What's the Deal With the Walmart Foundation’s Investments in Indian Smallholder Farmers?



Last year, the Walmart Foundation announced a $25 million commitment over five years to improve the farm sector in three Indian states: Andhra Pradesh in the south, Telangana in the country’s lower mid-center, and Uttar Pradesh in the north. Recently, it shared news of two new grants within that, totaling $4.8 million, aimed at increasing economic opportunity for smallholder farmers. The latest investments bring the total given so far to $10 million.

The initiative will help train more than 81,000 Indian farmers in agricultural technology, sustainable farming methods and capacity building for Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs). The recent grants fund two partners: Digital Green and Technoserve. Digital Green received $1.3 million to launch FarmStack, a digital data platform to develop FPOs in Andhra Pradesh. Technoserve employs the “power of private enterprise” to lift people from poverty. Its $3.5 million grant funds training for up to 20 FPO collectives, linking farmers with procurement and aggregation systems. 

Aligning with Strategy

Roughly one-third of the smallholder farmers the programs will reach, 29,000, are women. That aligns with Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEE), a partnership between the company and its foundation to provide nearly 1 million women with training, career access and economic inclusion opportunities across its supply chain. 

The India agricultural investment also aligns with Walmart’s larger goals around its supply chain, which it’s been refining over more than a half-decade—advancing a social responsibility drive that swung into high gear following years of intense criticism of the company by labor, environment and women’s groups. These goals are reflected in the following three philanthropic focus areas: creating opportunity across retail sectors by removing barriers within the supply chain, enhancing the sustainability of supply chains through social efforts, and strengthening communities by leveraging its business, associates and resources to build resiliency. Walmart also sees the India investments as advancing its sustainability initiatives, which work to build supply chains by promoting social and environmental sustainability, worker dignity and food safety. 

A Growing Presence in India

In addition, the grants to farmers align with Walmart’s business interests in India. For those who think Walmart is uniquely American, it’s worth noting that the company operates 11,300 stores, as well as eCommerce sites, in 27 countries around the world, and employs more than 2.2 million associates worldwide. 

The company began operating in India in 2007, and opened its first store there in 2009. Today, Walmart India operates 26 membership-based Best Price Modern Wholesale stores in nine states across the country. Best Price stores are cash-and-carry stores, with more than 1 million members ranging from mom-and-pops to hotels and restaurants. The company also has fulfillment centers in Mumbai, Lucknow and Hyderabad. In Bangalore, it has a global sourcing hub for nonperishable Indian goods, and a technology lab with nearly 2,000 engineers. 


The grants were initially announced at an agricultural summit jointly organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) and Walmart.org. The event was launched by the Indian minister of state for food processing industries, and drew stakeholders from across India’s food supply chain, including government officials, trade organizations and NPOS. 

Walmart.org is the banner under which Walmart, the company, and Walmart, the foundation, engage in philanthropy—an umbrella that it says allows it to “back the company’s philanthropy with its business strengths to increase impact.” Together, that backing typically totals $1 billion a year in cash and in-kind support. That’s substantial by any standards, but to put it in context, the company’s projected revenues for 2019 will top $514 billion. And according to its 990, the foundation’s disbursements of actual cash grants between 2014-2016 averaged $167 million.

While the best corporate foundation programs align with the corporation’s purpose and leverage its areas of expertise, the singular entity Walmart created can make it hard to discern where the foundation’s charitable purpose ends, and the company’s bottom line begins. A case in point: When announcing the Walmart Foundation’s commitment to improving farmers’ livelihoods over the next five years, the company separately announced that it would be growing its direct sourcing of the produce sold in all those cash and carrys to 25 percent during the same five years.