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Project Nirmiti: Empowering Smallholders

With Project Nirmiti, Syngenta is reaching out in rural areas  to help smallholders grow their crops and business. BK Jha analyses a scalable agribusiness model and its success in Odisha

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The Eastern Indian state of Odisha is home to 3.7 million smallholders and some of the least productive farms in the world. Rice yields per hectare are just half of India's national average. Many smallholders lack access to latest Knowledge, Inputs and Technologies (KITs) that could greatly improve yields.

Smallholder Chakradhar Giri of Jamunaposi village, located at a hilly region of Odisha, narrates a tale of empowerment and prosperity with KITs made available to him under a project implemented by Syngenta. He owns 1.5 hectare of land and grows mainly rice. Couple of years back, he grew rice through conventional methods. He had to travel from his remote village almost 6-8 hours in not so motor friendly roads to get inputs like seeds and crop protection and had to depend on local agronomy knowledge thus impacting his productivity. With all his efforts and hardwork he could produce only 1,400 kg/acre. Then came Project Nirmiti which transformed his life. Under the project, he has the best of inputs at his doorstep and world class agronomy from the Syngenta field staff. Giri now grows 3,500 kg/acre. Giri is a case in point and like him thousands of smallholders of remote areas of Odisha became beneficiaries of the Project. The Project surely manifests that doubling farmers’ income is a reality if they are provided the KITs. 
 
“I could never go to school, but with my increased income I can now provide a sound education to my younger siblings and my children,” exults Giri.

Only Giri’s income enhancement would not help. Smallholder productivity enhancement is key to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and secure food security. There is urgent need to balance the 8 million large and 450 million small farmers to contribute to global food security. 

With Project Nirmiti, agricultural technology is brought to the least developed parts of India, helping farmers and their communities.Farmers of Odisha face challenges at several levels. Access to inputs, traditional farm practices, cyclones, small landholdings and weak local infrastructure were reasons to worry. To address these challenges, in 2014 Syngenta founded Project Nirmiti , which uses a network of local residents to make agricultural knowledge, inputs and services available to smallholders who mainly grow rice. It’s based on the principle that the best way to reach millions of smallholders is through smallholders themselves. 

Enterprising individuals enroll in the program to serve as “Farm Technology Service Providers” (or “Krishi Tantra Sevaks”) for their local community. Krishi Tantra Sevaks (KTS) are smallholders themselves who build a network of growers in their community to help improve their practices, productivity and ultimately, their livelihoods.

Building a network

During group training or one-on-one farm visits, KTS advises on a range of issues: sowing suitable seeds, spotting pests and diseases, using crop protection products and post-harvest storage. Governed by strict pricing protocols, they consolidate orders for a range of agriculture products directly from an authorized 'Center of Excellence'( CoE) – which sells authentic products from Syngenta and other partners of the project. This allows smallholders to purchase crop protection products, safety equipment, seeds, and other goods without traveling long distances. Meanwhile, the service providers build small businesses for themselves, developing as entrepreneurs who earn commission on products they distribute.

The Krishi Tantra Sevaks 

KTS are trained and supported by the project team to work with farmers in three to four neighbouring villages, providing agricultural knowhow, Syngenta’s inputs and other allied technologies. They earn commission on business achieved. Syngenta partners with local NGOs and village level leaders to identify appropriate farmers who can become KTS. A well-known local NGO Basix Krishi has worked closely with Syngenta for this purpose.  

To enable the KTS to access their requirements from one source and have better earning potential, Syngenta has forged partnerships with suppliers of sprayers, farm tools, safety kits, and soil test kits. “We are partnering with private sector suppliers of allied technologies such as equipment, irrigation, soil testing etc. to provide integrated crop solutions to remotely located smallholders, by training and supporting enterprising smallholders within villages to serve other farmers in their own community,” says KC Ravi, Vice President - Commercial Acceptance and Public Policy, South Asia, Syngenta India.

The Way Forward 

Over time, Project Nirmiti has grown beyond Odisha to other states of Eastern India, including Jharkhand and Assam. The project is operational in 1,725 villages of 23  districts, with an outreach of over 100,000 smallholders through a network of 450 well trained and equipped agri entrepreneurs. The key potential of this project is it’s scalability and replicability to similar smallholder geographies.

Experience shows that if every stakeholder and partner benefits from the model by way of productivity gain, income gain, increase in market share and/ or higher brand equity, the stakeholder’s interest in staying connected and collaborating within the model grows.
Corporate partners join the project at each location depending on the requirement of that region. 

Nirmiti is helping to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth in rural India. The project has established sustainable business model pilots in smallholder geographies. It aims at enhancing farmer yield and income. The success, so far, has motivated the Syngenta team to ensure “self-sustainability” of the project with over 10 lakh smallholders by 2025. 

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