Media article

How women-led FPOs are transforming India’s agriculture

Padmanand V,
Manoj Kharb
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Agriculture in India thrives on the dedication and hard work of women, who constitute approximately 75 per cent of the full-time farm workforce. However, despite their significant contributions to farming, women have been notably underrepresented in FPOs, perpetuating gender inequalities.

Before we contemplate the future, let’s evaluate the prevailing situation. FPOs have gained recognition as a vital tool to mobilise women farmers, supported by development agencies and policymakers. They play a crucial role in the strategy to double farmers’ income, as evident from recent announcements including FPO credit in the Priority Sector, five-year tax breaks, and the ambitious central scheme to develop 10,000 FPOs.

As of February 2023, India had over 16,000 FPOs. However, data on women’s participation in FPOs remains largely inaccessible. As per rough estimates, NABARD has promoted 5,073 FPOs through its two dedicated funds, but just 178 (over 3 per cent) are exclusively women FPOs. This disparity is striking, especially when women constitute 73 per cent of the agricultural labour force.

Evidence of success: Business case for promoting women-led FPOs

In our experience, as a rural development professional at Grant Thornton, women-led FPOs, despite being fewer in number, are outperforming their male-led counterparts. In almost all our projects aimed at empowering women farmers, we have established 100 per cent women-led FPOs, which are thriving.

An impact study, conducted by the India-based impact measurement firm Sambodhi, indicated greater independence among women in program FPOs, with fewer needing to borrow from their households to pay FPO share capital amount (22 per cent vs. 40 per cent in the non-access programme comparison). Moreover, analysis of key farm metrics revealed that women farmers had significantly higher cropping intensity (210 per cent vs. 149 per cent) and cultivated a greater diversity of high-value crops. Moreover, women-led FPOs can play a pivotal role in realizing the revised target of the Lakhpati Didi scheme, which has been increased from two crore to three crore women, as announced during the interim budget for FY25.

Factors behind success

The success of women-led FPOs can be attributed to several key factors. Firstly, most rural women, with prior experience in SHGs, demonstrate enhanced social inclusion and mobilisation within women-led FPOs. They actively engage in general meetings, uphold democratic governance principles, address member concerns proactively, and foster comprehensive inclusive development.

Secondly, women-led FPOs tend to have a higher average share capital, reflecting active financial involvement and investment in their organisations. The women-led FPOs are easy to form, and the member mobilisations are faster particularly if they are evolved out of SHGs.

Furthermore, prudent accounting and risk management practices are prevalent among women leaders in FPOs. They often adopt a cautious, low-risk approach, resulting in steady revenues and business sustainability. They are also able to garner the support of their spouses and twin the latter effectively in marketing and procurement interventions.

Lastly, we observed that political orientation in women is significantly less than their male counterparts, allowing for a more focussed approach to organisational goals and objectives, contributing to the overall success of women-led FPOs.

Urgent need for change

To effectively mitigate gender disparity within FPOs and enhance their overall efficacy, we propose a pivotal policy adjustment mandating the inclusion of women on Boards of Directors, with a targeted representation of at least 50 per cent. This proactive policy initiative stands to yield substantial benefits for both male and female stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

The Government is trying to incentivise women’s participation in FPOs. For instance, one of the eligibility parameters of an equity matching grant is to have at least one women director on the Board of FPO. However, these efforts need to be scaled up exponentially to bring women participation at par with men.

FPOs with strong female leadership can have a positive ripple effect in rural communities, promoting gender equality, and encouraging young women to pursue careers in agriculture and entrepreneurship.

Next Steps

The government acknowledges the significance of promoting women in agriculture and FPOs. Initiatives like the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana and the Central Sector Scheme for Formation and Promotion of 10,000 FPOs represent crucial steps toward gender equality and empowerment in the agriculture sector. However, there remains room for improvement in integrating and including support incentives to further bolster women’s participation.

To enhance women’s involvement in FPOs, government schemes should establish specific targets for the establishment and promotion of women-led or women-dominated FPOs. It is imperative that at least 50 per cent of promoted FPOs focus on women’s participation to ensure equitable representation and opportunity.

Furthermore, providing special incentives such as enhanced financial support, interest subsidies, and access to subsidised infrastructure for FPOs with a significant percentage of women shareholders can incentivise more women to join.

Moreover, government initiatives should prioritise capacity building by focussing on training and developing the management and leadership skills of women in FPOs. Active participation in decision-making processes is essential for women to exert influence and contribute effectively to the success of FPOs.


Promoting gender equality in FPOs is not just a matter of justice but also a strategic move to improve the agriculture sector’s growth and development. Mandating at least 50 per cent of women’s representation on the FPO Board of Directors can be a transformative step to empower women, revitalise male-led FPOs, and contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture sector.

This article first appeared in on 25 February 2024.