The Story of an FPO Empowering Rural Women

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

When unrecognised women farmers become capable Directors and owners of an FPO, they empower and inspire more women and create a powerful social transformation.

“Many people come to visit our company regularly, on one such day, the visitors wanted to interact with our Director. They asked her what the logo conveys. She said,

The woman with the outstretched hands is signifying that the entire sky belongs to her.”

Mr. Hiren Borkhatariya, the Manager of FPO Facilitation Center, Yuva Mitra, and an alumnus of IRMA has been closely involved with the formation and facilitation of many FPOs across many states in India and is the CEO of Savitribai Phule Goat Farming Producer Co. Ltd, an FPO completely owned by women. Through an interview with him, we tried to get a closeup view of the FPOs in the country which has been covered in the first part of the interview. This is the second part of the interview which contains the origin story and the achievements of Savitribai Phule Goat FPC (completely owned by women). Introduction of interventions like the Pashu Sakhi model and the creation of a customised insurance product overhauled a challenging rural livelihood. This story successfully demonstrates that the scientific and professional management of an FPO has the potential to raise the economic and social standards of rural women.

Q. The Savitribai Phule Goat FPC has been promoted by Yuva Mitra and NABARD. What was the impetus for the formation of this FPO? What challenges did you face in mobilising this FPO?

The FPO has an interesting origin story. The Sinnar block is a drought-prone region that falls in the rain shadow area. So agriculture here is seasonal and not so promising. Goatery is a significant alternative to farming here because goats can sustain themselves even in this kind of environment. Also, women are more involved in raising the goats and looking after them. It’s like an ATM for her, she sells the goats and from that money, she meets requirements for emergency situations, health issues, and marriage ceremonies. This model of livelihood already existed but we observed that if done scientifically, this could be made more profitable for the women.

There were many drawbacks in the traditional way, eg, mortality rates of the goats were high, there were no standardised breeding practices, the feed fodder had many issues, the supporting marketing system was not there.

So, in 2015 Yuva Mitra started a project called Goatery based Women Livelihood Development Programme. Here, we formed groups of women and trained them on various aspects like how to do the goat raising scientifically, how the goat should be, what precautions should be taken, its heath and nutrition management, how its habitat or shed should ideally be, etc. Veterinary services were not available for the goats, there was a social stigma attached to it and being a sensitive animal, if something happens, the goat dies immediately. So, they couldn’t always be taken to the government hospitals and doctors didn’t always come to the villages. Therefore, the mortality rates were high and it led to a significant loss for the women.

To reduce the mortality rate, there was a need for proper veterinary services. So we adopted the Pashu Sakhi model here. We trained one female from each village to do primary treatment that she could handle. We also appointed some vets to take care of the more complicated procedures like operations. We formed the habit of regular vaccination and deworming the goats among women. All this led to the reduction of mortality rates to 4 percent from the previous rate of 30 percent in 3 years. To shield the inevitable mortality, we brought in an insurance agency to create a new product of goatery insurance that didn’t exist before.

This provided risk mitigation for many women where they didn’t get a big economic setback in case the goat died. She could purchase another goat with the insurance money.

Q. Apart from the economic benefits, what are some of the social benefits that the women received as an outcome of the formation of this FPO?

Her say in decision making has increased, there is a sharing of knowledge among women after they got involved in the joint support groups. Earlier, the business was not so sustainable, there was no major income but as a result of the economic improvement, they have more confidence in themselves. We also give them training on financial literacy, how to manage the money they receive. Many of these women belong to very backward social and economic classes, for them ATMs, savings are words they recently became aware of. We brought them into the mainstream financial system and brought financial literacy to them, this also led to a hike in their confidence levels.

Until one can find a sustainable market, the business can't be effective, so marketing was improved. Before this, the traders who came to buy the goats using visual inspections priced them according to their convenience. After analysing this, we realised that this is leading to losses for women. If the goats were priced on the basis of their weight, the women could get much higher profits. Usually, the traders used to buy a goat worth 7000 to 8000 rupees for 4000 to 5000 rupees but the women didn’t have any other option back then.

Generally, the women sell their goats only in case of emergencies, the traders knew this and took advantage of this fact. So, in every village, we gave a vajan kata and told the women that if you should sell your goat after weighing and should get at least a minimum price per kg. The women started doing this but the trader community which had a stronghold refused to buy at higher rates and told them that they will buy goats from other people. Then we realised that they should have their own institution that can provide them an alternate market. That’s how NABARD and Yuva Mitra started SP Goat FPC. The company leased out a piece of land, constructed a shed, and told the women that they could always come to the shed to sell their goats and/or buy goats. The company will give them a weight-based price.

Then we realised that the women were not as bothered about the amount as the time when they received the payment because she is facing an emergency. So, we started marketing that we will give them immediate and also weight-based payment. This convinced the members and we started marketing activities. Some members sold goats and others bought them. Now, the company also supplies big orders of 100 to 500 goats. This has also increased their confidence.

Also, all company members are women. Some women who worked in the fields or as labourers, who didn’t have any say in anything or any recognition, today after becoming directors of these kinds of companies, go everywhere and give speeches for which they don’t even need to prepare beforehand.

There are some programs by organisations like NABARD, World Bank, etc. where they go and give inspirational speeches to other women on their achievements. For a woman who has never been outside her own village, going on these big platforms and inspiring other women that they could do what she has done is an incredible transformation. There are many such women.

Let me share an incident that I was deeply touched by and had been thinking about for weeks on end. If you look at the logo of our company, it has a woman as the trunk of the tree and branches are emerging out of her hands while 2 goats stand beside her. Our interpretation of the logo was that the woman is protecting and nurturing the goats.

Many people come to visit our company regularly, on one such day, the visitors wanted to interact with our director. They asked her what the logo conveys. She said, “The woman with the outstretched hands is signifying that the entire sky belongs to her.”

This made me realise that even though we think we are more educated and smarter than them, actually their thinking abilities are far ahead of us and this removed the residual iota of arrogance in me. When a woman can think like this, we can only imagine how powerful a social change she can bring about. Even if 10 percent of women have gone through this transformation, our efforts so far have been fruitful.

Q. Did you have to face any problem with the social restrictions that are usually imposed upon women while mobilising the FPO?

There were instances where family members tried to discourage women from getting involved with the FPO, also many women didn’t have any say in the financial decision making. That exists to some extent even now but it is not always productive to directly challenge some traditionally deep-rooted mindsets because then working with the community becomes almost impossible. It is better to gradually make changes over a long period of time by working in tandem with the community because that is the only way to get some work done and changes brought about gradually will be more welcome.

We also need to adapt our action plans according to the community. The women that we work with belong to low economic strata, so keeping their financial constraints in mind, we kept the shareholding and membership fees charged for them at much lower rates than other places so that we could connect with as many of them as possible and include them in this initiative. This kind of flexibility is required to maximise the impact, eg, when non-members come to do transactions with us, we offer to make them our members by deducting the membership fee from their payment. They don’t have to pay separately. This also increases our membership base.

Also it was easy to work with the women because they were already receiving and seeing for themselves the benefits of some of our projects running on ground, eg, the Pashu Sakhi initiative, the insurance services etc. This reduced their loss and earned their trust.

Q. Since you have watched and worked with FPOs so closely, what are some of the reasons why many FPOs couldn’t be so successful and how can these challenges be tackled?

There could be many reasons for this. Some are geographic or community-specific reasons. But one important thing to make an FPO successful is to inculcate a sense of ownership among the members. Chances of the success of an FPO increase manifold if this sense of ownership exists among the members. Developing this spirit and creating leadership takes some time and effort. One important factor in this is maintaining continuous communication with the shareholders regarding the activities of the FPO and how they are benefiting him or her. They must have this feeling that they own the FPO and are accountable in making it successful.

When the mobilisation is not done properly, there is a lack of this spirit. For instance, sometimes when FPOs go to the members for procurement of produce, they refuse to sell to them even when the FPO offers competitive rates because he is already connected with a market player who comes every day and he doesn’t want to damage that relationship. He thinks this project is the task of the NGO or POPI and the successful operation of the FPO is their responsibility and not his own. This is why continuous dialog must happen.

Many times it has been seen that the FPO conducts regular meetings to gather shareholders and to get them to purchase shares of the FPO but once this is done then nobody approaches him anymore. This disconnect only grows larger with time. Many times these meetings, outreach programs don’t happen on a regular basis. If the backend services provided for the production become an extended arm of the FPO, then it is easy to build ownership because farmers can easily see tangible benefits of being associated with the FPO.

Q. What roles do organisations like Yuva Mitra play in enhancing the livelihoods in rural India?

Organisations like Yuva Mitra make a lot of contributions because these kinds of organisations can gauge the pulse of the people and situations on the ground. The government may not be able to pay attention to the community specific constraints and challenges everywhere. This is why such organisations are required because they are closely involved and working with the community, they know the minutest details of the situation and their programmes and interventions are customised to the local needs. So, the impact is more profound but their operational area is limited due to resource and manpower constraints, so they may not be able to work on a larger scale. However, despite not receiving enough recognition for their efforts, many such small organisations are making a great impact together by working silently. Eg, a lot of the relief work related to the migrant labour crisis and food distribution was undertaken by many small NGOs because they had a good hold of the situation on the ground. So, the NGOs and civil society organisations play a huge role in nation-building.

Read the first part here: Farmer Producer Organisations in India: An Insider’s View

Stay Tuned for more such stories from Rural India :)

Reported & Edited By-