This article traces the factors that shaped an unusual institutional innovation – group farming by women – in two states of India, Telangana and Kerala. Based on historical material and interviews with those who initiated or implemented these experiments, the article examines how group farming for women’s economic empowerment emerged as a significant development programme in the 2000s, and its divergence from the previous four “waves” of collective farming globally. Also, noting the substantial differences between the two states in programme implementation, such as in the governance structures, the size and social composition of groups, methods of scaling up, and forms of state support, the article asks and addresses the following questions: what explains these differences? In particular, what was the thinking behind them? And how did the differences impinge on group performance and the potential for replication?