Launched in 2014, the Agri-Entrepreneur (AE) Model is Syngenta Foundation India’s (SFI’s) flagship initiative. The model follows a decentralized approach in empowering young people in rural areas to play an active role in agriculture development in their region. An AE brings together services such as credit and market linkage, access to high-quality input and crop advisory for a group of farmers. 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.
Each AE works with 150-200 farmers in a cluster of 4-5 villages. He or she and acts as a one-stop resource provider for the agricultural needs of small and marginal farmers. To become an AE, candidates undergo a highly selective process. They have to prove a suitable level of education, and meet several further criteria, including proof of entrepreneurial aptitude. They must also come from one of the villages in the cluster that they support.
In the past, there have been other agri-entrepreneur models in India. However, most of these were typically input dealers; consequently, clients ran more risk of purchasing potentially inferior and indiscriminate agri-products. By contrast, the AEs promoted by SFI are involved in various activities, from seeds to markets, with the aim being to ensure an increase in farmers’ incomes. These AEs are tightly supervised by SFI and partner NGOs; if any AE is seen to be indulging in activities that are not defined in the AE program, financial support from the IDBI bank will be withdrawn.
The AE has four critical functions, i.e. providing better quality inputs, knowledge and crop advisory, linking farmers to markets and facilitating credit. The AE acts as a business correspondent for banks and facilitates agri-credit to small farmers. AEs derive their revenue by providing the above services to farmers. For an AE to be successful, he/she needs to work with at least 200 farmers/100 acres earning up to INR 200,000 per year.
Abhishek Gupta, a Project Officer in Ghumla Reidhi, Ranchi, Jharkhand, has noticed how the rise in farmers associated with the AE program reflects an increasing acceptance of the work agri-entrepreneurs do to support growers in their community. He observes that the regular interaction AEs have with farmers has been the most critical factor of change.
“Given the steady growth of the program in Ghumla, I see the project to be of tremendous success in the future,” says Abhishek. “The program requires a close-knit and effective ecosystem for it to be efficient. It is the vibrancy and the channeling of this ecosystem that will help an AE in becoming the one-stop service provider for the farmers in his/her region.“