Supporting farmer livelihoods in India: the role and potential of standards systems

‘We can’t be satisfied with knowing our outputs. We must be obsessed with outcomes and impacts’. This is what participants heard at a workshop in Delhi in April on the role and potential of standards systems in supporting farmer livelihoods and addressing poverty, organised by ISEAL, the Better Cotton Initiative and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative.

Smallholder farmers are vital for India’s agriculture and rural economy. Agriculture provides employment for 49 percent of India’s population, of which 80 percent are smallholder farmers who are farming on less than two hectares of land.

Many economic, environmental and social factors affect the livelihoods of these farmers. The cost of production, access to extension services and finance, yield, agricultural practices and profitability all provide challenges to addressing poverty.

At the workshop, Ravinder Kumar from Natural Resources Institute presented the results of a research study commissioned as part of ISEAL’s Demonstrating and Improving Poverty Impacts project. It looked at the early impacts of Better Cotton Initiative on the livelihoods of smallholder cotton producers.

Cotton is a major agricultural sector in India with nine million cotton growers. The study highlighted some of the challenges reported by smallholder cotton farmers in India’s Kurnool district. Pests, crop diseases, poor rainfall, and a lack of access to agricultural inputs, finance services and market services have negatively affected productivity and yield.

We heard that sustainability standards have a role in helping farmers to build their resilience through climate projects and livelihoods diversification. Small differences, like planting a second crop, can help make a significant impact on farmers’ livelihoods. Pramit Chanda, Country Director for IDH India reinforced that we must go beyond focusing on one crop, or even agriculture as an income source, in order to address livelihoods issues.

Partnerships are critical for leveraging different expertise and addressing barriers to improved farmer livelihoods. Participants discussed how standards can do more to improve the effectiveness of their partnerships, as well as increase market demand for certified products and market access for farmers by improving access to market information.

Good data and evidence as a driver for decision-making is critical if we are to improve standards’ effectiveness at addressing issues like poverty. That’s why ISEAL’s major event in 2019 will take a frank look at what evidence is available about the impacts of standards, and what standards, businesses and governments can learn from it.

Find out more about the Global Sustainability Standards Symposium taking place on 18 June in The Hague, Netherlands.