Private sector holds the key to a fertile future for women farmers - Hindustan Times

Private sector holds the key to a fertile future for women farmers

ByHindustan Times
Jun 16, 2023 10:20 AM IST

This article is authored by Vineet Bhandari and Shruti Goyal, associate partners, Dalberg Advisors.

The lives that women in rural India lead in 2050 is likely to determine whether the country has achieved its full potential. As we work towards our economic goals, the social and economic status of rural women, especially farmers, will indicate whether the growth has been equitable. The agriculture sector engages 80% of economically active women in the country, higher than any other industry, putting women farmers at the centre of India’s growth story.

Women farmers busy sowing paddy. (HT file)
Women farmers busy sowing paddy. (HT file)

It has been well-established that women are significantly better at driving initiatives within their households and communities. Women have also been proven to be better at managing farms to mitigate effects of climate change. Addressing challenges faced by women farmers can have compounded benefits for families, communities and the economy. Despite this, their needs, desires, and aspirations are rarely prioritised by policymakers and agribusiness. Products and services tend to be designed for male farmers, leaving women’s access to the market and essential resources such as inputs, credit, farm equipment and advisory remain restricted. This is compounded by overall low levels of financial and digital literacy among women. Men continue to drive the decisions on which seeds to plant, crops to grow, or farming practices to adopt. Across the supply chain level of different crops, women typically remain confined to labour-intensive and low-paying activities such as livestock rearing, seeding, weeding, or picking.

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The private sector is well-placed to bridge these gaps. In our experience working with 80,000 women farmers across three states, we have found that the private sector generally tends to acknowledge the social and economic value of building products for women. Some that have begun to engage with them also see higher loyalty and profitability. They view building an inclusive business strategy as adding to brand value, improving employee engagement and stakeholder relationships and boosting socially-conscious investments.

Despite the potential, agri products continue to be predominantly built for men. This is largely because men represent a more viable market segment, as they tend to be more literate and have wider networks. AgTech players are faced with the opportunity cost of letting go of the ‘easier’ market segment, Moreover, these players also lack the technical expertise to build for women due to limited interactions with women smallholder farmers (WSHF).

Take, for instance an AgTech firm that wishes to increase adoption of climate-resilient seeds. It would have to tailor its go-to market strategy in order to successfully engage women. Firms need to consider that women tend to be more risk-aware and are more likely to look for social proof. Limited exposure to information and products would mean that firms would have to develop mediums for higher person-to-person assistance. They also need to develop new acquisition channels such as self-help groups or women entrepreneurs and differentiated messaging. Additionally, women have shown to be more likely to respond to messaging around familial outcomes rather than crop productivity. Firms need to invest in interactions with women farmers, doorstep and village-level services, social proof in the form of demo plots, developing vernacular advisory content, and bundling of agriproducts with other products relevant to women such as cattle feed, additives, and credit.

These measures entail additional costs and require significant investment beyond business-as-usual. Moreover, it requires higher lead time to engage women, all of which presents an opportunity cost for private players. Despite the long-term benefits, these factors can act as deterrents in the short run. It is crucial to de-risk the segment to enable the private sector to make these investments. Blended finance can play a significant role here. Philanthropies can help build the roadmap by chanelling funds required for field interactions, market research, developing new technologies, and supporting pilots. Meanwhile, the private sector can focus on execution. This has a larger payoff – our experience shows that for every $1 invested by philanthropic players, the private sector is willing to invest $2-3. Women farmers have long been the bedrock of India’s agricultural sector, growing a majority of the food that we eat and impacting macroeconomic outcomes. It is about time that we enabled them to claim their well-deserved seat at the table and drive important decisions in farms, households, and markets.

This article is authored by Vineet Bhandari and Shruti Goyal, associate partners, Dalberg Advisors.

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