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FPO Research: A Few Perspectives

When we decided to work on understanding the role of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) in bringing about financial inclusion of the marginalised communities, we had made a very structured and detailed timeline for all the activities pretty much in line with a professional project management case. However, an unexpected delay stormed us. Despite all the planning and accounting for delays in the research process, we encountered a couple of novel issues. This blog shares a few perspectives from our (researchers) side.

Countless reports have been published in the domain of FPOs in India. This genre has been picked up equally by research fraternity, civil society organisations and even private players. Most of these reports have been in the public domain and yet, we figured out two major challenges to make progress. Our primary requirement has been screening of ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ FPOs in order to develop holistic case-studies with respect to financial inclusion. Although our contending hypothesis has been that FPOs are an effective vehicle for financial inclusion of the marginalised, nonetheless, two cases emerge out of this. First is that a successful FPO might have the intent, capability and resource at its disposal for implementing financial inclusion measures. Second is that if financial inclusion of the marginalised communities is taken seriously it can lead to commanding the loyalty of the farmers, thereby ensuring the success of the FPO. In either case, it is of paramount importance for us to comprehend the term ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in the context of FPOs. A 45-days exercise comprising of reading and analysing peer journal papers (over 50), reports (around 10) and conducting sector-expert interviews (~ 5) was organised. At the end of the day we just stumbled upon our first novel issue — lack of consensus in defining the success of an FPO.

For some it only meant financial sustainability and for some it resonated with the upliftment of the poor farmers. It was difficult to find a tool or a web-source that had indexed (or at least provided criterion) FPOs and classified them as successful or unsuccessful. It is quite possible that a binary classification may not be readily feasible given the variations related to geography, products aggregated and the FPO management and qualification. However, considering the adage, ‘What you can measure you can change’, the entire scenario seemed quite unscientific. On the surface it does feel that the number of policies and schemes that have been designed for nurturing FPOs and the funds being made available to augment their network have either no concrete or rather very weak (or reductionist) evaluation principles. Usually this non-standardisation in evaluation leads either to biases or difficulty in building up research on a temporal scale.

We encountered our second novel challenge when we reached out to various organisations instrumental in the FPO setting-up or augmentation process. There was positive support and encouragement towards this research by most of them. Yet there was also reluctance and hesitance to share raw primary data about the FPOs in terms of whether the FPOs have had access to loans or any other financial credit instruments (a few of them shared whole heartedly). It made us wonder whether there is an issue with the way nurturing organisations gather and monitor data, or whether they wanted us to go about the hard way of acquiring data. In some cases, there was no clarity at the organisational hierarchies about data sharing. Whatever be the issue, the intention was to reduce any efforts in reinventing the wheel in this aspect of the data collection process and focus more on the analysis. Being in the same sector and more importantly focused on the same purpose of resolving the problems of the marginalised farmers in the country, we are all interested in working in silos. It might be worth documenting the costs associated with co-operation in conducting and advancing research (at least in the social sector).

Is it possible to have multiple stakeholders coming together willingly in a non-zero-sum game to resolve the ‘wicked social problem’? As of now, it is still a utopian scenario.

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