Monsoon season is approaching, and Manashi Pradhan is watching her rice paddy field closely.

“The amount of rainfall over the years has reduced,” says the 26-year-old rice farmer. Each day, she and her family examine the crops on their small farm in Khordha, one of the coastal districts of Odisha, India. They check moisture levels in the soil, clean up litter, and drive away snakes hiding among the stems. When the rain arrives, they’ll apply pesticides and herbicides to further protect the rice from insects and weeds. They’ll monitor the water level closely to ensure the plants are neither drowned nor too dry.

Manashi is not alone. According to the FAO, 70 percent of India’s rural households rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and 82 percent are marginal or small-scale farmers like her. Small-scale farmers face many challenges, including climate conditions like water scarcity and extreme heat. Even in good weather, they operate on very narrow margins and typically generate their income only at the harvest time. Because of this, it’s difficult for small-scale farmers to cover the costs of inputs like seeds and agri-inputs or purchase equipment and livestock that could increase their income. Financial services help them access additional resources to recover from challenges, invest in equipment and inputs, combat challenges, and create additional revenue streams.

Small-scale farmers invest in their farms with inclusive financial products

Manisha’s farm is a family endeavor supported by her husband, father, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law. They rent two bulls and a plow to till the ground for hand-planting the new crop of rice. With rainfall becoming less predictable and temperatures increasing, Manashi often has to rent a hand pump to drain a flooded field or pump freshwater onto the crops. 

Each month, buyers come to their village to evaluate the quality of the rice, and Manashi’s family accepts the best price. The buyer further distributes her rice to the grocery shops in the area. The rice’s quality is not the same every year; it differs based on the availability of water, weather conditions, and amount of sunlight it receives, none of which Manashi can control. But this year, she used money from a group loan provided by Annapurna Finance to buy better quality seeds and fertilizer. She hopes her well-fed crop will command a higher price. 

Manashi Pradhan (mother; 26 years old) at her rice farm in Tarakai, Khordha, State of Odisha, India.

Annapurna Finance is a longtime Accion partner that supports the objective of financial inclusion of unserved and underserved through microcredit solutions and the target clientele includes disadvantageous segments like microenterprises, women-led businesses, and rural operations. Like the rice farmers themselves, Annapurna cultivates the smallest enterprises in India and helps them thrive. Accion works with Annapurna Finance to provide innovative financial services that bring more people into the formal financial system and grow businesses in underserved, rural communities in a sustainable manner.

Manashi is part of a group with nine other local women from her village. Group loans are an important tool for financial inclusion, as the borrowers guarantee for one another and gain access to credit that they could not get alone. She is happy with the services, which are allowing her to plan for her farm’s future. She says, “We use bulls to pull the plow, but we need machines. We need power machines, power tillers, and tractors.” With the next loan, Manashi hopes to purchase this equipment to improve her farm’s efficiency and output. Then, she wants to rent out those power tillers, tractors, and water pumps to create another revenue stream and minimize the uncertainties involved in income generation.

The work is hard and precarious. Manashi does it to support her family and help them thrive. She wants to send her children, like 4-year-old Manisha, to a good boarding school, not a nearby village school. She says, “I want to give them the best of everything.”

Flexible services give small-scale farmers the support they need

Usha Rani Swain, another farmer in Khordha, Odisha, grows cucumber at the start of the year and coriander, tomato, and rice during the monsoon season. Their land is prone to flooding during the rainy season. “The summers are hotter now,” she says. Saltwater flows nearby, unsuitable for agriculture, but fresh water is abundant deep below the ground. She could overcome this challenge with a well and hand pumps, but it would be a significant investment for her small enterprise.

Mrs. Swain stands near a cow. is a vegetable farmer and a milk producer.
By purchasing two cows, Usha has added another income stream for her family.

Her family’s most reliable income comes from their son who works at a nearby factory. His wages arrive the first of every month. The money she earns from their farm and their milk is erratic in nature, so planning for the future is difficult. “Some months we earn more, some months it’s less,” Usha says.

Like Manashi, Usha also availed a group loan from Annapurna Finance. Before Annapurna, Usha only grew rice for half the year, during monsoon season. A loan enabled her to buy more seeds, vegetable fertilizers, and even two cows. Now, she grows vegetables year-round and sells milk every day.

Usha likes that Annapurna offers flexibility, letting her make payments in cash or have another group member deliver her payment. Her son helps her manage her accounts from her phone and communicate with Annapurna’s team via WhatsApp. When she needs face-to-face support, they call Annapurna and a representative comes to visit.

Accion worked with Annapurna to support underserved entrepreneurs and farmers by designing financial products that incorporate digital tools and channels. These offerings help thoughtfully address the digital divide by ensuring customers with limited digital capabilities can access and use the products on any mobile phone. However, they still provide face-to-face support to meet the needs of clients with limited access and low digital maturity.

After a long day of milking their cows and tending their crops, Usha and her husband like to watch TV or play card games. But she continues to think about the future. She would like to buy a vehicle, a four-wheeler, to get around and help transport her vegetables to nearby markets. Once her son marries, she wants to expand her house for his future family. 

Learn more about how Accion works with innovative financial providers to expand the reach, quality, and affordability of responsible financial tools that help small-scale, women-run farms thrive.

Manashi walks through her paddy field.
Manashi walks through her paddy field.

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Manashi tends to her rice crops in Odisha, India
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