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Smallholders - India

Increasing the income of smallholder farmers

Syngenta Foundation India (SFI)


Syngenta Foundation operations in India began in 2005. Their aim is to help resource-poor farmers apply improved production technologies for better productivity and higher incomes.


The core tasks:

  • Create value for farmers
  • Help modernise agriculture and the food system
  • Be an intelligent catalyst.

Agriculture in India
Agriculture is the single largest productive sector in the Indian economy. It accounts for about 13.8 per cent of GDP and employs 50 per cent of the total workforce. Indian agriculture is characterized by smallholders: about 80% of holdings are less than 2 hectares. At the other end of the scale, 25% of the farmers produce 60% of the agricultural output.

Our Advisor Emeritus in India is Partha DasGupta. He suggests this paper as background reading. It looks at value addition to farm produce as an essential way to strengthen Indian agriculture.

Challenges to farmers
The most important cause of low farm productivity, and therefore of rural poverty, is lack of knowledge of improved agronomic techniques. The next challenge that farmers face, even if they increase yields, is access to markets for their produce at good prices. 

SFI has made strong progress since its creation:

Phase I (2005 – 2009)

SFI launched three extension-driven projects in disadvantaged regions and introduced high-performing seeds, improved agronomic practices, and new technologies for control of pests, diseases and weeds. New departures included special techniques such as SRI (system of rice intensification), mechanization in rice, and raising seedlings in poly-houses. With improved yields, farmers started to trust SFI and the technologies it introduced.

Phase II (2009 – 2013)

Market-led extension (MLE)
With an emphasis to ‘produce together and sell together’, essential features of this approach included linking vegetable producers’ groups with markets through fewer intermediaries.  

SFI has been successfully implementing market-led extension (MLE) in vegetables in four locations: 
Jawhar in Maharashtra, Kalahandi in Orissa, Kesla in Madhya Pradesh and Bankura in West Bengal.
The Foundation and NGO partners jointly identify potential villages for initial projects. These villages act as models for generating awareness among other farmers in the region. Before the season, farmers are motivated through village-level meetings and encouraged to form groups of 15-20 members. Aggregation in groups gives them a stronger position when buying inputs and selling vegetables.
Three major components of MLE in vegetables are:

  • Facilitating purchase of agri-inputs
  • Providing knowledge of production and marketing of vegetables
  • Linking farmers to markets

Barefoot Extension Workers
The Foundation has investigated a range of models designed to improve the farming practices and livelihoods of resource-poor smallholders.
One example is the recent initiative in Kalahandi to educate "Barefoot Extension Workers". SFI supports a three-month course on modern agricultural techniques. This provides specific knowledge about local crops. As well as benefiting their own family farms, the course enables the participants to advise their neighbours on improved agronomy, market intelligence and connections to markets. Meet Bhagirathi Naik.
Phase II also witnessed substantial contributions to policy, notably in a research project on transforming agriculture to support overall economic growth. This work led to a major book, “India 2040 -Transforming Indian Agriculture: Productivity, Markets and Institutions”. Here's what its editor, the Syngenta Foundation's Director, said at the launch in New Delhi.

Phase III (2014 onwards)

Impact at scale
Buoyed by the success and strong basis of these previous phases, SFI is now shifting gears rapidly. SFI intends to introduce “enablers” which can be replicated in different locations. These enablers are to be found in domains such as financial solutions (including index insurance for farmers producing seed), ICT and mobile computing, irrigation solutions for tribal communities, community-owned agro-processing and seed units and farm machinery.
Diversifying into developing scalable solutions
Rather than adding further MLE projects[CB1] , SFI activities currently seek to develop “scalable” solutions. These can be easily replicated by different organizations in different areas.
One such model uses agri-entrepreneurs (AEs) to anchor market-led extension in vegetables. SFI supports the entrepreneurs at business start-up. Thereafter, they work independently with neighboring farmers on a commercial basis.
SFI connects the entrepreneurs to IDBI Bank, which provides credit both to the AE and their farmer clients.
With this support, the entrepreneurs can consider their business as social enterprises and help farmers at every stage in the value chain. For example: AEs buy inputs cheaper in bulk, and should pass on some of the discount to farmers. Similarly, when an entrepreneur facilitates the sale of produce by linking farmers to buyers, he or she should charge only a modest fee. SFI and its NGO partners also insist that entrepreneurs keep a strict eye on the quality of inputs they sell to farmers, and on their local suitability.

Further scalable solutions under development include irrigation systems for tribal communities, community-owned agro-processing and seed units, and index insurance for farmers producing seed.



Over the past ten years the sharing and dissemination of knowledge for agricultural development, and the necessary support by capable NGOs have proved successful in India. Several thousand smallholders have increased their farm productivity, and as a result have progressed from mere subsistence to prosperity.


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