Each year, World Habitat Day focuses on the state of the world’s towns and cities. This year’s theme is “Mind the gap. Leave no one and place behind.” It’s an opportunity to reflect on reducing inequalities and contribute to achieving global goals. Climate change’s impact on agriculture forces those living in rural communities to move to urban areas, which can strain resources amid increase threats from climate hazards, particularly floods and heat waves.
Today we talked to Ms. Nidhi Pant, Co-founder of S4S Technologies, about why women’s participation in the renewable energy sector is the key to achieving widespread adoption of clean energy and reducing social inequality. Also, how S4S helps women farmers have access to needed resources and increased incomes without leaving their rural communities and towns.
Tell us about your company and what does it do?
S4S works across the value chain, helping women farmers become processors and earn additional income through value addition. We deploy our patented solar conduction dryers (SCD) to smallholder farmers to process lower-grade agri-produce. The dryer is an electricity-free solar-powered food dehydrator that reduces moisture content in produce so farmers can preserve their produce for up to one year without using any chemicals and preservatives. Most importantly, the dryer provides an annual income increase of $1000-1500 to women farmers.
S4S also provides end-end solutions to farmers turned micro-entrepreneurs, covering technology, raw materials, financing, training, and capacity development, as well as market linkages. The women micro-entrepreneurs convert lower grade products into food ingredients using its patented solar-powered food processing system. The processing of these low-grade products which don’t get the right price in the market prevents them from becoming food loss or waste. Through processing, the shelf-life of the lower-grade produce is increased by one year and these non-perishable, ready-to-use food ingredients are sold to those in the food and beverage industry.
S4S products made by women entrepreneurs serve over 1100 food industry clients like Sodexo, Marico, Indian Railways, Capital Foods, Nestle, Fassos, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and other small hotels, restaurants, and the catering industry.
How do you help rural women farmers become entrepreneurs? What actions do you think are most needed to advance gender equality in the context of climate action?
As men increasingly migrate to urban areas in search of jobs, female members of the family are taking over the responsibility of working in the fields. Women already constitute about 65% of the total agricultural workforce in India, but they face many different barriers. Cultural and traditional biases in patriarchal communities oppose women’s inheritance of land, making it difficult for women to get a loan from the bank without collateral and it systematically eliminates many livelihood options. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of working women in India dropped from 26% to 19%, according to data compiled by the World Bank. The labor participation rate among rural women fell by half over the past 15 years, from 49.4% in 2004-2005, to 24.6% in 2017-2018, according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). 29 million rural women have vanished from the labor market.
At S4S, we empower women farmers and entrepreneurs to take leadership to fight climate change by ensuring food security, increasing incomes, creating jobs, boosting local economies, and advocating with the government. As a result, grassroots women are no longer perceived as beneficiaries; instead, they have emerged as partners in driving local initiatives and creating lasting impact.
We have innovated to keep women at the center in all three areas of our solution – technology, market, and financing.
- Technology: The drying system is designed to keep women at the center by requiring minimal moving parts and being easy to use and service. Our innovation lies not only in technology but also in our processes, where we match the market’s need with how our systems can process products.
- Financing: Through our banking partnerships, we enable financing for women farmers at an affordable rate of 6%, with no initial upfront capital required. Women now have access to finance to buy our solar drying systems, even though they are new to credit and were not present in the formal banking system.
- Market Linkage: With surplus demand, we can provide assured market linkage to our farmers and micro-entrepreneurs. In our market-linked business model, we work with local farmers/Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) on a contract farming model. We buy fresh vegetables from them and make payments to farmers. In the same village, S4S works with women farmers and agri-entrepreneurs to set up solar dehydration units. The procured vegetables are then given to women agri-entrepreneurs who convert fresh vegetables into dehydrated products. S4S pays them the processing fees. The dehydrated vegetables are collected at the central grading and sorting facility to make finished products, which are sold to Marico, MTR, Indian railways, SODEXO, and others.
S4S Technologies works with over 100,000 farmers to produce 40,000 tons of food and save over 300,000 tons of CO2e from entering the environment.
What is the most challenging situation dealing with gender inclusion/diversity that you have faced and how did you handle it?
Women farmers are completely left out of the agricultural decision-making process and are faced with a double burden of risks due to climate change and the responsibility to provide food for the family. While women play an important role in agriculture, they have greater financial and resource constraints and lack access to information and services. In addition, rural women’s workload, like water collection and nutrition management, is affected by natural disasters. A changing climate and scarce natural resources affect family nutrition, childcare, and education.
Our support of women entrepreneurs helps them combat the effects of climate change, enables their access to resources, and provides a 50-100% increase in income through value addition at the farm gate.
Do you provide any other non-business support?
Women are considered caretakers of the family, with the result being that their own health is often neglected. Traditionally women and girls are the last to eat in the family. S4S has established partnerships with various NGOs and provides nutrition training to women farmers. These women farmers are encouraged to include more nutritionally rich fruits and vegetables into their diet and also can use their dehydrated produce for their own consumption, providing food security to the family. With the help of our NGO partners, women entrepreneurs are also trained in nutrition and food security programs. On a quarterly/annual basis, the partners then monitor the women and their families’ health.
The women entrepreneurs are also provided with entrepreneurship training which improves their knowledge of commerce and their financial management at the household level.
How have the actions you have taken benefitted climate action in India?
By integrating gender into agriculture-related climate change activities and policy, S4S enables rural women to become important agents of change and innovators. We help women access information and technologies, cultivate entrepreneurial and marketing skills, and gain the ability to discuss and negotiate and understand policy issues that affect them as farmers.
S4S is creating a new food system that mitigates the increase in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the world’s food needs.
S4S Technologies is a near-farm gate food processing platform that converts farm losses to value-added products, providing convenience-driven products to the food and beverage industry -saving time, cost, and energy. In addition, it trains landless women and farmers, transforming them into micro-entrepreneurs by providing the right combination of technology, finance, and market. S4S business model involves manufacturing and installing high-quality solar dryers at farm level farmers, buying back the dried products from farmers, and selling them to food companies.