I have visited Rajasthan many times, but my most recent trip to this colourful state turned out to be the most educational one. In October this year, a few of us media folk visited different villages in the Tonk District of Rajasthan. We were there to examine the results of the ongoing efforts of Louis Dreyfus Company, Louis Dreyfus Foundation and the Centre for microFinance on their project ‘Empowering Women Farmers in Rajasthan’. In 2020, Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), working with Louis Dreyfus Foundation (LDF) and the Centre for microFinance (CMF), launched this program to enhance the food security and cash incomes of women smallholder farmers in Rajasthan, as this region is known for its low productivity, limited rainfall, and high incidence of poverty. The aim of the project was to help beneficiaries diversify their sources of income thanks to the production of different food crops and vegetables while developing their competencies in agricultural technology, natural resources management as well as micro-finance.
Remarkable numbers indicative of the project’s success were shared with us on the trip but the greatest evidence of change was seen in the confidence of the women farmers who interacted with us. These vivacious women explained their revised farming methodologies to us in detail and proudly showed us their fields where one could see the results for themselves. By empowering these women farmers in Rajasthan, LDC and LDF enabled them to gain the respect of their husbands, who now valued the wisdom and perseverance of their wives, even handing them the reigns to sections of the farm completely in some cases.
Over the course of a long day interacting with these enterprising women, I was thoroughly impressed with their can-do spirit, in-depth knowledge of their field, and tremendous self-confidence. There was no doubt that much of this was owed to the LDC, LDF and CMF’s Empowering Women Farmers in Rajasthan project.
I spoke to Vipin Gupta, CEO, India, LDC, in order to understand how this project had grown in scale and achieved its noteworthy results thus far. Sharing excerpts from an edited interview:
1. Please share insight into the techniques adopted by LDC for this project.
In 2020, Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) launched this program in collaboration with the Louis Dreyfus Foundation (LDF) and the Centre for microFinance (CmF) to enhance the food security and incomes of women smallholder farmers in Rajasthan.
This project aims to help smallholder women farmers increase their income through improved yields for existing crops and diversification into cultivation of different fruits and vegetables, while developing their competencies in agricultural technology, natural resources management as well as micro-finance.
To do so, the program provides training on pre-sowing, post-sowing, pest management and natural farming techniques as necessary skills to ensure a successful harvest.
Women farmers are supported in the development of vegetable production, including vertical planting methods, through the establishment of high-tech nurseries that provide healthy vegetable seedlings to program participants. Those who grow vegetables are also introduced to the drip and mulch irrigation system through countless soilless and raised-bed nurseries already installed through the initiative. In addition, farmers receive training in natural farming production to create vegetable gardens and improve livestock production.
2. How is LDC measuring the results of the Empowering Women Farmers in Rajasthan Project?
LDC compiles relevant data from the women farmers’ enrolled in the program. This includes information such as basic demographics, land and water (for irrigation) usage, current crops and cropping practices, livestock and animal management practices, market access and sources of credit for agriculture.
During the year, LDC drew random sample data on cost of inputs, crop yields and market sales from 15% of households across the villages involved in the initiative. This data is then analysed for the results that we report, supported by random checks via in-person visits by our teams, to ensure validity.
3. What have the results been so far?
Since the programme’s beginnings in 2020, LDC has trained over 4,230 women farmers in good agricultural practices, of whom over 840 were also trained to improve livestock management.
In addition to increased productivity, project participants also saw an average 41% improvement in their incomes, as better food production practices allowed participating women farmers to generate a food surplus that covered their household’s food requirements for three to four months.
Due to its success, the program has been extended to 2024 and aims to empower a total of 6,000 women farmers in 100 villages across the region, through crop diversification, improved livestock production and efficient water use. 450 farmer groups will also be trained in financial literacy to enable them to apply for government funding.
This program also received the 2021 Sustainability Agriculture Award in the Outstanding Sustainable Farmer Income Enhancement Program category – an award established by the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
4. What are LDC and LDF’s other noteworthy initiatives?
LDC has launched several other initiatives aimed at improving the livelihoods of local farmers in India.
In 2018, LDC built a farmer training & information center in Gurugram, Haryana, that aims to positively impact over 10,000 local horticultural families, by empowering farmers to increase yields and incomes sustainably through training in new crop technologies and efficient irrigation methods. The center also provides important and timely information about markets, weather, and disease and pest control.
Later in 2019, LDC launched a cotton sustainability project in Maharashtra to support about 15,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Aurangabad and Jalgaon by sharing sustainable agricultural practices to help address some of the social, economic and climatic challenges for local cotton production, such as credit dependency, unpredictable weather conditions, lack of technical information and market access, as well as gender inequality.
LDC also runs a maize sustainability project that has supported some 600 smallholder maize farmers with training in sustainable agricultural practices over an 18-month period, successfully helping to improve the yields and incomes of participating farmers.
In coffee, LDC rolled out its Responsible Sourcing Program to over 300 farmers in India, based on the ethics and sustainability standards, principles and provisions enshrined in LDC’s Global Code of Conduct for Coffee Suppliers.
Similar initiatives have been implemented by LDC and LDF in other countries in Asia, for example in Indonesia and China, as well as in other regions across the globe – for instance in El Chaco, Argentina, where smallholder farmers struggle to sustain agricultural production due to outdated techniques, little access to credit and new technologies, and lack of training on good agricultural practices. Our program there supports family farms through training to restore and improve yields, technical and production assistance (to set up and maintain vegetable gardens), and support on social and medical issues.
5. What have been the biggest changes you have seen through LDC and LDF’s Empowering Women Farmers in Rajasthan project?
The Empowering Women Farmers in Rajasthan Program is designed to train farmers in the best practices in field preparation, selection of appropriate varieties of crops, seed germination test and treatment, use and dosage of chemical products, preparation of natural fertilizers and nursery management.
Training is delivered by professional agronomists, in a way that empowers the farmers themselves to also actively disseminate their new-found knowledge, sharing best practices on crop and vegetables with their neighbours and community, helping to upskill other farmers in their region.
In villages where projects are more advanced, including in India, some of the lead farmers (many of them women) are now working as trainers and being groomed as agri-entrepreneurs, setting up agri-input shops. This we believe, is the biggest and most positive change we could hope for.
One can see glimpses of this insightful trip here:
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