With Global Inclusion Week starting on 12 June, Teagasc’s rural economy and development programme staff attended a public lecture by Professor Bina Agarwal who is a professor of development economics and environment at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, UK.

Prof Agarwal’s many awards include a Padma Shri from India’s president; several book prizes; the Order of Agricultural Merit from the Government of France; and the Louis Malassis International Scientist Prize (France) for ‘an outstanding career in agricultural development.’

She is currently working on a book on group farming in Asia and Europe.

She spoke on 'The Case for Farmer Co-operation: Lessons from India and Europe'.

Key takeaways

“Co-operation is age-old, both in terms of informal labour exchange and formal examples of group farming,” Agarwal stated.

Although many of the earlier efforts failed, she argued that the “motivation for co-operation persists” – owing to land scarcity and small farm size in many countries, and labour and capital scarcity in many others.

There is also a reason for co-operation to conserve resources (forests, water, soils) and deal with climate change.

Women have a particularly important role in this respect, Bina explained, “given the feminisation of agriculture in most regions including Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Oceania”.

Principles of group farming

Bina argued that in contrast to earlier efforts, group farming today is built on different principles (being voluntary, egalitarian and participative) and has been very successful, especially in India and France.

India today has over 70,000 group farms, mostly consisting of women. Her detailed field data showed these group farms are hugely more productive and profitable than individual family farms.

They pool their land and labour and gain from economies of scale, share risks, save on input costs and are able to get better prices for their produce.

They also survived COVID-19 better than individual family farms. France similarly has 91,000 group farms and these are growing.

The models that India and France use are different from Ireland's.

In particular, their group farms are constituted of both family and non-family members for economic and social gain, while Ireland's partnerships are mainly composed of family members and focus more on succession.

Ireland could consider adapting some of the features of group farms in India and France, to enable more diverse and widespread partnerships.

Farm partnership research

Also talking at the event was Teagasc economist and senior researcher Anne Kinsella.

Anne discussed the role of collaborative farming business structures in generational renewal where they have more scope in the succession planning process.

Referring to recent research and case studies conducted, she outlined that while the uptake of collaborative farming is relatively new in Irish agriculture, there are now currently over 3,500 registered farm partnerships (RFPs) in Ireland, of which RFP is just one such collaborative farming structure.

These RFPs show some positive and encouraging results (taken from data Anne recently sourced from DAFM to inform this EU ruralisation research project).

In the discussion following on from Prof Agarwal’s presentation, Anne said: “These show encouraging outcomes from a gender perspective, in that female partners are becoming equal partners in the farm business and the decision-making process through these RFPs.”

She added: “In 44% of registered farm partnerships in Ireland, there is at least one female partner so that female partners are coming to and staying at the formal farm partnership table.”

Read more

Students take environmental action

Meet the travel bursary students on tour