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Extending support.
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The world’s largest retailer is reaching out to India’s small farmers with new technology

By Sangeeta Tanwar

The world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer is loosening its purse strings to help small Indian farmers improve their livelihoods.

Yesterday (Aug. 27), Walmart Foundation, the philanthropy arm of the Bentonville, US-headquartered retailer, said it has pledged grants worth $4.8 million (Rs34 crore) towards Digital Green and TechnoServe, both organisations that help Indian farmers increase their income.

The grants will be used to support programmes that help small farmers gain access to agriculture technology, training on sustainable farming methods, enhanced access to formal markets, and skill and capacity building for farmer producer organisations.

“The grant builds upon the Walmart Foundation’s efforts to increase economic opportunity for smallholder farmers and their families while promoting sustainable farming practices and the empowerment and inclusion of women,” Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer at Walmart, said in a press release. McLaughlin is also the president and executive vice-president of Walmart Foundation.

In September 2018, Walmart Foundation had committed to contribute $25 million over five years to improve farmers’ livelihoods in India. With grants to Digital Green and TechnoServe, Walmart Foundation has so far contributed over $10 million towards its goal, a company statement said.

“Today, many stakeholders work to support smallholder farmers who are the backbone of India’s agri-economy, each tackling only a part of the complex problem. With limited coordination farmers often receive information and services that are disjointed,” said Pritam K Nanda, state head of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Digital Green. “Funders like the Walmart Foundation have a huge role to incentivise collaboration among organisations working to support smallholder farmers,” she added.

The grants given out so far will improve the quality of life of over 81,000 farmers, including more than 29,030 women farmers, in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh, as per Walmart Foundation’s estimates.

Walmart India has also committed to source 25% of the produce sold in its cash and carry stores directly from local farmers by 2023.

“We hope the Walmart Foundation’s commitment, alongside the work of Walmart and Walmart India’s direct farm sourcing teams, will help drive real momentum in sustainable agriculture development in India and we encourage others to join us in our commitment,” said McLaughlin.

Improving livelihoods

Small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land account for 86.2% of all farmers in India, but own just 47.3% of the crop area, according to provisional numbers from the 10th agriculture census 2015-16 released last year.

In fact, Indian farms became more fragmented between 2010-11 and 2015-16, as holdings continued to be inequitably distributed, the survey said. During the period, the proportion of small farmers grew from 84.9% to 86.2%, while the total number of operational holdings grew from 138 million to 146 million.

In this backdrop, Walmart Foundation’s support can go a long way in helping small farmers in India improve their status by adopting technology and sustainable methods of farming.

Digital Green, a not-for-profit organisation, which leverages technology to create educational videos for farmers will use its share of grants ($1.3 million) to develop “Farmstack,”  a digital data platform targeted at lower-income farmer communities in Andhra Pradesh. “We are using digital tools to amplify the impact of technology in improving farmers’ livelihoods and those of others in their community in a manner that’s nutrition-sensitive, climate-resilient, and inclusive” said Vinay Kumar, managing director for Asia at Digital Green.

US-headquartered TechnoServe promotes business solutions to eliminate poverty in the developing world by linking people to information, capital and markets. The not-for-profit organisation plans to use funds worth $3.5 million from Walmart Foundation to develop and train up to 20 farmer producer organisations to facilitate market linkages.

TechnoServe will also use these funds to train small farmers on sustainable agriculture practices, with the objective of boosting incomes of 25,000 farmers, including 50% women.

“Increasing farmer incomes is a powerful call to action. Sustainable agricultural practices, market linkages, and effective management at the farmer producer organisation level can boost smallholder farmers’ inclusion, incomes, and livelihoods across India,” said William Warshauer, chief executive officer, TechnoServe.