Smallholders’ one-stop partners: Agri-Entrepreneurs. Syngenta Foundation India began its Agri-Entrepreneurs Program in 2014. The aim is to create employment for rural youth, increase farmers’ income and foster local agricultural development.
The AE process begins with the selection of rural youth to become agriculture technology assistants (ATAs). Candidates must have completed schooling up to at least Grade 10. Successful applicants receive training related to their main local crops. The focus is on agronomy, plant protection, markets and bank linkages. ATAs then work as interns for three to six months before becoming Agri-Entrepreneurs (AEs) working with 150-250 farmers.
AEs are a “one-stop solution” for smallholders. They provide four services: crop advice, agricultural input sales, market linkages and credit facilitation. AEs earn commissions on the sale of agricultural inputs and produce. To link farmers to markets, they coordinate harvesting schedules to ensure availability of enough produce for either a trader to come or for transport to market.
The model is underpinned by links to agri-credit from IDBI Bank. AEs act as the bank’s business correspondents, and receive a commission on the credits they facilitate. Farmers are required to spend 60-80 per cent of the credit at an AE shop. As well as generating AE income, this system also channels agricultural credit to where it is meant to go: farming.
By late 2019, over 1,800 AEs were anchored in micro-businesses, serving some 250,000 farmers. To move to the next level of scale-up, we created a social enterprise called the AE Growth Foundation. This joint venture with the Tata Trusts has an ambitious plan to develop 100,000 AEs over the next five years and serve 20 million smallholders.
The AE model
The Agri-Entrepreneur provides a range of services. 60-80% of AE revenue comes from farm input sales and 10-20% from market linkages. Credit facilitation brings in 10-15%, with up to 5% from crop advice. SFI helps the AE through capacity building, the development of SOPs, and partnerships with agribusinesses.