Applications for the 2024 Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award are open from Nov. 1, 2023, until Dec. 15, 2023, at 5 p.m. PT. Find out more and apply here.
When you close your eyes and picture a farmer, who do you see?
Did you picture a male figure?
So did Nidhi Pant, the 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award winner and founder of a project that empowers smallholder farmers in India to be climate champions and decision-makers, by transforming them into micro-entrepreneurs through access to app-enabled market linkage, solar technology, and financing.
Here’s the thing: all the farmers she works with are women. In fact, women farmers make up 60% of the agricultural labor force in India. However, they face myriad obstacles including exclusion, discrimination, and sexism, explains Pant.
“If you think of a farmworker, it is always a male,” Pant told us. “But when you see on the field who's working, it's always the woman who's managing the household and also working at the farm.”
In India, farmers often sell their produce for a cheaper price in the evening, as otherwise, it rots. Pant’s organization — S4S (that’s Science for Society) Technologies — has developed a business model that dehydrates and processes that excess fruit and veg, and builds a supply chain to put it to market. Not only does this help farmers decrease food waste and increase profits, it also reduces methane emissions (which come from rotting produce) and empowers women across the country. Win-win-win.
Designed with input from female farmers themselves, S4S’s solar conduction dryers dehydrate food items such as ginger, garlic, carrot, and beetroot, increasing their shelf life by up to 12 months. These products go back to S4S, which then sells them to clients. In a country in which extreme weather events strike almost every other day and amid the worst electricity shortage in years, the need for S4S’s model couldn’t be clearer. When an erratic monsoon season took place in 2022, women farmers affected by rains were left with a huge amount of cosmetically damaged produce for which they didn’t have a market. Instead, they sold their lower grade produce to S4S.
“Few people have access to capital, technology, and market. So we are providing that to the farmers,” Pant said.
In 2022, Pant was awarded the 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award for her and S4S’s contribution toward ending extreme poverty by helping mitigate climate change, end hunger, and empower women.
The Cisco Youth Leadership Award, which comes with a prize of $250,000 for the organization, recognizes and lifts up a young person positively impacting the world and demonstrates how young people are helping achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals.
“The platform of Global Citizen and Cisco really gave me a lot of trust,” says Pant. “To the women we work with, it felt like they were receiving this award. There was a big sense of pride that even in a small village in India, you can be recognized and receive such an award. This was really wonderful to see.”
One of these women is Shobha Rathod, a widow with disabilities who began working with S4S in 2022. “We’ve really seen her grow. Working with us she’s able to earn double what she was earning before,” says Pant. “She’s now a manager of other women working in the field and has connected us with various other villages. She is the first woman in her village to be able to buy her own home.”
Putting money and responsibility into the hands of women farmers makes them a lot more confident, explains Pant, and it has a butterfly effect. “It shows them they can now do something independently. That is the biggest marker. Before, Shobha would eat last in her household. Now, she eats with the family. Her children see her in a different way. The household involves her in the decision-making.”
It’s not limited to the household sphere; it’s across villages and communities too. “These women become representatives in their villages and start taking on leadership positions. They become aspirational and they start dreaming a lot more,” says Pant.
As well as shining a light on S4S’s work and inspiring women in agriculture, the Cisco Youth Leadership Award has allowed the organization to deepen its impact. They’ve gone from working in 100 villages to being present in 250. They’ve more than doubled the amount of micro-entrepreneurs they work with, and increased the number of women farmers they work with from 7,000 to a staggering 100,000.
Thanks to the prize funds, they’ve also developed a tech platform that equips women farmers with information for better decision-making. For instance, they have visibility of what price they can sell their products at, which helps them with business calculations. The app also allows them to track their payments, provides easily accessible training videos to operate equipment, and a support team on hand to answer any questions.
The award, Pant says, also gave her organization great credibility, which has not only helped them expand their work across the country but has caught the attention of local governments and the Ministries of Agriculture and Food Processing who are actively seeking them out to take their model, tech, and ethos, to different geographies.
So what’s next for S4S? Expansion into new locations and new product lines such as milk and spices to potentially be exported. Who knows, they could soon be coming to a food shop near you.
Join Nidhi Pant in taking action to empower women and girls, end hunger, and deliver climate justice.
Applications are now open for the 2023 Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award. Find out more and apply now.