‘It is not uncommon at all in a city like Bangalore to run into young men and women from the
villages; sons and daughters of farmers, driving cabs, being techies, accountants and getting
into all kinds of urban employment opportunities all to eke out a living and/or live the dream.
And when it comes to employment, irrespective of whether it has happened because of
passion or a specific necessity, one underlying purpose to it is livelihood. And that is
applicable to every adult human being, irrespective of where you are coming from, urban or
rural. The case of a tribal, living an indigenous life inside forests is a different matter.
Governed by policies of the forests and strong community structures, I am not really
experienced to comment on that, although I have got some of the best friends from the
forests of the Kali Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. The stories we are trying to explore are of
these youngsters who are moving out of their villages in an effort to have a ‘better life’, which
has challenged my understanding of what a ‘better life’ actually means.
Who does not want a better life?
This particular discussion is a mix of facts and my opinions, stemming out of my interactions
with farmers, farming ecosystems and its support structures at various levels. They may be
romantic at places and pragmatic at other places. This is some confusion, I am warning you
all about. It is like having a warm beer on a chilly evening on the beach. You want to
appreciate the ambience and live it, but there is something that is not allowing you to have a
complete experience. There is a gap.
The looming question to me is, why, this seeking of a better life not happening inside the
village. Are we so short of resources to even hope for a better life in a village? It gets
stranger and stranger to me, the more I enter a village and then see people thinking of a
green pasture elsewhere. I mean, literally, much of the green pastures we see today are in a
village. However, that too is in shortage today; go talk to a dairy farmer and you will know
what I am talking about. Anyway, not that I see enough growth already in the village for
young people, much still needs to be done. As much as it seems a dead end for many; if one
is having a keen eye and fearless hope, life in a village can become much better. The
question though, still remains. Are we crippled for resources, infrastructure, talent,
ecosystem value chains or the intent itself? This discussion may run at lengths on end.
Trying to limit this piece to picking the cotton out of only a few pods, I will try to discuss the
issues around the possibilities to hope for a better life in a village. To which effect, we will
have quite a thorough look at opportunities for gap fixing.
Do we have the intent? One may ask and it is easy to assume that it is lacking. Easy to
assume, not many people are working towards the growth of life in a village. But, no. Simply,
no. There are multiple efforts to address this. But first, let us look at these people in a village
that we are talking about when we are trying to build the possibility for a better life. Farmers!
Who else? Women farmers, dairy farmers, women dairy farmers, micro entrepreneurs,
women micro entrepreneurs, landless labourers, women landless labourers, fisher folk,
women fisher folk and more. Not to forget the livestock farmers. I want to specifically
mention the gender aspect separately as it still looms largely in our villages, the generic
understanding of gender to not consider equal opportunities for women. Especially, in a rural
setting, to not consider women equal in opportunity for livelihood, has its downsides, morally,
as it is the right thing to do to be gender inclusive, and also as a matter of discipline and
efficiency women bring into operations. And there are institutions that the above mentioned
people are actually part of and form in many ways; Self Help Groups, Joint Liability Groups,
Co-operative societies, Producer Organisations, Federations of these grassroots institutions
as well. One who is involved in the works of a rural ecosystem, may find more such
individuals and institutions at play. I will attach links as references to definitions of all the
above mentioned institutions. A simple wiki page should do to understand the nature and
construct of these organisations. However, the problems and challenges that I may further
discuss may require some deeper understanding. It is important to learn about these
institutions and structures if one is really interested to even understand the on ground efforts
around improving the rural situation. And then there is the entire supporting ecosystem like
the financial institutions like many apex banks, grameen banks, district credit cooperative
banks, primary agricultural credit societies and various NBFCs and MFIs providing
necessary credit, nonprofits that are mobilising and building capacities through various grant
mechanisms, lot of the government schemes (both at the state and the centre levels)
supporting rural individuals and institutions through various subsidy programs, startups
working to try and solve many rural challenges, grassroot government structures like the
panchayats, district level and block level nodal agencies, independent organisations under
various ministries, like the NABARD and SFAC. And there are many more. It never ends to
learn of institutions that work in newer areas of interventions with very unique and creative
That being mentioned, what does it mean for a farmer who wakes up everyday with a hope
of seeing things improve? Well, we can all agree the economics of the village needs to
improve for that. I am not discounting the social and cultural dimensions of growth. I have
come to believe that eventually it is the economics that will decide its direction. As we are
talking about people at the base of the pyramid mostly, there is nothing more important than
their economic situation to improve. And this is my personal view. People too influenced by
their political ideals and social models for a perspective on growth may disagree with this.
My influence is my interactions with the rural ecosystem at large on all levels. It is as real as
it may get. I will not question policy at this point, but will work accepting the rules of the
existing ecosystem and see what best can be done (although in my personal view many
things need to change on that front as well). But in the current market economy, the only
way to see a growth in the villages is by ensuring there are enough jobs created within the
village which is allied to agriculture in some sense or the other. We have a supply demand
balance to maintain as well. Since we are talking about a major populace already influenced
by the life around agriculture it makes sense to take refuge under it, while figuring out
various models for growth.
Getting the rural ecosystem thriving with jobs will be one of the key challenges to solve in the
near future. And I hold everyone feeding off of the villages in some way or the other morally
responsible to contribute to this effort at some point. Participate in rural economics, as a
customer, as an innovator, as a techie, as an investor, as a storyteller and as many other
things. But we will look at this later. For now, let us look at how to build a sustainable model
in a rural setting. What kind of opportunities are we now looking at? Are there businesses
already in place? As a matter of fact, there are thousands of businesses in the village
already. Edible and non-edible oil extraction business, jaggery producing units, mills of all
kinds for sugar, rice and grains, soap production, incense sticks production, textiles, salt
production, recycled and hand-made paper production, value added food businesses,
horticulture and floriculture trading, agriculture service providing businesses (like nurseries,
warehousing, cold storages, implements and machinery, dehydration units and more), toy
manufacturing, baking businesses, micro businesses in the silk value chain, businesses in
the dairy value chain and so much more. It is not just the picture of labourers in a farm land;
a village also throws out an image of very small and micro businesses with a very small
team trying to add value to the ecosystem. As a matter of achieving scale at the earliest, we
can start by working with the existing businesses, with set product lines, mostly capturing the
local market. Why aren’t we aware of such businesses out there? I don’t blame the market. I
don’t blame the businesses as well. It is a tough situation. The ecosystem has grown on top
of a lot of inefficiencies and now it is hard to find a starting point for course correction.
For any business to be successful, we need to first work towards having a well tied cash
flow. Which means there needs to be a sustained market capture. (The platform businesses,
NFT and crypto believers may disagree). But considering the realities of the ecosystem of
the day, we have to look at very conventional business models but get creative with the way
business is conducted; more to be discussed ahead. The growth will then depend on various
factors like expanding into bigger markets, increasing capacity (also being gender inclusive),
changing the perspective around quality, and of course the challenges of being able to
create a legal fit to sell in bigger and controlled markets. When it comes to bettering
livelihoods, we need to look at increasing more jobs (while being inclusive) and in the
process create enough physical assets or equity, which means, we are also looking at
livelihoods and jobs also from an entrepreneur lens. That being said let us discuss the gaps
in the current ecosystem. Rural businesses do not have the necessary strength to reach
bigger markets currently they do not have the necessary capacity to attract debt from the
regular channels of financing. Although my romantic side wants to prove to you all with an
unnecessary debate right now, that it is clearly not the problem of lack of intent in the
villagers to grow their businesses. I will hold my horses to not become a keyboard warrior on
this. We can calmly talk about it face to face, if we get a chance.
The possible ways for the rural businesses to now think of scaling is to bring in good
machinery that adds to the quality of their products in production, build processes by
improving on their HR capacities, attract capital infusion, and of course, reach out to better
markets. Where should we start for this? Let’s take the case of how formal capital may be
infused into such rural businesses. Grants? This is happening as you are reading in multiple
sectors, but is clearly not sustainable. Not completely denying that grants may not be useful.
Other forms of capital do not have the patience to experiment. Grants have far more risk
appetite to pilot various models. And other forms of capital actually ride on the success of
these pilots. Not generalising that the grants are the starting point to all successful models
out there today in the rural areas. But it is surely something that can be leveraged upon.
NABARDs and SFACs of the world play a major role today in making this work. There are
large CSR foundations of large corporations that design programs with grassroots nonprofits
to this effect. Some are good enough to showcase to the rural folk about the possibilities with
the livelihood initiatives and how it can be managed. But it misses the point that livelihood
initiatives must be sustainable. And most of such programs do not leverage their fund to
access formal capital, through some guarantee mechanisms or any other catalytic
measures. How about Equity? Can a rural business be valued today? And can we see
enough growth for the equity to grow in value? And that is highly unlikely with the current
situation. It then leaves us to Debt infusion by the very formal structures of financing in our
country today; banks. We all know, when a bank manager decides to issue a loan.
Especially in the background of all those NPA agri loans, the perspective around loaning is
hardwired in a way that does not make it easy for rural businesses to access at higher risks
and more open ends in the business model. This is where the challenge is to build access to
I will digress a little into an aspect of my great interest. Talking about the rural ecosystem
has brought into me an urge to share with all the readers a little about the Farmer Producer
Organisations (FPOs). The whole country is wishful, hopeful and in pursuit of the success
this model brings to the farmers. And remain positive that this structure of collectivization
and co-operatisation brings the much needed acceptance of farmers into the formal and
controlled market economy. When I say controlled, I mean the drivers of the economy being
controlled. Supply – demand balance in control. Price realization is happening to actual
value delivered, and not shadowed by non-value commissions. (Not suggesting that farm to
fork is the, biblical solution. Middlemen are important until there is a better and an efficient
system put in place. I am not emotional about the middlemen commissions at all. And this
perspective has come out of experience and little maturity). Anyway, FPOs brings in the
possibility of formal and professional transactions between them and market players. And
FPOs can be that better alternative. As a thought, it is brilliant (my personal opinion). To get
the ecosystem in place for FPOs to be successful businesses is the challenge. Group of
farmers becoming shareholders of a producer company (limited by shares) is excellent. And
caps like not more than 10% of the total equity can be held by a single farmer, no external/
private investor can come in, and a minimum no of farmer members to be in place to access
matching equity grants (as a form of raising initial startup capital to start the FPOs first
business) and more brings in great independence within the structure to its farmer members.
Getting FPOs to raise invoices and Purchase Orders, manage inventory, machinery, I mean,
build a whole lot of infrastructure to add value to agro-commodities is a great step towards
building scale to value generation that is happening within the village. The data and process
discipline will then be inevitable. One need not sell this separately to a farmer about the
need for data and process discipline. The structure will drive it. Audits, compliances (legal
and statutory), managing working capital, raising capital all of it and more, all of which the
farmers complain very dearly of, are true indicators of formalizing rural business
opportunities. The very emotional people may pounce at me at this point, to condemn the
flush of the rules that a farmer turned administrator has to now follow. But as of now, I will
accept this, until there are better ways to re-model a producer company under the
companies act.
Getting back, you see, irrespective of how much we want creative business models out
there, our rural businesses cannot really experiment much right now. The rules of the game
are clear. We need a player who can support all rural businesses to plug in these essential
rules of the game. Get to the right markets, do the leg work. The market linkage is something
that needs to be achieved, get those linkages in. Influence the formal banking systems to
look at rural businesses. Build necessary infrastructure and logistics to ensure the rural
businesses thrive on delivery efficiency. Establish a process to better manage data and
decisions and much more.
You see, I had mentioned having a keen eye and a fearless hope to make it all happen. This
is exactly the reason why. This is clearly not rocket science. All we have to do is play by the
book and have the perseverance to see it through. Can you and I do it? Yes. We can. If we
can do it, so can the villagers, right? Yes, they can, but as a matter of creating equal
platforms for opportunity, they will need some hand holding while sharing a few ideas, some
training, and some motivation towards a higher purpose. If in one generation we can work to
plug the gaps, the next generation may actually see value in staying in a village and not take
a decision to stay put for just emotional reasons. I am leaving you all with so many open
ends and questions. I am leaving you all with so many of my opinions and judgments on how
to look at this differently and no solution as such really. There is not one solution to it. We
may need every solution one brings in to improve the rural ecosystem demands to not be a
stand-alone intervention but address the systemic gaps, encompassing the entirety of the
As my work continues in this space, my opinions will become less fluid. I don’t fear that. I
welcome that in a way. But I shall strive to keep my eyes, ears and heart open to take any
learning possible to further the efforts to create a “better life” for our villagers, inside the

Links for further reading (very general reading one can do online):