Meenal Sharma Jagtap
Such people can be trained to undertake simple agricultural activities and also improve productivity through disability-inclusive innovative practices
The Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) represent a way to collectivise farmers who have a common goal. The main benefit of these organisations is that it organises the small and marginal farmers (who as per the data from Agriculture Census 2015-16, form 86 per cent of India’s farming community) into groups through which they can connect with the markets for both inputs and outputs. Collective interaction with the market players enhances their bargaining power and they can participate in the markets effectively. Besides, they can reap the economies of scale by undertaking collective action for processing, packaging, transportation, and establishing strong backward and forward linkages.
Farmers can alsoregister themselves under the Indian Companies Act, 2013 as Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs).There are various organisations at the Central and State levels that are actively involved in nurturing, promoting, and mentoring of FPOs besides providing financial support. Some important organisations in the FPO ecosystem are National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Small Farmer’s Agri-business Consortium (SFAC), World Bank, and several NGOs. FPOs are an important innovation for the agriculture sector, serving to collectivise the small and marginal farmers, the reby increasing their choices of selling their produce and getting increased incomes.
The model of FPOs/FPCs can also help in providing opportunities for sustainable livelihoods to the weaker sections of the rural population, like farmers with disabilities. A person born with disabilities in a poor household does not have access to many opportunities for skill development and livelihood generation, while their families also do not expect them to earn a livelihood and only seek government doles like disability pensions. However, with support, persons with disabilities can involve themselves in organisations like FPOs, and leverage their collective strength.
Persons with disabilities can be trained to undertake simple agricultural activities and also improve productivity through innovative practices like the use of poly houses, switching to chemical-free farming, vermicompost making, rain-water harvesting, and undertaking sale of processed farm products. Thus, involving persons with disabilities in FPOs is one way of empowering them economically and socially. The establishment of Disability-inclusive FPOs has the potential for ensuring opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for persons with disabilities in rural areas.
One organisation that has been supporting the cause of sustainable livelihoods for persons with disabilities is the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. “FAO has long been a promoter of the rights of disabled men and women within their host communities and has recognised the need for people to be trained to make a contribution.Within partnership arrangements with both governments and specialised nationaland international NGOs working in support of disabled people, FAO has made small but significant investments in a number of project activities.” It has been instrumental in guiding the governments to design inclusive policies and create enabling ecosystems for ensuring good quality of life for people with disabilities (PwDs).
The projects carried out by FAO have demonstrated that occupations like sericulture production, mushroom farming, poultry, beekeeping, goat keeping, floriculture, fisheries, and horticulture are activities that can be taken up by persons with disabilities. Besides, there can be other activities that require low levels of skill development that can provide income-generating activities for PwDs like basket weaving, carpet weaving, pottery, etc. Any kind of activities focused on value addition, which can be produced in bulk in remote rural areas and transported to markets with agricultural supply chains in place, can slowly but steadily increase the incomes of PwDs in rural areas. The role of micro and small-scale enterprises, as well as organizations like FPOs, is of crucial importance in this regard.
There are also organisations like the Christian Blind Mission (CBM) which work with local NGO partners to empower PwDsto earn their livelihoods and be recognised as valuable contributors in society. The CBM India Trust has pioneered the concept and is incubating Disability-inclusive FPOs in association with the local NGO partners. At present, CBM is promoting 17 FPOs in the country which are encouraging farmers to take up organic farming. These FPOs deal with spices, vegetables, milk, and pulses in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttarakhand. More than 25 percent of members of these FPOs are persons with disabilities with presence on the Board of Directors and staff.
The opportunity to lead the disability-inclusive organisations and its success have demonstrated that such actions can empower persons with disabilities. They develop social skills and get the confidence that they can be responsible for their livelihoods and also help other people in their communities. It has been observed in these unique experiments that after being associated with disability-inclusive FPOs, the lives of persons with disabilities were completely changed. They gained social status, prestige in society, increased respect, and participation in decision-making in families, etc. Agriculture being the main occupation in the country, especially in rural areas, it is necessary that the sectorbecomes inclusive and persons with disabilities can find means of sustainable livelihoods in this sector. PwDs may not be able to carry out all the required activities in the traditional way, but with necessary adaption and skilling, they can successfully discharge their duties.
A mapping activity can be carried out to find out which activity suits which disability type. With some training and modifications, PwDs would be able to perform those activities. Some work in this regard has also been carried out by the Sector Skill Council for PwDs. The Skill Council for Persons with Disability (SCPwD) was incepted as a national body in 2015 with the aim of “mainstreaming PwD throughskill training to enable them to earn a livelihood and lead a life of dignity in mainstream society and in turn, contribute to the growing economy of the country”.
The Council has done the mapping of job roles suitable for PwDs and developed a curriculum to provide them with appropriate training. Such sets of training are provided through certified trainers. In the agriculture sector also, various activities/ occupations have been identified, where PwDs can work.
To give a few examples of ‘Job Roles’ that are suitable for PwDs in agriculture and allied sector –landscaping, gardening and urban farming, farm management, dairy farm management, poultry farming, etc.
Promoting and encouraging the establishment of disability-inclusive FPOs in rural areas in India can be effective in the empowerment of persons with disabilities to earn their own livelihoods instead of depending on government doles. In February 2021, the Union government, recognising that establishing FPOs can help aggregate small and marginal farmers by easing and supporting their access to inputs, markets, credit, and improved technology, had announced that it shall promote 10,000 FPOs in the country with a budgetary allocation of Rs 6,865 crorein order to achieve its target of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. If the concept of disability-inclusive FPOs is recognised by the government and a conducive policy environment is created through integratingpolicies for persons with disabilities and promotion of FPOs, it would serve the twin causes of promoting the agriculture sector and empowering persons with disabilities.
(The writer is Joint Director, National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development, Niti Ayog.The views expressed are personal.)