Did you know that 72.4% of India's workforce lives in rural areas? And that agriculture supports nearly 70% of this rural workforce? But with small land holdings and an over dependence on the monsoon, these livelihoods are often unsustainable. Couple that with outdated farming methods, lack of irrigation, and difficulty in accessing markets, and agriculture-dependent households quickly spiral down into a kind of poverty which is hard to break out of.
With families struggling to make ends meet, there is a need to look at alternative means of earning a livelihood to supplement their income from agriculture. But with limited skills to offer, finding alternative forms of livelihood is a challenge.
Therefore, to improve the condition of families in rural India, there is a need to empower BOTH agricultural livelihoods and non-agricultural livelihoods, and a sustained investment in both will have a transformational impact on the rural economy.
Empowering Agricultural Livelihoods: People's Institutions
Around the world, no country has been able to pull its people out of poverty without a sustained effort in increasing agricultural productivity. This involves enabling farmers via access to agricultural services and technologies and the more effective use of inputs including Higher quality seeds, planting high value crops and optimising crop rotations. There is also a need to better utilise resources such as land, irrigation, human capital, and infrastructure.
A key tool to support farmers in accessing information and learning in these areas, and in harnessing the power of the collective to optimise profits, is the creation of people's institutions.
When farmers come together to form Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), there are clear benefits which support increased agricultural productivity. Reduced input costs, better market linkages, higher revenue from yields, access to best practices and lending facilities all play a key role in helping farmers optimise profits.
FPOs can also initiate a variety of allied services which add value to the sector including the sale of agricultural inputs such as seeds and pesticides to farmers, commercial seed production, sale of consumer products such as jaggery, pulses, honey and spices, and sale of by-products such as biomass to the manufacturing industry.
In our own experience and in numerous case studies across the country, time and again, people's institutions have proven a crucial catalyst to elevating farmer livelihoods and taking them from poverty to prosperity.
Empowering non-Agricultural Livelihoods for Women & Youth
Of equal importance in rural villages, is the need to invest in off-farm incomes, and these non-agricultural livelihoods usually focus on two primary sectors within the community:
o Empowering Livelihoods for Women: SHGs & Federations
Women's participation in the country's workforce is among the lowest in the world. Although comprising half of India's population, they constitute less than a quarter of the labour force. In rural India, women can play a key role in ensuring economic security for their families by participating in both agricultural and non-agricultural activities.
But with household chores being the primary responsibility of women, easy access to water becomes a key determinant of the women's participation in income generating opportunities. If water is easily available, both time and improved health is gained for women - enabling them to participate in income generating activities or to pursue livelihood skills or education.
So how do we encourage women to participate? The answer lies in mobilizing poor rural women into self-help groups (SHGs) and building community institutions like Women's Federations. Mobilizing women into such institutions allows them to acquire valuable skills enabling them to earn a livelihood, whilst providing the necessary support network to build their confidence and self-belief.
In doing so, the status of women is elevated as they become bread-winners and both formal and in-formal leaders in their families and communities. There is no end to what women can achieve when empowered both economically and socially - acting as drivers to tackle community issues like sanitation and substance abuse, and using their voice to become local community leaders.
o Empowering Livelihoods for Youth: Skill Training
India is one of the youngest nations on the planet with 67 - 68% of the population falling within the youth bracket. Youth is a stage at which crucial decisions affecting the future of the individual and family are taken. Wise decisions taken at this stage can not only result in his/her household moving out of poverty but result in significant contributions to offering livelihoods to others, the economy and society.
Making the youth aware of pertinent skills and education that they can acquire therefore becomes imperative. Shockingly, as per NSSO data, the percentage of rural youth who did not receive vocational training of any sort stood at 93.7% in 2017-18. It is therefore of vital importance to invest in skill training and support them in connecting with the right employment opportunities, and pursuing local entrepreneurship. In this way, rural youth can supplement family incomes and there are many cases where skilled youth become the primary breadwinner in rural families.
ACF works to create livelihoods by facilitating the establishment of people's institutions across 11 states in the country. We have enabled 11 FPOs having 6108 members, 2352 SHGs with 29543 participants, 5 Women federations with 1116 members & 166 Water User Associations. ACF assists these people's institutions with administration, training & managerial skills to help the community pursue sustainable livelihoods in both the Agricultural & Non-Agricultural sectors.
Moreover, ACF offers vocational skills training to youth in 33 locations across the country, through SEDIs (Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Institute). To date, 65,000 students have been trained in these institutes to pursue Non-Agricultural livelihoods with the majority of them gainfully employed.