The challenges of the smallholder farmer are well known - fragmented landholdings, lack of access to quality inputs (30% probability of seeds/pesticides being spurious/adulterated), using sub-optimal farming practices, lack of access to credit, selling to small traders who do not give them fair value, etc. Farmers also gamble with the monsoon, which if delayed leads to low yields and low income, and if on-time leads to high yields, price drops, and low income! The resulting income from farming (average of Rs 6000 per month) is not adequate and most of them work as agricultural labor, have a member of the house migrate, etc. While these households identify as farming households, and many take on additional land to farm, they do not want their children to be farmers. Given there are 30 million such households which produce 30% of our agricultural output, it is critical as a country to increase their incomes and make smallholder farming sustainable.
At the same time, there is a vibrant agricultural private sector, from new innovative agri-tech organizations to companies directly procuring from farmers. They provide real time agri-cultural advice, quality inputs, fair pricing, insurance, access to warehousing (so farmers do not have to sell their crops right after harvesting when prices tend to be low), etc. However, typically these organizations are focusing on mid and large farmers and the smallholder farmer is left out.
The goal of the TASF team is to enable this vibrant agricultural ecosystem to serve small farmers. A key part is to work with players who are interested in the smallholder farmer to develop and refine business models that allow serving the smallholder farmer while being commercially viable. This could include collectivization models, local entrepreneurs, bundling of products and services, etc. We will actively identify such models, do action research to understand their effectiveness and what can be done to improve them. As robust models start emerging, given their commercial viability, organizations will start deploying them and our focus will shift to making a more facilitative ecosystem (e.g., funding from impact investors) to addressing ecosystem barriers (e.g., helping government interventions address issues like climate risk).
This is an entrepreneurial journey. This journey will include - finding innovative business models, working with a range of organizations to test and refine these models (start-ups with high potential interventions, nonprofits with large networks of farmers, philanthropists committed to improving rural India, experts who have deep knowledge of agriculture and the agricultural ecosystem, etc) , looking at systemic issues and addressing them to enable scale. We are in the early stages of this journey and are assembling a team that combines business skills, creativity, ability to work with diverse partners, interest in working on the ground to understand innovative approaches, and most of all passion to help improve the lives of tens of millions of small holder farmers.