Women Entrepreneurs Engaged in Reducing the Post-Harvest Loss

28 August 2023

(i) Brief Overview:

During the COVID -19 pandemic the Green Innovation Centre, India piloted a woman entrepreneurship program to reduce food waste in the tomato value chain by developing an innovative business that provided solar drying solutions for the tomato value chain. Based on the positive impact on the post-harvest loss management and potentials for sustainable women enterprise model promotion, the concept was further scaled in different geographies.

India is the second largest producer of tomato, onion and potato (TOP crops) in the world. However, marketing of horticultural crops is quite complex and risky due to the perishable nature of the produce and seasonal production. Post-harvest losses in TOP crops are amongst the highest of all horticultural crops with tomato accounting for 12.44%, followed by onion (8.2%) and potato (7.32 %). Market infrastructure is better developed for food grains, compared to fruits and vegetable markets. Finding sustainable business models that allow small farmers to be less vulnerable to market fluctuations is key to assure rural livelihoods of women farmers.

(ii) Problem:

Lack of sustainable business models that holistically address Poverty, Gender Inequality, and Post-Harvest losses, in rural women farmers, key challenges of the gender-energy-food nexus in India.

  • Post-Harvest Losses: PHL in tomato and potato value chain amount to 40% which directly impacts the farmers income and is linked to the inefficient use of resources, mainly land, water, energy, and inputs.
  • Poverty: The GIC project consists of 80% smallholder farmers with landholdings less than two hectares in size. Changing climate, lack of infrastructure and fragmented land holdings make it difficult for smallholder farmers.
  • Gender: The value chain employs 80% of all economically active women. As men increasingly migrate to urban areas in search of jobs, female members of the family are taking over the responsibility of working in the fields.
  • Climate change: The waste produced represents a significant loss of income opportunity for poor and marginal farmers who are already exposed to poor crop yields and consequent upstream waste due to the ill-effects of climate change such as prolonged drought and extreme precipitation events. Furthermore, the anaerobic decomposition of landfill agricultural waste releases methane and carbon dioxide.

Value chain intervention: Absence of coordinated efforts between the different value chain actor is affecting the optimum utilization of Government programs.

(iii) Innovation

The Green Innovation Centre, India, in collaboration with the social enterprise Science for Society Technologies (S4S), has conducted a pilot in food processing by promoting sustainable business models for women enterprises.

The innovative holistic business model for post-harvest losses targets the entire value chain-from technology development to market, creating and redistributing value across the value chain.

The model promotes Solar-powered dehydration systems operated by women entrepreneurs (WE) allow them to convert produce into non-perishable products by providing them with the right combination of technology, finance, and market access. Furthermore, S4S buys back and aggregates the dried produce, conducts quality checks and secondary processing, and markets to food and beverage companies. This results in significantly reduced energy, transport, and production costs, making an ideal “one-stop-solution” for business-to-business customers. The key stakeholders and contributions of the model are highlighted in the image below.

The model:

(iv) Notable Results

  • The empowerment of women and the contribution of the model to sustainable livelihoods and provision of dignified work, economic growth, and an additional source of income to women-led enterprises assured sustainability and acceptance of the model.
  • The model promotes all women-led sourcing and processing, end-to-end traceability. This assured an integrated approach where all stakeholders were engaged towards achieving benefits among all stakeholders of the value chain.
  • The model promotes access to renewable energy solutions and contributes to the annual decarbonization 80,000+ tons of CO2in 50 villages, contributing to sustainable transition to renewable energies.
  • The engagement of and collaboration between stakeholders facilitated the value addition to lower grade produce that would normally be wasted.
  • The facilitation of finance from banks with a minimal interest rate was key to assuring continuing support to the women entrepreneurs and long term sustainability of the model.

(v) Lessons learnt

The solution solves four major problems of food wastage: limited access to clean energy for industrial use of food processing, low income to farmers, malnutrition while bridging the gaps of gender inequality by promoting women entrepreneurship and participation in the workforce.

(vi) Sustainability:

  1. Climate and Environmental impact:
    1. Preventing food wastage and reducing post-harvest loss by keeping value addition close to the farm.
    2. Shifting to a solar powered decentralized processing system, reduces Green House Gas emissions thus making it clean and equitable.
    3. Processing allows farmers to diversify their income and build resilience to climate change induced shocks.
  1. Social & Economical impact:
    1. Providing assured additional income to rural households through access to productive energy assets and market linkage.
    2. Working with landless women farmers and transforming them into micro-entrepreneurs. Better participation by women entrepreneurs in decision-making at the household as well as community level.
    3. Produce preservative-free nutrition-rich vegetables for improved nutrition and food security of small-holder farmers.

(vii) Response of the stakeholders

(viii) Conclusion:

The business model has an inclusive approach of transforming women farmers to women entrepreneurs by introducing them to post-harvest loss management. It also emphasizes on the blended finance model by engaging government contributions and facilitating commitment to lend from formal financial institutions. The business model growth is rapid in terms of number of villages, women farmers engaged, as well as high growth in number of micro-entrepreneurs allowing the promotion of 500 women-led enterprises by financing by bank amounting to €650,000 and aiming to add another 1000 WE. This successful intervention translates to 600 tons of annual processing capacity through women farmer network and 80000 tons of reduction in annual CO2 emissions.

(ix) Recommendations:

As the small and marginal farmers contribute 51% of total agriculture output, the active participation of stakeholders within the value chain like Government, Private Sector, Financial Institution, and the small farmers is needed. Different actors’ active participation ensures the sustainability of the intervention and scalability. The affordable technology, appropriate training, the facilitated access to finance, the supply of raw materials and the guaranteed buy back of dry produce, are key factors to ensure the success of such interventions.

Link to Further Materials

Contact Person
Sashi Kumar

Key Buzzwords
Solar dryer to manage Post-Harvest Loss (PHL) – India