In 2018 Rabo Foundation launched a tech-led educational program targeting marginalized farmers in India in partnership with Syngenta Foundation. Rabo Foundation finances the toolkits and the educational materials for the farmers, while Syngenta Foundation trains agricultural entrepreneurs.
Many farmers in India are very marginalized. They only speak the local language, haven’t been to school, and don’t have access to (mobile) phones or the internet. All this severely limits their means to gain up-to-date knowledge on topics ranging from farming best practices and market prices to financial literacy. Tech solutions can play a key role for them too.
The first question was how to reach these smallholders who usually farm just one or two hectares each. Not only are they offline, they tend to live in far-flung, isolated villages, making it prohibitively expensive to visit them. However, the program partners noted that produce buyers, farm input salesmen, and bank reps – usually young local people with a qualification in agriculture – were already traveling to many of the villages in their area.
The team decided to recruit these young professionals to deliver the educational program in addition to the services they were already providing. This helps keep program costs down while providing useful extra income for the young professionals, known as agricultural entrepreneurs (AEs). “What makes this program so interesting to us is creating a network of AEs in rural areas,” says Arindom Datta, Head of Sustainability Banking at Rabobank Asia. “It blends entrepreneurship with cooperative values, so it can respond to market trends.”
It quickly became apparent that AE rapport with the smallholder communities is crucial to farmers being receptive to the tools. That’s why the team carefully selects AEs on their people skills and professionalism. Successful candidates are trained to use the tools designed to teach farmers growing methods, basic financial literacy, and how to get a fair price for their produce. The tools are video-based, and the partners make sure the videos take each region’s cultural mores into account. Voice-overs are recorded in local languages, of which there are dozens spoken in the Indian subcontinent.