The rural economy is overdependent on agriculture employing over 60% of the total populace yet contributing to under 17% to GDP. This over-dependence, along with un-productivity of agriculture and the lack of non-farm employment skills is the root cause of rural poverty. Skilling rural India is therefore a top developmental priority for the country and must focus on skills relevant to the rural economy in both farming and non-farming jobs to secure a decent livelihood.
Skill and livelihood development has been a major focus of ACF's work and is based on a three pronged approach:
- Modernisation of farming and agri-based roles, and collectivisation of farmers into Farmer Producing Companies (FPCs)
- Imparting relevant non-farm skills to the youth, for employment opportunities in nearby towns and local industry clusters
- Alleviating the domestic burden of women, collectivising them into SHGs and women's federations and building their capacity for livelihood opportunities
A prosperous agricultural sector is a precondition to India's prosperity. India's agriculture sector has not been profitable for nearly two decades now, largely due to low productivity per hectare of all major crops. Since its inception, ACF's priority has been to make farming more sustainable - be it through improved management of water resources, quality of inputs or farming techniques. There is sufficient agriculture research and knowledge available even within the country. However, dissemination of this knowledge is uneven and largely inaccessible. ACF works closely with State Agriculture Universities, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK) and other scientific organisations to ensure the latest farming techniques, new varieties of seeds and other inputs are available to farmers. Indian farmers have the smallest landholding on the planet & thus lack individual bargaining capacity for their scant produce. ACF develops stronger capacity for collective bargaining via the formation of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO). Today ACF promoted FPOs have transformed themselves beyond just being farming cooperatives, into entrepreneurship clusters running successful businesses like cattle feed production, groundnut and cotton marketing, milk chilling plants and sale of biomass.
ACF's second area of focus are the Rural youth, who not only lack the opportunity, but also the awareness and the motivation to seek employment; aspirations are often unrealistic and solely focused on white collar jobs. At the same time, several skill-based positions in the local industry lie vacant for want of appropriately skilled manpower. ACF's 33 Skill and Entrepreneurship Training Institutes (SEDI) currently offer 42 NSDC certified courses in 8 sectors linked to local employment such as welding, nursing, retail, banking, BPO amongst others. These skilling opportunities raise the aspirational bar of local jobs and curtail distress migration to large cities. ACF actively fosters entrepreneurship at SEDI to help students start their own business and equips them with the necessary skills for it to flourish. Youth with an inclination towards and an aptitude for entrepreneurship are identified and taken through a comprehensive entrepreneurship development training module covering all aspects of setting and managing a small business. Post the completion of training, ACF facilitates the process of setting up the enterprise, accessing bank loans as well as providing market exposure to learn about the business environment.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly is our focus on women. In rural India, women are relegated mainly to household duties and cheap or even unpaid labour as they are generally not perceived to have any meaningful income generation capacity. But rural women have aspirations too; perhaps much the same as women in urban settings and their participation in the work force holds the key to rural prosperity and their own sense of fulfillment. Our approach to the economic empowerment of women is addressed through multiple interventions
- Alleviating their domestic burden through availability of safe drinking water
- Collectivising them into Self Help Groups (SHGs), necessary for not only economic empowerment, but for also building social capital, i.e acquiring a voice and agency
- Encouraging women's participation across all ACF program interventions and treating them as equal beneficiaries - be it agriculture, skill training, water resource management, sanitation, or health.
Rural India, abound with natural resources and human capital, has all the ingredients to become a powerhouse of national development. But unless we invest in this human capital and empower them with knowledge and skills, we will not only squander a valuable resource, but rural prosperity will remain a distant dream.