Social Entrepreneur Raghunathan Narayanan Elected Ashoka Senior Fellow 2023 for Innovative Agricultural Solutions

Raghunathan Narayanan, Co-founder of The Catalyst Group, has been elected Ashoka Senior Fellow 2023 for his transformative approach to empowering smallholder farmers in India, with a primary focus on 3Fold model and the Platform for Inclusive Entrepreneurship (PIE).

Raghunathan Narayanan on the field at Pudukottai, with members of the Farmer Interest Group

According to the 10th Agriculture Census in 2015-16, there are 126 million small and marginal farmers in India, constituting 86.2% of the total farmer population. Despite their significant numerical presence, these farmers, who own less than two hectares of land, collectively possess only 47.3% of the total crop area. Various factors significantly constrain smallholder farmers livelihoods, with limited access to capacities and services, particularly market, capital and inputs in a bundled way standing out as a crucial impediment to economic prosperity. Climatic uncertainties and market fluctuations further heighten farmers vulnerability, perpetuating the association between poverty and smallholder farming.

“Traditionally, smallholder farmers were considered as beneficiaries of the public system or savers of the world because when India went through a famine, they worked to produce food for the whole country. However, they remained there without much progress. The way we see it, while they grow food, they are also entrepreneurs,” said Raghunathan.

Recognising the immense potential of agriculture for job creation in India, Raghunathan and his team at Vrutti Livelihood Impact Partners (Catalyst Group) built an entrepreneurial approach to smallholder farming based on learnings from an impact assessment of agricultural interventions in Madhya Pradeshs tribal areas. By 2009, the first Agriculture Enterprise Facilitation Centre was established, conducting a pilot with 250 farmers.

This led to self-organisation and collaboration among farmers, such as producing bio-pesticides and engaging in initial processing like millet processing for higher incomes. The success prompted scaling to other agroecological zones, with the schemes of five state governments and philanthropic donors aiding in expansion to larger farmer organisations, refining selection criteria, and expanding services. This evolved into the 3Fold idea and model, integrating farm advisory, input services, financing, and marketing, with technology as an accelerator.

Raghunathan Narayanan, Co-founder of The Catalyst Group

“The 3Fold model is about building Wealth, Resilience and Responsibility together, given the vulnerabilities of smallholder farming and the way rural families engage in livelihoods. Therefore, instead of limiting focus solely on income, we emphasise wealth building by considering the interconnected elements of soil, biodiversity, water, and income as crucial components of a farmers wealth. Empowering the Farmer Producers Organisation is a critical component of the model as it ensures collective agency to deal with markets and value chains, while ensuring service sustainability for the farmers. Through this systemic approach, we recognise that improving one farmers situation requires working within the local landscape ecosystem,”Raghunathan said.

By 2014-2015, Raghunathans organisation, in collaboration with Social Venture Partners, took to testing and expanding the 3Fold model. It is currently active in eight clusters covering over 35,000 farmers across five states in India with the support of many donors and business partnerships.

In 2017, Raghunathan received critical insight, input and support from the Societal Platform (currently called Societal Thinking) on the platform approach to solving complex and dynamic societal problems of this type at an exponential scale, given the size of the problem. This required a big shift in mindset and approach to solving at the population scale while Vruttti and its partners continued to solve the problem with depth of impact at a small scale.

This led to the establishment of the Platform for Inclusive Entrepreneurship (PIE), co-created with Platform Commons and Industree with the continued support of Societal Thinking. The platform is built on societal platform principles aimed at building the agency of the farmers and their institutions in solving their farm livelihood challenges. PIE brings together capacities, choices of services (market, capital, inputs) and access to services for farmers while ensuring that they have the power in the platform through farmer-centric governance mechanisms.

“It’s been a well-thought-out journey of co-creation between smallholder farmers, FPOs, Vrutti and Platform Commons. Raghu has been instrumental in guiding how to make technology work for the grassroots,” said Prashant Mehra, Co-founder of Platform Commons.

To date, PIE has directly benefited 22,500 small producers, witnessing an increase in net income due to a reduction in costs, increase in productivity and quality, reduced cost of capital, additional incomes through diversified livelihoods, and better prices due to direct market opportunities and value addition. The model aims to extend its impact to millions of small-producer farmers throughout India via collaborations with the government, civil society, market players (such as Big Basket), donors, and academia.

“Our ultimate goal is to empower farm families by empowering a bundled set of services that reduce costs, enhance productivity, improve quality, move up the value chain, and enable direct customer engagement, thus facilitating their journey combining traditional farming wisdom with modern, sustainable, and market-oriented agricultural enterprises,” concluded Raghunathan.

Note: This article is not authored by BigBreakingWire but is provided by Newsvoir.

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