Shakuntalabai has been closely associated with Institute of Integrated Rural Development (IIRD), a partner of the Green College programme under the Green Innovation centre as part of the special initiative ONE World - No Hunger. Currently, Shakuntalabai is working in Green College programme as a Resource Person for Farmer Field Schools, an impactful skill building approach for farmers, offered by Green Colleges. As a director in the Mahagreen Women Farmers Producer Company, which has around 1000 members, she is a strong pillar of the Green College programme. Her association with the Green Colleges has contributed to strengthening the farmer producer organization and accelerating her work on motivating farmers to take up organic farming. As part of the programme, she has been working intensively in a cluster of 7 villages over the last 3 years.
When farmers in her area didn’t listen to her initially, she started organic cultivation with her own 5 acre farm. It was earlier being cultivated using chemical farming methods. Undeterred, she boldly decided to use organic methods and successfully demonstrated the benefits. Motivated by the results, more farmers started believing her and decided to take up organic farming, and then the scenario started changing. Her special idea to bring about revolutionary change in her region, was to start with herself, as Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change, that you want to see in the world” What makes her a role model for others is her steady focus on being a change agent in her region over a period of time - she has been working on agriculture related initiatives for over 20 years now. Her deep-rooted conviction in the change she promotes, i.e organic farming and in self-reliance helps to maintain her focus and persevere towards her goals.
She constantly tries to upgrade her knowledge using available opportunities, mainly offered by IIRD – today, she is recognized as an expert in organic farming practices, organic certification processes and in water conservation techniques. Because of her commitment towards welfare of farmers, especially women, in her region, people look up to her as a leader for agriculture related initiatives.
On a day-to-day basis, Shakuntalbai works intensively on organic farming, water conservation and other development initiatives in the cluster of 7 villages that she is responsible for, besides managing her own 5-acre farm. Her work and knowledge on organic farming are recognised at district level, where she participates in exhibitions and events organized by the Government from time to time, on behalf of her producer group and the farmer producer company. The FPC that she is director of, markets the organic produce of its members in several states across the country and she supervises the proper functioning and the business development of the FPC.
Due to her work, farmers in her region, who were earlier cultivating using chemical methods, have taken up organic farming. They have become members of the Mahagreen FPC and market their organic produce through the FPC. This has resulted not just in increased incomes, but also in health benefits for farmers and consumer and contributed to maintaining ecological balance. She has mobilised women into self-help groups and farmer producer groups, which helps to address their financial needs and works for their overall well-being. She has supported unemployed youth in her cluster to start their own agri-enterprises, be gainfully employed and relate to their roots and contribute to agricultural development.She achieved these results with her own initiative and with the support of IIRD’s various programmes and partners, the latest being the Green College programme which is a part of the Green Innovation Centre.
Her association with IIRD & partners has been one of cooperation and leveraging complementary strengths. Her dedication, strong rapport with the community and respect among community as a trustworthy leader combined with IIRD’s technical expertise and programme support from various partners have made these changes possible.
When she started working with the community, she faced a lot of resistance in the villages, where women were not seen as decision makers in agriculture and she herself lacked complete knowledge of organic farming practices. She persevered on, with support from IIRD, mobilised women into Self Help Groups and developed her own capacities as an organic farmer by starting in her own farm. She suffered several major setbacks in her personal life, when she lost her husband and then her son and is currently survived by her daughter in law and little grandchildren. She overcame these impediments, with determination, to be a successful woman farmer and farmer leader in her region.
Shakuntalabai has motivated around 400 farmers in her cluster to take up organic farming, out of these over 300 are members of the Mahagreen FPC, in which she is a director and these members market their organic produce regularly through the FPC. She has motivated and supported nearly 160 unemployed youth in her cluster to join Green College trainings and start their own enterprises. She has supported them to access finance from Self Help Groups and farmers groups promoted by her. Of these youth, 6 are high potential rural entrepreneurs that have joined the Fast Track programme and expanded their business to impact the local value chain and employ more youth. Her work on water conservation in 2016-17, with support from NABARD and IIRD, brought irrigation facilities and transformed the lives of 65 farming families that have started cultivating horticulture crops.
Shakuntalabai has motivated hundreds of farmers in her region to switch from chemical based farming to organic farming, which contributes to sustainability in the form of health benefits to the farmers and the consumers, and maintaining ecological balance. She has helped farmers to realise better prices for their organic produce through the marketing services offered by the Farmer Producer Company. By mobilising more farmers for the FPC, she has contributed to the financial sustainability of farmers as well as the sustainability of the FPC. Her work on water conservation, has contributed to sustaining water resources, which are scarce in the drought prone Marathwada region.
She is keen and willing to share her knowledge regarding "Extension, Promotion of Organic farming and marketing of organic farm produce with PGS certification” with other women farmers nationally and internationally. Others can also learn from her experience with the women FPC, Mahagreen, which is one of the few women, led FPCs in the country. Apart from this, she is an inspiring example to other potential women leaders to become agents of positive change in their region, and contributing to significant improvements in agriculture.
Looking ahead, she would like to develop her expertise further in organic farming-based enterprises. She would like to learn about testing and certification of Bio inputs, packaging, labelling, marketing of organic produce, Participatory guarantee system of inspection, documentation and its digitization. She would like to learn about effective governance and management of Farmer Producer Organizations. While she will continue to be associated with the the Green College programme, she would like to undertake exposure visits to successful FPOs such as Dharini FPC, Anantapur, Andhrapradesh, or Last Forest, Key stone, Nilgiri, Tamilnadu or Sahyadri FPC, Nasik, Maharashtra and other inspiring examples else for additional training.