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Thursday, April 01, 2021

Building Farmer Capacity Amid COVID-19 & Lockdown

58% of India’s population depends on Agriculture as the primary source of livelihood. However, it contributes to only about 18% of the country’s GDP. While food grains, milk, pulses, sugarcane, cotton, fruits and vegetables and several other crops’ production has been increasing year on year, the agricultural yield i.e., the crop produced per unit of land, remains low. This underscores the importance of building farmer capacity in rural India, especially in small farm holdings. The raging pandemic and the lockdown announced exactly one year back, however, warranted the need to look at building farmer capacity through novel means while also laying primary emphasis on the farmer’s health. Here is how ACF’s teams in 3 regions are working against the odds to enable farmers and build capacity in the face of the pandemic.

1.     Kodinar, Gujarat

ACF works with over 40000 farmers In Kodinar, with the major crops grown being Cotton and Groundnut along with Wheat and Barley. Until before the pandemic, ACF’s field facilitators would be out in the villages and farms all day, building and deepening relationships with farmers all the while also educating them and addressing issues. The sudden announcement of lockdown caught the team unprepared, and they hurriedly scrambled to address the situation. It was harvest season, a crucial time for farmers.

In the first 15 days of the lockdown itself, the team realised that the situation may be a long drawn one and immediately established virtual channels of communication with the farmers. The field facilitators, working with 500 farmers each, were asked to form WhatsApp groups of the farmers they collaborated with. While every Farmer did not have WhatsApp and in some cases, even a smartphone, the lockdown meant that families were together the entire day. Consequently, the Field Facilitators were able to map other members in the farmers’ families who could engage through WhatsApp in case the farmer himself did not have the application. As a result of this exercise, over 60% of the farmers were able to receive messaging from ACF’s end. For the rest, a calling framework with clear progress tracking was effectuated to regularly enquire of their wellbeing and build capacities through the medium. In addition, QR codes were highlighted in the villages for farmers to access relevant information.

In the context of information sharing itself, COVID-19 awareness was prioritised to enable the farmers to continue with their farm activities while safeguarding their health. Video and audio messages were created and shared regularly by the ACF team in association with KVK, to ensure that safety protocols are followed. The ACF team also initiated capacity building for the farmers by sending across well scripted, bite sized video clips. The timing of the clips was aligned with the harvesting season of each crop grown in the region. The initiatives were very well received as was evidenced in a study done with farmers. ACF is now using these learnings to further the use of technology for capacity learning as it reduces overall costs and allows the team to reach maximum farmers.

2.     Marwar Mundwa, Rajasthan

ACF works with over 14000 farmers in this region of Rajasthan; most of them involved in Cotton production. The biggest apprehension among farmers with the onset of the lockdown was whether seeds and other inputs would be available. However, by working closely with co-operative societies and distributors, this fear was allayed by the ACF team. For capacity building, direct calls were made to each of the farmers working with ACF. In addition, farmer groups were created on WhatsApp where training material was disseminated in a fixed schedule. QR codes and voice calls were also used extensively. The frontline field staff being from the target villages itself, allowed the team to connect personally with the farmers despite the lockdown. During the Lockdown, the main areas of work involved INM (Integrated Nutrition Management) and IPM (Integrated Pest Management). The initiatives were moved to a virtual medium through mediums like Google Meet. Short video clips were also created to enable the farmers deal with various issues including dealing with the Locust attacks that occurred during the lockdown. For mass awareness around INM, IPM and COVID-19, narrative wall paintings were employed. Moreover, animated videos were also shared around these areas through WhatsApp and the local cable operators.  


3.     Sankrail, West Bengal

Paddy grown through the SRI technique (System of Rice Intensification) was a standing crop when the lockdown was announced in March. While the team was just about dealing with the effects of the lockdown another disaster struck in the form of Cyclone Amphan. The ‘double vengeance’ resulted in many farmers being severely affected during the period. In addition, fruit and vegetable farmers were also significantly impacted as the scaffoldings received extensive damage. Moreover, because of the lockdown, buyers were few, depressing the prices of the crops. In addition, Labourers were few to harvest the paddy and inputs such as fertilisers were not easily available.  

To combat the situation, WhatsApp groups and one to one calling was promptly initiated with the farmers. That being said, many farmers in the region did not have smart phones and one to one calling coupled with group calls was the primary method employed to reach out to the farmers. Just prior to the lockdown, ACF had enabled the creation of 28 farmers clubs. It is through these farmer clubs’ points of contact that information was primarily disseminated, including awareness around Cyclone Amphan and COVID-19. The Points of Contact in these farmer clubs would then further disseminate the information in their own regions.

It was also during this time that new interventions such as Aquaculture through BIO Floc and IPM and INM had been introduced. With the pandemic and cyclone threatening to play havoc to these capacity building priorities, ACF tied up with centres like Krishi Vigyan Kendras and agricultural universities in the region to offer online classes to the farmers.

 

As one can surmise, the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has been diverse across regions. As such building farmer capacity in the current scenario requires a deep contextual understanding of the region, its farmers, and the challenges they face.

ACF’s experience on the ground allows it to efficiently work with farmers and build capacity. To know more about its capacity building programs, write to jagdamba.tripathi.ext@ambujacement.com

 

Bolstering the Bargaining Power of Farmers


In the early 2000’s, farmers in the tribal belt on the border of Telengana - Chandrapur were at the mercy of local money lenders, who monopolised the cotton market – often refusing to pay market rates for crops and pushing the already marginal farmers further into poverty.

It was their wives who stepped in to turn things around, harnessing the power of their SHGs to collectively start procuring the cotton at market rates, and on-selling it directly to the local ginner – making a profit in the process. It was a win, win situation.

Thus is the power of collective bargaining, and it is changing the game for many hand to mouth farmers across the country.  Here are the powerful journeys of 3 different collective bargaining success stories.


1.     Jandu Devi Self Help Group, Bhari Village, Chandrapur Maharashtra.

Formed in 2003, the Jandu Devi SHG has had a long history of entrepreneurship, starting their journey by investing just INR 800 in chickens and turning profits around to reinvest and diversify into new business lines, like goats.

To break the reliance on money lenders, the SHG (with the help of Ambuja Cement Foundation) made a strategy and presented it to the Maharashtra State Livelihood Mission.  The proposal was to enter the cotton trade.  Starting with just 3 SHGs, the group visited a local gin to better understand the business – learning about how to ensure cotton quality and other difficulties in buying and selling cotton.

In the first year, these largely inexperienced and illiterate, yet business savvy women sold 464.72 quintal of cotton – pocketing a profit of INR 1.13 lakh which they partly used to buy sanitary napkins and educational material for adolescent girls and primary children.  The rest they invested into a new business: buying and value-adding toor dal (pigeon pea) and selling it in the market.

In 2020, 33 SHGs bought and sold 1200 quintal of cotton (numbers were down due to the pandemic) – and this time used the proceeds to kick-start the purchase of farm inputs collectively (seeds, fertiliser and pesticides) Once again, their collective bargaining power came to the fore to solve a problem and profit from it. 

2.    Dhanvantri Farmer Producer Company Limited (DFPCL) Gir Somnath, Gujarat

In 2015 ACF initiated the Better Cotton Initiative in 28 villages of Una & Girgadhada block of Gir Somnath, forming Cotton Grower Learner Groups along the way.  Some of these groups visited the Somnath Farmer Producer Company in nearby Kodinar and, on seeing the success of the collective input process, were buoyed to kickstart their own FPO and inputs business in 2019.

A proposal was submitted to NABARD and INR 10.54lakh was sanctioned to help start the FPO with 320 farmers (including 8 women farmers) signing up as shareholders.

They commenced the process for certification of Seed, Pesticide and Fertilizer as per government norms, and started their own Agri Mall in October 2020. Purchasing agricultural inputs as per farmer need through different Wholesalers, they commenced business – serving farmers from 22-25 villages in the area. Till date they have had a turnover of  INR 16.50 lakh of inputs like seed, pesticide, micro nutrient, cattle feed, farm safety equipment – saving farmers money on input costs, and providing an enhanced information service to farmers in the district.  

With a robust business plan in place, they plan to move into output collective marketing of groundnut, onion, wheat and gram.

3.     Mitaan Krushak Producer Company Ltd, Bhatapara, Chattisgarh.

Mitaan Krushak Producer Company Limited (MKPCL) is a farmer producer company dedicated to the production and processing of rice. With a vision of ‘Better Farming, Better Farmer, Better Country’ the group is currently providing services to the farmers through its Custom Hiring Centre (CHC) and Agri Input Shop. Additionally, Goat manure is a product of MKPCL which is being prepared and sold to farmers.

The group was initiated to create an alternative place for rice milling at cheaper cost comparatively, whilst maintaining quality of rice. By setting up their own Mini Rice Mill at MKPCL, the farmers  take the benefits from this facility whilst also ensuring quality rice for household consumption. Currently this is being done by local small mills at a much higher cost with low quality rice milling.

With 221 shareholders, the group has already had a turnover of 21.5lakh and members are benefiting via more prosperous farming enterprises.

Ambuja Cement Foundation has enabled the establishment of 15 FPOs, 3 Cooperatives and 5 Women Federations which are all harnessing the power of collective bargaining, to either reduce costs of bulk input purchases, or to collectively market their produce.  As a result 2.1lakh farmers are today prospering!

Reducing the Risks of Farming

In a stimulating conversation with Thrive, J.P. Tripathi – DGM and vertical head for Agriculture at Ambuja Cement Foundation reveals the most significant risks to agricultural livelihoods in India and how ACF has been addressing these risks.

Timely Information

The biggest risk to farming in India is weather. Weather conditions lie at the root of a myriad of risks that the farmer takes to achieve a profitable harvest. The whole investment process, dependent on this one factor, is risk prone and the farmer has little control over price fluctuations in the context of inputs and output. The only data he bases his production on is the previous year’s harvest rather than any concrete scientific data including crop, weather, and market trends for the current year. While this data is collated at a national level, it is usually not available to the farmer. This is where enabling the farmer with an early assessment of the crop season becomes crucial to make informed decisions. Suppose the trend suggests that there is going to be a 20% increase in the total production area of onion, implying that its prices will fall in harvest season and an excess crop will depress it further, the farmer can then choose not to sow the onion crop and shift to another crop which may fetch more returns.

Financing

The second area of risk is financing. The farmer never has the resources to fund his investment in totality and must depend on external funders. This external funder is usually a middleman who lends at unreasonable rates. While NBFCs such as microfinance institutions are also present in Rural India, interest rates are significantly high and range between 15 -27%.

To counter this, any approach to reduce the farmer’s risk needs to look at boosting income such that he has the resources to fund his crop cultivation. This may be achieved through diversifying his income streams through means like multi-cropping or growing fruits and vegetables, or various components of animal husbandry.

In the recent past, several small finance banks have initiated operations, but unfortunately their focus has been on the urban poor in towns and cities. There is huge potential in rural India which is hitherto untapped, and it will be a win-win if farmers can gain access to loans with lesser documentary requirements.

Insurance

Unlike the plethora of insurance products available for assets in the cities, assets that farmers own are often uninsured. Livestock, ponds, fields are commonly not protected by insurance, causing irreparable losses in the face of adverse situations. Insurance products for these livelihood assets are a necessity but not easily available. Even if available, they are usually unaffordable to the farmer as scaling up the product may not be viable to the insurance company.

Assessment and settlement of claims is another area which is considerably bothersome to the farmer today.  The Government should look at stepping in to ensure that this process is smoothened. A scientific model may be evaluated where the farmer can be paid a settlement automatically without even registering a claim. Technologies such as GPS and other satellites-based assessments are helping the government take futuristic decisions such as the recent announcement of not having to pay tolls at toll booths instead having it directly deducted from the individual’s bank account. Similarly, if farmers can be compensated for losses incurred, it will act as a big morale booster to the sector with farmers knowing that the system is backing them in their endeavors.

How ACF addresses these risks and increases farmer productivity

Creating a conducive environment for farmer empowerment is imperative to enabling prosperity for them. While ACF continuously works to build capacity for farmers through field visits and now virtual means to educate them and apprise them of pertinent rends, it has also been encouraging them to diversify crop production. The results can be seen now. Over 27000 farmers engage in some form of livestock farming including goat rearing, milk production, horticulture and vegetable and fruit production. ACF has also been actively encouraging intercropping from a livelihoods perspective and are seeing farmers gain from growing crops such as cauliflower in between the cotton crops.

SHGs and FPOs supported by ACF have mobilised more than Rs. 3.5 crores to farmers requiring financial assistance for purchase of inputs in the ongoing pandemic. The Self-Help Groups have been instrumental in raising funds from the banks and providing aid to those in need. ACF prides itself in this very multipronged approach where it enables rural households by enabling the farmer, the women, and the youth. At the household level, ACF works to ensure that there are savings, viable financial support, and multiple income streams. In this way, ACF secures the risks of finance and production. Insurance remains a challenge and there are structural issues which can only be addressed by the government. However, ACF has encouraged over 30000 farmers to apply for the COVID-19 insurance to date.

To learn more about ACF’s work or invest in a Corporate Social Responsibility project in Agriculture, reach out to J.P. Tripathi at jagdamba.tripathi.ext@ambujacement.com

Generation Next: Fostering the Future of Farming

 

The future of farming hangs in the balance, where the average age of an Indian farmer was 50.1years, and only 1.2% of rural youth aspire to be farmers, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (2017) which surveyed 30,000 youth across the country.  Additionally, nearly half the farmers in the country, don’t want their children following in their footsteps.

Agriculture is just not deemed attractive or remunerative to today’s youth, who often have white collar aspirations and are encouraged by their families to pursue career paths outside the family farm. What does this mean for the future of farming, food production and food security in India – a country with one of the biggest consumers of food?

“We need to demonstrate to families, that agriculture can be remunerative, innovative and a viable livelihood choice for rural youth.” said Chandrakant Kumbhani, General Manager (Community Development) Ambuja Cement Foundation.  “By helping farming families diversify crops, adopt new technology and generate multiple sources of income – for example through animal husbandry, agriculture has the potential to be a prosperous enterprise for tomorrow’s youth.” He said.

And this is exactly what Ambuja Cement Foundation does, via its Agricultural Livelihood program, which works with over 2.2 lakh farmers across 10 states. And the engagement of youth, is a key part of every project.

“Whatever we do, promoting new interventions or practices in agriculture, we encourage youth to be a part of it. Sustainable Crop Production is a key program and we encourage youth to be a part of training processes so that they can learn and integrate new practices on family farm.” He said.

“We work with families and try  various initiative in projects at family level to increase profitability.  For example, in Sankrail we promote vegetable cultivation and aquaculture. If we can help a family to increase their income level, it builds confidence that they can actually earn from Agriculture.  Only then will some of their children come forward to continue farming.” Chandrakant said.

However one of the biggest challenges he sees is the fragmentation of small family farms, due to division of land in successive generations.  When you have 3 brothers brought up on 1 acre of landholding, it makes it increasingly difficult for each of them to generate a sustainable income for all three of them as they grow their families.” He said. “Farm sizes are becoming smaller, but by understanding the nuances of new developments and technologies in agriculture we can, and have, helped farmers to increase their output.” He said.

Additionally, by helping a family as a unit diversify income sources, we can make family farming more sustainable.  “We are promoting vocational training to help youth inject an additional income stream into the household.  If there are 3 children in a family, and 2 of them pursue a vocational course and start earning, the farm will continue to support family in a more sustainable manner.” He said. “In this way, multi layered interventions are required to support an entire family to lift out of poverty.”

Another key initiative backing farmer profitability is the formation of Farmer Producer Organisations.  “FPOs help our farmers get an ‘edge’ by helping them tap the market.  One of the key problems farmers face is in gaining access to market.” He said.  “By building an institutional mechanism, we enable them secure larger contracts and profit share for their produce.” This is an important area where we need to focus in future so FPO can truly become a business case for small farmers.

Thinking outside the box, ACF has also helped farmers ‘layer’ income generation opportunities.  “By promoting location specific integrations and innovations to give families the ‘edge’, such as honey bee keeping or strawberry crops or exotic crops, the viability of family farm becomes more pronounced.” He said.

“Empowering farmers to solve their water problems also helps in building profitability.  In tribal communities of  Farakka we have helped solve water challenges via lift irrigation so that marginalised, small landholder farmers can increase their crops from 1 to 3 crops per year.  This has been transformative for them and their families.” Mr Kumbhani said.

And the strategy is working, with many examples of young farmers coming forward to take up the profession in a new, more innovative way.  Farmers like 35 year old Hem Raj from Pazina village, Darlaghat.  Hemraj’s interest in agriculture started to grow when his father planted a Mango orchard around his house when he was a child.  Choosing to follow in his father’s footsteps he got into farming and he attended a few agriculture camps run by ACF in his village, where he learnt about tomato cultivation as a cash crop.  But Pazina village did not have proper road access which enabled farmers to take vegetables to market in a timely fashion, and during the rains the road was closed.  Hemraj began mobilising farmers in his community to build the road, taking the support of the Panchayat and ACF along the way.  Having championed the cause, Hemraj was thrilled when the Pazina road was finally built – opening up a corridor which allowed him and other farmers to cultivate tomatoes and capsicum and generate more income.  Buoyed by his success, he became a member of the FPO when it was created and collectively, the farmers sold 19.6 tonnes of tomato in the market.  He has since diversified even further, selling milk and planting other fruit varieties like lemon and pomegranate.  Today he earns Rs.3,50,000 per year from pursuing his passion for farming.

“Every day 2,000 farmers give up farming, and nurturing the next generation of farmers needs to be on the agenda of all stakeholders working in Agriculture.” Mr Kumbhani said.

Awards Bestowed on International Women's Day

On the occasion of International Women's Day celebrated on 8th March worldwide, ACF saw many women beneficiaries awarded for their exemplary work in bringing transformation to the communities. 

The Chief General Manager of NABARD honored Sarabjeet Kaur, an SHG woman from Bathinda, for her journey on enterprise development. Sarabjeet Kaur from the Satguru SHG Bulladewala is an entrepreneur who started her business in 2019 by providing stitching and binding books. Slowly she expanded her business in selling pickle and in the current pandemic she makes face masks and sells to the municipal corporation. When she started her business she earned a profit of Rs. 8000. Today she earns a profit of more than Rs. 25-30,000 - all thanks to her involvement in being a member of the Self-Help Group.

Handur Self-Help Group in Nalagarh was felicitated by NABARD for its work in making the face masks under the SAANS project. This initiative, by ACF in partnership with Cipla Foundation, has trained women of the Handur Self-Help Group to make 4 layered masks, which are quality checked and approved by the CSIR-IICT, Hyderabad . ACF has facilitated bringing together 10 women from the SHG to produce and market these masks, and capacity building is provided by IICT. Because of this success the SHG is planning to develop a supply chain and maintain a self-sustained platform for earning revenue. 

Amrit Dhara Milk Producers Marketing Co-Operative Society, Darlaghat was honoured as the Best FPO in the region by Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Solan for its work in marketing milk, and providing veterinary services in the region. This FPO  was initially started as an SHG with women members, but now also has male members.

NABARD awarded certificates to members of the Sorath Mahila Sahkari Mandali, Kodinar who completed a training program on agarbatti and candle making. This program aims to support them in becoming financially independent. NABARD also selected UJALA Ambuja Self-Help Group as the Best SHG with an award presented by MD, CGM and other officials of NABARD. UJala works on credit linkages and involves women in income generation activities like knitting. 

ACF Chirawa received an award for Best Women Empowerment Work at the District level, which was presented by the District Collector and MLA of the area. ACF also received recognition through the Rajasthan State Level Women Empowerment Award called Mahila Shakti by the Department of Women & Child Development. The award was presented by Cabinet Minister of Women & Child Development congratulating ACF for its work on Women Empowerment in Rajasthan. It was a privilege when one of our staff Manjusha Doshi from Bhatapara received an appreciation certificate from the National Rural Livelihood Mission, Government of Chattisgarh for her efforts on women empowerment through SHGs and Livelihood Promotion.

SEDI Jaitaran also inaugurated their new Make-Up Artist Lab with local women being invited as the guests of honour at the event. The lab provides women with the opportunity to learn the skill of professional make-up and helps them in starting their own business. Women were impressed with the infrastructure and were excited to commence the course. SEDI has also started a Pink Help Desk initiative to provide female trainees with placement opportunity, ensure safety and security at the centre and workplace, and to motivate women to undergo skill training. 


World Water Day: Community Shares Insights on Valuing Water

On the occasion of World Water Day, celebrated worldwide on 22nd March 2021, ACF organized a webinar focused on ‘Valuing Water’ with speakers and community representatives sharing insights on the importance of water for us and future generations.  Along with the community members, Ms. Pearl Tiwari, Director & CEO, Ambuja Cement Foundation and Mr. Shyam Sundar Paliwali, Padma Shree Awardee, were also a part of the event. 

Women representatives were invited to speak first for which Lata Devi from Marwar Mundwa village shared the challenges she faced in the beginning of married life to fetch drinking water. “I used to cry every night as I couldn’t handle the house work, water and my children. ACF came to me as a savior as now I don’t need to worry anymore and all is settled.” Chanda Tai from Chandrapur shared her first experience in solving the water issues when she saw the soak pits and bore well models at the ACF office and immediately built the same in her villages. Looking at her flourish, her community also quickly started building such structures. “I am part of the Ekta Mahila Women Federation and now it is on our agenda to encourage our women to build bore well recharge system (Soak Pit) to recharge drinking water bore wells.” 


Manoharlal from Dadri pointed out, “Countries like Iran and Iraq are major providers of Petroleum and Oil but when it comes to water they have to purchase it in large amounts. Let’s not make our communities so dependent that we need to turn to money to quench our thirst.” A few cotton farmers happily shared that due to interventions in water at an early stage their crops were able to flourish and sometimes even grow 2-3 crops a year. Community members agreed that water was the solution to all problems and there was a need to focus more work on water to save it for the future. 

The current government has introduced various initiatives like Jal Jeevan Mission and Har Ghar Jal to ensure water reaches every household in the next 5-6 years. Pearl Tiwari encouraged people to work collectively with the government and take advantage of these schemes to ensure water sufficiency in every household. 

It was a privilege to have Padma Shri Award Winner and Eco-Feminist of India, Mr. Shyam Sundar Paliwali from Piplantri village, Rajsamand present at this virtual event. He is known for his Kiran Nidhi Yojana through which he planted 111 trees for every girl child born in his village and also provided a financial scheme. This resulted in the drastic improvement of the sex ratio in his village. He said, “If there is no water in your community, there is no success and flourishment. As leaders of the community we should dedicate more of our work on water. Our mother earth is drying up and it is high time we as leaders begin to work on water and get her back to life.” He invited the attendees to visit his village to motivate themselves to carry out practices on their own. Mr. Shyam has previously visited ACF’s Rabriyawas location and appreciated the work done on water harvesting and drinking water. During the event he encouraged the community to continue supporting ACF and praised the extensive work done in water. He also requested ACF to initiate interventions in Piplantri and its surrounding areas.  

ACF’s main focus through its program interventions is to ensure ownership by the community and build people’s institutions to create sustainability and self-sufficiency. Water quality testing, reviving and deepening of ponds, community RO systems, water surveillance and budgeting are all carried out by the community institutions like Water User Associations, Paani Samitis or other Local Committees. With ACF only providing technical, financial and hand-holding support, communities have gained confidence to reignite water interventions and introduce new practices. Sangitaben is the Sarpanch of Deoria village in Jaitaran. She said, “Our People have now come to realize the importance of water. Sometimes they come to us with new methods and practices to be initiated in our villages. This is the change we need to see. With the help of ACF, my community has built 150 tanks and is also involved in reviving a nearby pond.”

But ‘what next?’ people asked at the event. The water which is used by the current generation is the saving of the previous generation. Measures and action need to be set to save water for the future. This can only happen if water education is encouraged with all stakeholders. Collaborative efforts with different stakeholders are required to develop modules and explore immediate solutions. The reuse and recycling of water is a major hurdle and practices need to develop within communities to save more water. Chandrakant Kumbhani, General Manager, Community Development, Ambuja Cement Foundation added, “Water Quality is the least priority in communities but we need to make it high priority to ensure overall health and well-being of each other.”

To conclude, this event shared a glimpse of issues community members faced and how they efficiently transformed their communities to make it water abundant. There were almost 200 attendees from 12 locations of Ambuja Cement Foundation. Apart from the event, community awareness in the form of Water Walks, Street Plays, Posters, Drawing Competitions were also carried out at various locations reaching over 6000 community members. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

SEDI Nagaur: Leading the Way in Skill Training

 

Halfway between Jodhpur and Bikaner, on the edge of the Thar Desert, lies the city of Nagaur. Its main industries include spices and tourism, and youth in the area primarily turn to agriculture for jobs and a future.

 

It is here that ACF set up a Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Institute back in 2009 and somehow, over the past 12 years, this institute has churned out award winning trainees, year on year.  For the last 6 years, SEDI Nagaur has produced 6 Skill Icons and has taken away the coveted Skill Ambassador award every year for the last 3 years.

 

To find out the secret to their success in skill training for rural youth, Thrive caught up with SEDI In-Charge at Nagaur, Mr Manmohan Bhati.

 


 

Placement is the Key!

 

According to Manmohan, the most important person in a Skill Training Institute, is the Placement Officer.  “The Placement Officer is key.  We can attract a young person, train them well, but if we cannot find them employment it is all for nothing,” he said. 

 

A Placement officer at SEDI is involved with a Trainee during their entire skill training journey at SEDI – from the time they are mobilised, during their training and the final knot of this chain, ‘Placement.’  “The Placement Officer must know the trainee well and also be aware of the market requirement. It is only then that they can put them together and make a good fit!” Manmohan said.

 

Finding a Match Made in Heaven

 

Placement is a juggling act between the aspirations, needs and desires of the Trainee, their family and the Placement Partner.

 

“Trainees have their own aspirations and of course their family has their own ideas – so it's a balancing act for Placement officers to meet trainees and trainee family aspirations and connect those with the needs and requirements of a suitable employer.”

 

And the going is often tough in Rajasthan, a place with less industry and an entire generation of young people who aspire for blue and white collar jobs that are just not there. 

 

“Trainees always want to become something what their parents or friends are doing.  Many people in Rajasthan go to Gujarat or neighbouring states where there is more opportunity.”

 

“It is important that the job role should be for the long term and so we take extra effort to ensure trainees are placed in jobs in the organised sector.  So many small shops are there that can provide jobs, but they would not be able to give them a good future. Once a trainee enters the organised sector, they grow tremendously.  They gradually learn something new apart from what we have taught them,” Manmohan said.

 

“In selecting placement partners, we look at the kind of culture in the workplace - we have blacklisted some companies because they have withheld salaries of trainees. It is important to find partners who will help nurture and grow our trainees, not exploit them and hold them back in life,” he said.


“When I look to hire someone, I crosscheck them and scrutinise their background – we do the same with placement partners. Are they organised? In relation to girls, we check that girls work in front of CCTV camera – we ensure organization have toilets and facilities to ensure our trainees are safe. We put ourselves in the shoes of the trainee and then look at the partner,” he said.

 

“We also provide group placement which helps with retention when trainees have to commute far away from home for the job. They feel happy and secure with their batch mates with them,” he said.

 

Fostering Aspirations

 

According to Mr Bhati, 50% of youth do not initially have any aspiration for their future, but once they start learning, that aspiration grows. 

 

“People who are really hungry will eat whatever they will get. In Rajasthan, big industries are rare. If they want to work in a big industry, they have to travel and relocate. Trainees are willing to travel and move outside because their parents are doing so too. Our placement ratio is 80-90% and retention is up to 75%. We are connected with their parents and employers. We also try to find the best job in the market and encourage them to stick it out for a year or more.”

 

And of course salary is key. “Minimum rates of salary in Rajasthan as decided by the Government are very low. Generally we send students out of Rajasthan so they can get good salary. We train them in such a way where we can bargain with the employer – we flat refuse if they are offering less than Rs. 9000 - 10,000,” he said. “On the maximum side, if incentives and travel allowance is provided, starting salaries can go up to Rs.15000.”

 

Nagaur’s Skill Icons & Ambassadors

 

In order to make Skilling ‘aspirational’ among the youth, Rajasthan Skill and Livelihoods Development Corporation launched the concept of Skill Icon – an award given to those candidates who are able to fetch the best placements after the successful completion of their training at Skill Development Centres in Rajasthan. An award of Rs. 11,000 is given to the Skill Icons who are selected on the basis of their employment, salary and background.

 

The awards act as a good motivation in skill training and retention for rural youth and SEDI Nagaur has been consistent in bagging the awards with their graduate’s year on year.

 

A Skill Ambassador is awarded to someone who is self-employed. In 2019, Ms Varsha Sharma from Nagaur took out the prize. The daughter of a factory labourer and vegetable seller, Varsha defied the odds when she trained as Documentation Assistant at SEDI and went on to open her own Computer Centre – Tulsi Computer Centre & E-mitra. She invested 3 lacs in the centre and quickly paid off her loans with an income that regularly exceeds Rs. 35,000 per month.