Evidence-Based Insights for Corporates Supporting Agro-Based Livelihood Interventions
14 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2016
Date Written: February 29, 2016
Traditionally Indian private corporations voluntarily contributed to the society through philanthropic activities, and a few also engaged in direct implementation of social development programs. The CSR policy rules stipulated in the Indian Companies Act 2013 became effective from April 2014. This has bolstered involvement of companies in corporate social responsibility (CSR). These rules have mandated medium and large scale corporations to invest two percent of their average net profit for previous three years in social welfare and development projects. Thus many new companies will now have to invest in CSR in any of the legally approved social development activities. Several companies that need to strengthen their presence in rural areas are likely to invest in the activity of “agroforestry”, which includes agro-based livelihood (ABL) promotion.
There is little research-based evidence to guide new companies in strategic planning of ABL programs. This paper addresses this need by presenting findings of a research on an ABL project of Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), the CSR arm of Ambuja Cement Ltd. ACF has promoted “wadi” (a plantation of horticultural fruits within a defined area of land) as an allied income generation option for farmers in semi-arid regions at its three program sites in Rajasthan, India. A mid-term assessment was conducted using a mixed-methods approach at one of the program sites, namely Marwar Mundwa in Nagaur district, where 59 wadis have been developed over the last decade. Analysis of quantitative data from project MIS and qualitative data collected through interviews and FGDs for this assessment was conducted using SPSS and NVIVO.
The analysis showed that farmers’ economic security measured in terms of average earning per acre (AEPA) started increasing every year after a gestation period of 3-4 years. In case of most farmers the cumulative investment in the wadi was recovered by the cumulative gains in the 3rd or 4th year. However, medium farmers with a total landholding between 5-25 acres were able to derive more economic benefits than small and marginal farmers even though most wadis were developed on small plots of two acres or less.
Qualitative data showed that most farmers had made an informed decision to start a wadi. While a farmer considered several factors while deciding to develop a wadi, a key element driving the decision was whether he perceived the wadi to be a relevant option given the prospects for his traditional farming practice. It also became evident that in addition to the tangible criteria such as availability of land and water, socio-economic status-related criteria had the potential to indirectly influence the sustainability of the wadi. The data also showed that difficulties and circumstances faced by the farmer were critical to maintaining farmer’s motivation and involvement in the wadi. The importance of continually modifying ACF’s support in a changing broader socio-environmental context also emerged from this analysis. An important recommendation for ACF was that it will need to provide end-to-end support from wadi’s inception to marketing of produce as a crucial difficulty for farmers is to get the right market for their produce.
The overall insight that can be drawn from this study is that if corporates want to achieve true long-term impacts and garner the maximum return of investment on CSR projects, they need to thoroughly understand the farmers’ social background and circumstances. Any CSR promoted ABL project will need to evolve mechanisms to support those farmers who intrinsically perceive that the proposed ABL intervention can help them address issues relevant to them in their existing social context. The CSR support should be planned for the entire time-span, which can run into several years that are needed for completion of the ABL intervention. Mechanisms for end-to-end support from inception to marketing also need to be instituted as part of the CSR support for an ABL intervention.
Keywords: Agro-based livelihood, Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Program research, Sustainable development, Wadi
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