Seeding Happiness: SumArth’s Farmer-led Agri-Models for Rural Development in India

April 30, 2021



Prabhat Kumar


Dr. Durba Chattaraj and Kaustubh Khare

This talk features Prabhat Kumar who has been building holistic models to establish farmer-led institutions, foster sustainable livelihoods, reduce the carbon footprint and provide nutritional security to farmers in Bihar, India. We reflect on the politics and imaginaries of these community-led programs and partnerships, in light of the ongoing farmers' protests in the country.

In 2018, Bihar’s unemployment rate was at 7.2 percent, which is a jump from 2.5 percent in 2011.

Many factors have damaged the potential of the agricultural sector, including the lack of collective knowledge about agricultural best practices, market linkages and price fluctuations; low profits in farming; high rates of urban migration in search of better futures; uncertain climatic conditions, and social stigma concerning the role of women in agriculture. The current COVID-19 crisis has further accentuated these issues, leading to an extreme burden on the rural economy.

SumArth (non-profit social enterprise) was founded in 2015 and started its operations with 11 farmers in Gaya, Bihar.Through their various interventionist, market-focussed and low-risk projects, such as ‘Magical Mushroom Project’ (scaling livelihoods), ‘Delicious Honey Project’ (creating new dimensions), ‘Sakhi Lakhpati Program’ (empowering rural women through sustainable agriculture), ‘Yuva Shakti Program (capacity building in agricultural model), and ‘SumArth Kendra’ (model agricultural centre), they have served and provided end-to-end support to over 10,000 farmers in the 7 districts of Bihar, of whom 63 percent are women. The average annual household income across the beneficiaries rose by 424 percent, as did their average annual savings (SumArth’s Model of Rural Development - Compendium of Case Studies by Deloitte, 2021).

This talk features Sumarth’s co-founder Prabhat Kumar, at a time when Indian farmers, government and non-profit organisations are seeking solutions to address the agrarian distress that is prevalent in the country. The talk will be followed by a discussion led by Dr. Durba Chattaraj and Kaustubh Khare, where EFC members will engage with Sumarth’s holistic and sustainable models that have helped foster non-pesticide practices and the use of low-cost technology and agro-tools, as well as reduce the carbon footprint, establish farmer-led institutions, and provide nutritional security to the farmers. Together we will reflect on the politics, imaginaries and futures of these community-led development programs and sustainable agricultural partnerships and practices while considering the ways in which they can be applied elsewhere.


Prabhat Kumar hails from a farmers' family. He is the co-founder and trustee of SumArth, a non-profit organization working with more than 10,000 farmers providing end to end solutions ranging from crop planning to ensured market linkage. He is also the co-founder of MicroX Labs, a globally recognized Point-of-care diagnostics startup incubated at IISc, Bangalore. Prabhat is a Young India Fellow, IFC Fellow, ICICI Fellow, Mother Teresa Fellow and Silicon Valley Fellow. He is the winner of various global awards like Tata Social Enterprise Challenge at IIM C, DBS-NUS Social Venture challenge in Singapore, Silicon Valley Challenge-San Francisco, IndiAfrica Business Venture in Accra, Ghana etc. He is a visiting faculty to Naropa Fellowship, NABARD-Bihar and has been invited to Skoll World Forum, Oxford University and World Economic Forum in Davos.

Dr. Durba Chattaraj is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of Writing at Ashoka University. Her research addresses economic and cultural transformations in India in an era of globalization, and is based on eighteen months of fieldwork conducted along National Highway 117, which connects the metropolis of Calcutta to rural and marginal areas in West Bengal. Her current research focuses on informality, space and democratic politics in New Delhi. Prior to joining Ashoka, Durba was a Senior Fellow in the Critical Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania for five years. At Penn's Writing in the Disciplines Program she worked with a team of colleagues to develop and enhance the university's writing curriculum and pedagogy. She also taught popular writing seminars on informal economies, the politics of development, legal anthropology, economic anthropology, global foodways and South Asia Studies.

Kaustubh Khare is an MA student in Semiotics at Tartu University where his research focus is on built/natural environment, future pedagogies and interrogating 'nature' in Indian political campaigns. He works as a freelance designer and illustrator and has experience with urban farming.

Additional Credits:

- Insight synthesis: Rajat Nayyar, Rana El Kadi

- Podcast production: Rajat Nayyar, Rana El Kadi

- Visual design: Kaustubh Khare

- Podcast sound design: Debashis Sinha

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Insights from the Talk

Sustainable interventions towards redundancy

How do we approach the training of community members when the goal is to create sustainability? Long-term, in-depth, on-the-ground engagement can help us develop context-specific knowledge that can be turned into effective, critical interventions. For example, Samarth creates one-minute training videos highlighting the processes involved at each stage of the agricultural cycle of crops that are introduced into the Bihar region for the very first time. Consistently sharing such new, sustainable agricultural practices through accessible language and media in the farmers’ Whatsapp group increases the likelihood of farmer buy-in and engagement. Furthermore, such training structures are more likely to succeed when the objective of the interventionist organization is to become redundant and create sustainable, farmer-owned and operated producer organizations.

Building trust through data

How can data and technology help farming communities navigate uncertainty and improve their livelihoods? Farming as an activity has always been filled with uncertainty. Although farmers in Bihar have generations of experience dealing with uncertainty and transforming it into something very literally productive, the agricultural sector has recently been struggling immensely due to many factors. Combining engineering with farming approaches, Sumarth’s interdisciplinary model provides fresh perspectives that move beyond disciplinary-specific biases and make it possible to solve complex problems and drive innovation. This model highlights how agricultural data and emerging technologies can be used to inject some level of certainty into the sector. However, technological interventions also run the risk of bringing about unintended negative impacts. It is especially important in these situations to stay on in the community to maintain trust and ensure that the benefits of data-centered interventions emerge in the long term. After all, trust building is usually an ongoing and improvisational process.