). ALKPCL has about 52 outlets, including exclusive Eco Samriddhi stores operating in the Gorakhpur division.
The governance system at ALKPCL requires at least 40% of the directors on the governing board to be disabled persons. This governance structure helps in operationalizing the founding philosophy of disability inclusion. In our discussion with the BoDs, we discovered that they feel comfortable voicing ideas and opinions in any board meeting. They are given good support and encouragement from other members of the board, and they have the same opportunities as others for leadership roles in the FPC .
Transformative Experiences at ALKPCL
I used to be a hesitant person and had a lot of inferiority complex due to my disability…...after associating with the PGSS and the FPO, I experienced a good change in me and also in the people’s perception towards me……..earlier nobody used to call me Sriram Ji (name with a suffix ‘Ji, a respectful word)…..now I experience genuine respect……not just in my family but also in the society… this change is really fortunate in my life.
BoD | ALKPCL
The support and encouragement of other group members have helped me remove my hatred towards my disability. I am today talking to you because of people around me who helped me come out of my closed world.
BoD | ALKPCL
Disability-inclusive interventions by PGSS and CBM have the greatest impact on improving beneficiaries’ self-perception. They no longer feel like a burden or liability to their families. Due to their economic empowerment, they can express themselves more freely. They realize they do not have a disability, only an impairment. The interventions designed by PGSS and CBM reinforce the fact that many of the impediments experienced by the disabled are due to a structural exclusion rather than their own incapability to contribute. Several disabled persons have gained respect from their community after demonstrating that they can earn a decent living.
PGSS and CBM have already produced beneficial outcomes for FPC members. It can serve as a model for creating disability-inclusive FPOs. The model emphasizes psychosocial and economic empowerment, the enhancement of sustainable livelihoods, and, above all, ensuring that people with disabilities and other marginalized segments of society live dignified, respectable lives. While ALKPCL’s achievements since its inception are praiseworthy, an examination of balance sheets and other audited financial statements indicates that FPCs are not yet financially stable. A fall in profit margin over the last three years is a cause of concern. ALKPCL’s ability to cope with the vagaries of the market will be the ultimate test for its shareholders and board members. PGSS’s contemplation of exit from the FPC makes this issue even more critical. Can the hard-earned enhancement of intrinsic and instrumental agencies of disabled farmer members propel ALKPCL into the future? With the strong foundation of management and governance systems as well as the active participation of members, we are inclined to answer in the affirmative.
This blog is written by Preeti Priya, Professor,IRMA; Anand Venkatesh, Professor, IRMA; and Avijeet John Joseph, Program Manager, PGSS