Adopt Innovative Agricultural Practices

Devsingha village is five kms.  from Tuljapur town in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra. It is witnessing not only the emergence of women farmers but their eco-friendly innovations in cultivation. Like other rural communities, traditional agriculture is their main livelihood. Most of the households own small pieces of land. Their livelihood depends on land, climate, limited resources and market. This community has shown that collective work with Gram Panchayats and local administration is essential to pool local capacities to identify and solve local problems and to bring about some enduring impact.

Background
For the last 10 years, the community has had less rain and has suffered water scarcity. The use of costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides along with market variations in product price have contributed to degradation of land and low productivity. Thus farming is a business of high investment and low returns. Unexpected weather conditions, lack of information and training on new methods to cope with climate risk are some of the problems faced by the community.

The Women’s Federation (henceforth referred to as the Federation) in Tuljapur organized a meeting of SHGs of this village to understand the vulnerabilities and resources of the village which led the women to undertake a hazard mapping in May 2011. Community leaders, SHG members, youth and Panchayat members participated in the mapping process. It was decided that local problems should be taken up with elected Panchayat and government officials to solve them and also initiate their own remedies.  The Table below presents the details of their deliberations.

Table: 1

Problems and Priorities of the People of Devsingha village

Problems

Priorities

  • Many trees have been cut and no new saplings have been planted
  • Houses do not have safety features and strength
  • Land has become less productive
  • Shortage of water
  • There is no water harvesting system in the village
  • Farmers depend on single cash crop. Village agriculture does not address local food security and nutrition. Thus, despite being a farming community, they to buy vegetables from outside market, thus their expenses increase.
  • Vulnerable to diseases due to unsafe drinking water
  • Community practice of open defecation that impairs personal hygiene and causes disease, environmental pollution
  • Promote low cost organic farming, create local inputs, adopt new technologies
  • Address labour issues by sharing the work with women’s groups
  • Start with small pieces of land of people who are interested
  • Slowly expand the areas and varieties that are required for local communities
  • Change the crop pattern according to the availability  of water (increasing number of farmers have resorted to sugar cane cultivation which is highly water intensive in the entire Latur district which has eight sugar mills)
  • Demolish the old bridge and build new one for safe travel
  • Construct a road to agricultural field should be to facilitate movement of people, cows and buffaloes and agricultural equipment.
  • Improve infrastructure at the health sub centre

As can be seen in the above Table, agricultural problems are prominent, although demolishing the old bridge to build a new one, constructing a proper road to the farms, open defecation, felling of trees, water pollution figure in the list of problems identified. Hence, the Federation encouraged the SHGs to form a Krishi Mahila Mandal or KMM (Women’s Agriculture Group) to think and act collectively on agrarian concerns.

Krishi Mahila Mandal

In June 2010, Krishi Mahila Mandal was formed with 17 women members to address various issues in cultivation, labour and marketing on a collective basis. Each member contributed Rs. 50 per month towards Krishi Mahila Mandal savings. They used this money to give small loans to members for purchasing seeds, preparation of land, buying motor and irrigation pipes, etc.

Krishi Mahila Mandal held monthly meetings to deliberate on ensuring family food security. They dealt with the following:

  • What they can do collectively to reduce the cost and increase productivity in agriculture
  • Methods of traditional seed  preparation and cultivation of different crops
  • Which crops can be cultivated with organic manure.
  • How to get control of land for women to cultivate required pulses, oil seeds and cereals.
  • How to develop a demonstration plot for learning
  • How to do inter-cropping to get additional income and protect the soil without any  extra investment.
  • Share their experience of  increasing the productivity with low costs to other communities

Since they were practicing the traditional and harmless way of farming 20 years back, they are aware of the benefits of organic farming. However, technical knowledge is required from experts for improving the productivity of the land (soil testing, application of appropriate nutrients to overcome deficiencies and to identify the appropriate crop for the type of soil), for crop diversification, etc. For the purpose, the Federation connected KMM to Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) at Tuljapur, Agricultural University at Parbhani and to the Department of Agriculture.

Training and capacity building

The Krishi Vigyan Kendra provided training to women’s groups on preparation of the land, soil testing and preparation, selection and timing for sowing of seeds, the benefits of organic farming, production of organic compost and pest control.

Land preparation is important before sowing the seeds. In the training conducted by KVK, 25 women farmers from 10 villages took part to learn the importance of internal mulching, use of water and selection of seeds according to the land quality.

In the training module on soil testing, women learnt how to prepare the soil, which soil is good for various type of vegetables and how to take the soil sample to send to KVK for testing. KVK would analyze the content of the soil and indicate which nutrient is high or low and based on the findings, it will advise the community to use specific organic fertilizer to increase the fertility.

The farmers were sowing seeds two to three times without any plan. Due to erratic rain pattern these seeds did not often germinate.  Through the training women have learnt how to prepare organic seeds, which are the appropriate bio-fertilisers, how to preserve the seeds till the time of sowing and when and how to sow the seeds.  This way, they are saving seeds, labour and money.  They are now aware of effective nutrition supplements like Cruz, acetobacter and PSB to obtain good result. They themselves are preparing  seeds for their own cultivation which saves cost, reduces dependency on the market and increases the production.  They have prepared seeds of green gram, millet, black gram, Bengal gram, wheat, chilly, onion, coriander and garlic.

The community has a large number of cattle and so plenty of dung was available. Besides,  agricultural waste was not put to any use and was merely dumped around the village. KVK advised KMK women to prepare organic compost, using the agricultural waste mixed with appropriate quantity of cow dung. Now they are using this compost for cultivating vegetables in own lands.

Pest control workshop was organized by Agricultural University for 40 farmers.  The participants learnt that if the pests are in early stage they should do some treatment with help of organic pest control.  If farmers are not able to identify the pest, they should contact the University.

With this set of comprehensive farm management training inputs, the KMM launched their farming. One of the members, Mahananda Bhosle, has undergone various training programmes on organic farming organized for the group; started vegetable cultivation in organic manner in one acre of her own land. She prepares her own seeds, uses organic fertilizer and bio-pesticides. Bhosle took a loan for starting farming, took to inter-cropping, makes three crops a year; and makes a profit of Rs.10,000 to 15,000 per harvest.  She was a key motivator and with the other members of KMM to start this eco-friendly approach. Ms.Bhosle led from the front and encouraged women to contribute labour and seeds together in the group. KMM was active in bringing new knowledge and partnership with specialized organizations. This paved the way of to get recognition among male farmers who have concentrated on single cash crops. Since Ms. Bhosle was successful in preparing seeds for her own farm according to the methods taught by the KVK, the latter has made her an offer  to buy seeds from her and promote it if her seeds are good and yield more. Ms. Bhosle was interviewed by All India Radio and by describing her experience, requested the listeners to adopt her way of farming and marketing.

Mahananda Bhosle

The women members of KMM now cultivate vegetables in three seasons, they have introduced inter-cropping method that gives extra income  prepare vermin-compost to reduce the cost instead of buying harmful fertilizers from the market encourage on bio pesticides etc.

After their success, KMM women want to bring more women to adopt these innovations. They have started awareness programme for the new members.  The membership of KMM has grown from 17 to 50. Ten of the new members are landless women. They want to take land on lease to start farming. Anita Jadav, one of the members got a profit of Rs.12000 to 20,000 from each of the harvest of three crops from one acre of her land on which she adopted these innovations. She uses her own labour and takes assistance from the group.

Collective labour

To reduce cost of labour, members help each other in their fields. They work closely and share their labour days among the members. This way they address scarcity of workers in the villages and save money by doing the work by themselves. With years of experience in agriculture, they are very knowledgeable and are hard working.

Earlier they were doing sugar cane or pulses as single crops. To address the risk of changing weather conditions, they have started inter crop such sugar cane fields with pulses, turmeric and vegetables etc.

Collective Marketing

Women do the marketing collectively. They hire a vehicle to go to market in Latur and other villages to sell their produce. Every day, the vehicle brings them and their goods take from the village and drops them in various neighbouring villages. After the selling, they would all come to the same spot where they were dropped and the vehicle will bring them back to the village. In a day, they travel about 30 to 40 km to sell their products. In this manner, they have sold coriander leaves, chilly, tomato, brinjal, bitter gourd, ladies finger etc.

The organic vegetable product has a good demand in Tuljapur weekly market. Since many people know the benefit and goodness of these special vegetables, they are able to sell them at one or two Rupees per kilo more than the ‘modern’ agricultural produce.

Benefits

Earlier they used to buy from shops who promote the products. After the training from KVK the community has which is harmless and how much they needed to avoid chemical pesticides etc. Even those who have not moved to organic farming, send their soil sample for testing and demand and specify the fertiliser they want. Slowly they want to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and convert whole land into organic. It may take some years; it takes time for such ideas to get adopted; it is a process. The other benefit of organic farming is the investment is low due to locally made organic fertilisers and seeds. The return is also good in terms of production, weight and price in the market.  With chemical fertilizers, the production is more but expense is high and in organic expense is less and production is also high. They use organic vegetables at home produced in their own land. Earlier they used to purchase vegetables from outside market. Now they cultivate pulses apart from vegetables for their own use with organic input.

“The organic product gives you more life, you feel energetic and healthy. You can do what ever work you want, eat tasty food, get extra income and happy life”, says Anit Jadav.

“We experienced illness like diarrhea, stomach pain and feeling weak while using vegetables that use pesticides. After eating our own good food we feel full of energy”, avers  Archana Bosle

“After two years profit will further increase and we will expand the cultivation into more areas”, asserts  Aradhana.

Challenges and outcomes

  • Some of the small and big farmers are keeping their own land waste and migrating to urban cities for daily wages
  • Most of the farmers cultivating without a proper plan.
  • Agricultural input cost keeps on rising
  • Climate change i.e. unexpected drought and heavy rains are big challenges

In the beginning they do not get support from families and often discouraged by husbands saying that the production and profit through organic farming  will be low. Earlier they have been doing only single cash crop. Women members have shown through their pilot demonstration field project  the facts to them and have convinced. After seeing the success in farming and marketing by women groups, they are also thinking moving into organic farming.

Lessons and learning by women groups

  • Learned about the agricultural challenges and climate change effects
  • Understood difference between organic and chemical farming
  • Women got involved in planning, sowing seeds, cultivating and selling
  • Gained control over income from the agriculture through vegetable cultivation
  • Started to do soil to reduce the input cost
  • Learnt to reuse the agricultural waste for making compost
  • Processed and prepared local seeds to reduce the cost and improve the quality

Demands from the community

  • There should be a government fixed price for Jowar, Tur and other pulses
  • Training by KVK should be expanded to all villages
  • Government and KVK should provide information on organic importance in three seasons
  • Information on agricultural schemes should be provided
  • Need to set up separate market and special price for organic products
  • Required Information and knowledge on seeds that can survive climate risk
  • Existing agricultural practice should adapt new ways to cope global warming
  • Financial assistance for alternative agriculture
  • Needed Milk dairy in the village
  • Tool kit and  other equipment should be given at discounted rat
  • Electricity is needed for the whole farming time
  • More discount and special schemes poor farmers
  • Want to expand vegetable production to market and increase their incomes

 Other Actions Taken:

 The women’s groups

  • Have started maintenance work on the old bridge to reduce vulnerability
  • Are monitoring the basic services
  • Are linked with the Gram Panchayat and are mobilizing resources for agricultural land, farm road development and water harvesting
  • Have launched an awareness campaign for open-defecation-free villages with support from the Government
  • KMM members have been trained in water testing for its fitness for human consumption and have been provided a kit by the Government for the purpose. Women have started boiling the water for drinking and keeping it in pots covered with a lid; some are also using  medichlore
  • Are keen to plant saplings
  • Have started planting crops that consume less water and introduced inter-crop method

Scaling up:

The Federation facilitated the partnership with Krishi Vidyan Kendra, Government Agricultural University and Animal Husbandry Department. These institutions provided both training and support to motivate women group to start organic farming. Women farmers and the  Federation leaders have created training calendar for the year 2012. KVK itself has developed a plan to reach out to the entire district.

SSP team had two meetings with the Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Osmanabad district on SSP’s partnership with them on building a robust knowledge base and eco-system support. A link is also being build up with National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) to get support for the existing vegetable cultivation groups.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog, February 2012

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