Balancing our Way to Scale: PTD for Sustainable Dryland Agriculture in South India

Y.D.Naidu and Edith van Walsum



This paper is about collaborative action between institutions and individuals in South India, seeking to support small and marginal farm families in developing sustainable dryland agriculture. Over the past six years, AME – a resource organisation for sustainable agriculture – developed an approach to Stakeholder Concerted Action, with PTD as ‘entry strategy’. The initial focus is on field level guidance to farmers and NGO staff in conducting experiments with LEISA technologies.  We then start working ‘upwards’ by feeding the lessons learnt in PTD processes into the formal knowledge systems of research institutions and the Government extension system. We work ‘sideways‘ by facilitating the formation of stakeholder platforms of farmers, NGOs, researchers and Departments of Agriculture; and ‘forwards and backwards’ by involving banking institutions, inputs suppliers, and processing and storage experts in these platforms. In this paper we will discuss the various steps in the process and we  would like to share some learnings that emerged from going through the process.

Choosing the entry points

A PTD process begins with the identification of entry point problems. In dialogue with farmers and institutions working with farmers in a specific area (NGOs, the Department of Agriculture and regional research stations), we identify the immediate problems farmers face in their agricultural production. Mostly such problems are symptoms of larger problems, which have to be addressed but which cannot be tackled at once. We start designing experiments with a few groups of farmers, on one or two important crops. With such experiments we want to address the immediate needs – e.g. to control certain pests and diseases,  to increase the net profit from a crop. We work primarily on technologies that are – weather permitting – almost sure to give the farmers an increase in their net profits and, if possible, their yields. In this way, farmers gain confidence to try more.

It is equally important to create an ambience wherein farmers gain or regain the confidence to experiment with different technologies and farming methods. More important than “giving the technologies to farmers“ is to provide farmers with the tools to experiment with technologies, so that they can draw their own conclusions about what works and what does not.

Entry Points for PTD Processes

In Andhra Pradesh and in neighbouring districts of Karnataka and Tamilnadu, groundnut was chosen as the entry point,  as it is the main sustenance factor for a large population of farmers. Farmers did not have answers for many of the problems they are facing in groundnut production. We started a PTD process, suggesting the farmers to try out eco-friendly technologies that had been developed elsewhere.

In Tiruchi, Tamilnadu , the thrust was towards integrated management of pests and diseases in paddy and cotton. The Farmer Field School approach was adopted because, especially for paddy, this approach has proven to be very effective. Farmers were  trained in agro-ecosystems analysis and  they were encouraged to experiment with various low external input  technologies – indigenous as well as non-indigenous.

Our team in Raichur, Karnataka, combined the approaches followed in the other two areas. Groundnut, cotton and paddy were taken as entry crops. Raichur District faces a peculiar situation: half of the district has a typical dryland scenario,  the other half is in the command area of the Tungabhadra River Irrigation Project.  Here the dependency on chemical inputs is high, and the whole system of agricultural production is strongly dominated by a nexus of commercial and political interests.

Farmer groups

At the village level, PTD experiments are taken up by one or more  farmers’ groups. This is often an existing Self Help Group, sometimes a Watershed Development Association. Sometimes groups are formed around the PTD process. There are mixed groups as well as single gender groups. In the latter case we encourage that the spouse also participates in critical stages of the PTD process. We always work with groups, never with individuals.  As a group, farmers learn faster and the group serves as a source of inspiration and encouragement. Being organised in groups, farmers can better negotiate for (ecofriendly) inputs, arrange for loans, marketing, etc.

We introduced a system of revolving funds. These were given via the NGO to the farmers’ SHG; it was the SHG’s responsibility to manage the funds. The purpose was to enable farmers to procure the macro inputs required for the experiment (seeds, organic fertilisers), in time. A more strategic long-term objective was to enable farmers to prove to the regular banks that the LEISA package tested by them is economically viable and thus worth considering for a regular loan. As the rural banks are already familiar with the concept of lending to SHGs, a logical next step would be to lend money to SHGs for eco-friendly agricultural inputs.

Connected farmers

Many small farmers feel they have few options left. Their dependency on moneylenders is high, not just for money, also for agricultural advice and inputs (although SHGs have decreased their dependency to an extent). Depending on their resource base, the labour situation in their household, and ultimately on their own mind-set, farmers have an interest or have lost interest in farming. It is this interest, and a deeper motivation for farming that lies behind it, that forms the basis for meaningful experimentation.

“Land is the farmers’ research station, it is giving food, it is their place of worship. Land is the Mother. We depend on the land and therefore must respect her. This respect is the basis for meaningful experiments. If there is respect, farmers learn many things. If the respect is not there, but only the desire to see immediate results, there won’t be any learning.“ – An AME team member –

In each PTD process, we found some farmers with this deeper motivation, who became a source of inspiration to many others. Through PTD processes, farmers can – to some extent – re-gain this sense of being connected with nature. It is extremely important to create a learning environment in which farmers are encouraged to re-connect with nature. This can be done by giving importance to observing agro-ecosystems and natural processes. Needless to say that this requires facilitators who are sensitive, knowledgeable and connected themselves.

 Women can move the earth …

 Many a times, women are the keenest to learn and try out new things. They are experts when it comes to local agricultural knowledge, but they also realise that this does not provide them with a real way out of the situation they are trapped in. Women have shown to be very capable experimenters and also, once they are convinced of the benefits of a technology they become dynamic disseminators.

Women increasingly manage agriculture in dryland areas. In 1996 about 30% of farmers involved in PTD processes were women, whereas in 2000 Kadiri Women’s Federation fuels PTD in groundnut

Kadiri is situated in drought-prone Anantapur District (Andhra Pradesh), the largest groundnut-producing district in India. Since the late 1960s groundnut has gradually monopolised the farming system. Now, 85% of the drylands (about 850,000 ha) is under groundnut. Myrada, a large NGO, started working in Kadiri in 1982 with a focus on wasteland development, resettlement of the landless poor and participatory watershed development. Women’s SHGs were established.

In 1997 the women’s SHGs formed a Federation (Pragati Mahila Samakya) with the support of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and Myrada. Total membership was 2250 women. In the same year, erratic rainfall led to a shortage of seed. Mahila Samakya contacted the District Collector, who promised to help them but asked: “What will you contribute?” Within five days, the women remitted 7 lakh rupees into their collective account as assurance for seed repayment. This showed the emerging power of the Federation. District Authorities arranged for release of 3600 bags of groundnuts from the Andhra Pradesh State Seed Development Corporation (APSSDC). UNDP supported the effort by providing 8,5 lakh rupees worth of seed capital for Mahila Samakya. At the end of the season, the Federation repaid the groundnut seed to the APSSDC.

In the same year 1997 AME initiated PTD with one women’s SHG, Venkateshwara Raita Sangha. The members tried out technologies for improving groundnut production. They identified three effective technologies: gypsum application, rhizobium and application of farmyard manure (FYM). Being convinced about the usefulness of these technologies, they decided to share them with other members of the Federation. Thus, Mahila Samakya became a platform for sharing information and knowledge on LEISA. On request, AME conducted training on LEISA technologies for groundnut for the functionaries of the Federation. They had formed their own training team that trained, in turn, the members of 45 SHGs and their families in PTD and LEISA technologies.

Women can move the earth, if given the space!

Women increasingly manage agriculture in dryland areas. In 1996 about 30% of farmers involved in PTD processes were women, whereas in 2000 65% were women. How do we look at these figures? They show that women are indeed quite interested in learning new things about farming. They may also indicate an increased awareness on the side of institutions (NGOs and Departments of Agriculture) about gender issues. But  perhaps the most important reason for this increased women’s involvement is the fact that women have become, to a large extent, the farm managers as there is an increasing tendency towards male migration. This is a tough situation for the women. Inspite of increased responsibilities and an added work burden, they still  have little control over resources and face several institutional gender biases. When implementing a PTD process, these factors have to be clearly kept in mind. Forgetting to do so may lead to ineffectiveness of the PTD efforts, and worse, it may lead to more problems for the women (see for a detailed case study Kolli and van Walsum, 2001).

 Involving research institutions

From an early stage, we began linking up the PTD processes to research institutions.

These have an important role to play. First of all, they are  providers of technologies. There is no shortage of useful technologies, the problem is  one of interface between researchers and farmers. Effective  dissemination mechanisms are lacking. What is also lacking is the further testing and adaptation of technologies by farmers. Researcher-tested technologies may be potentially useful, but before they can really be adopted by farmers, further fine-tuning is often required.

Research  institutions are gradually becoming more open to participatory approaches to technology development. During the past years we have built up working relationships with researchers who became more and more interested in the PTD approach. Some started getting involved in PTD processes during weekends, as a hobby, but they gradually began to mainstream PTD  and LEISA concepts and approaches in their work.  We have seen researchers going through radical shifts in their thinking about agriculture, research and farmers.


Over the past ten years, the rural banking system has opened up to collective initiatives of small and marginal farmers, mainly through their positive experience with women’s SHGs. Individual bank managers, who noticed that the LEISA package of practices developed through PTD processes by farmer groups was economically viable, started adjusting their lending policies. There is still a long way to go however in convincing the banking system that LEISA is an economically viable and ecologically sustainable alternative to conventional high external input farming. So far it is easier to get loans for ineffective packages of chemical inputs and for drilling a borewell than for applying a package of ecofriendly measures.

Input suppliers

AME encourages farmers to try out ecofriendly inputs  such as biofertilisers and biocontrol agents, and to assess for themselves what works best. Once farmers have seen that these technologies are effective, they also should have access to them. In all the PTD areas, farmers have worked out collective arrangements with eco-friendly input suppliers, with some initial assistance from AME and the NGO. In some cases, NGOs have started taking up production of biological inputs, to make them more accessible to farmers and also to see whether this could earn income for their own organisation or for farmer groups. A ‘second-generation’ type of PTD experiments has emerged in which NGO staff members, together with innovative farmers, have started experimenting with the production of bio-control agents and with alternative small-scale production processes of bio-fertilisers (in thermos flasks).

From joint experimentation  to Stakeholder Concerted  Action

Farmers, NGOs and AME share their learning on  a regular basis: during field visits, training sessions,  and in monthly review meetings. We invite researchers and government extension staff to join at important stages in a PTD process. Sometimes specific field days are organised where researchers, DoA staff, farmer groups from neighbouring villages and the local press are invited to visit the farmers’ fields and have discussion with the experimenting farmers. At the end of the season there are regional meeting of representatives of all PTD farmer groups across the three states.

This regional meeting feeds again into the annual meeting of the Crop-based Working Groups for Groundnut and Cotton. The objective of forming these groups is to create a mechanism for joint learning and information exchange  between institutional stakeholders – field level practitioners, researchers and policymakers – with a focus on ‘bottom-up’ flows of information, and also to strengthen important forward-backward linkages.

In 1997, AME organised the first meeting of the Groundnut Working Group  (for a detailed account see Prasad et al. 1991).  Researchers, suppliers of eco-friendly inputs, the NGOs involved in PTD processes, representatives of the DoA and bank officials participated in the meeting. Since 1997, such meetings have been held annually. They have become an event where stakeholders meet, discuss and review the outcome of the past year’s PTD processes in groundnut and other relevant developments in the larger ’groundnut scenario’. Plans for collaborative action in the next groundnut season are being discussed. This working group has formed the basis for several joint research initiatives between researchers and NGOs (see for instance the case study of Kolli et al on the development of the Leaf Wetness Counter). Intensive learning is happening and up-front feedback is being given during these meetings.

In 2000, a Cotton Round Table was formed. This time, the prime mover was CEC, another support NGO that found the ‘model’ of crop-based working groups useful. The Andhra Pradesh Cotton NGO Network (APCOT) was formed by a group of seven NGOs from seven districts in the State. The network tries to address the problematic situation faced by cotton farmers. Many of them became heavily indebted as a result of over-dependence on pesticides, poor yields and inappropriate advice. The Cotton Round Table supports this Cotton NGO network, feeding it with information about promising cotton IPM technologies that may be considered for testing, and assisting it in the analysis of experimental data. It also meets on a (bi) annual basis.


Training is a very important ingredient of the whole process of PTD moving towards Stakeholder Concerted Action (see for a more detailed account Van Walsum et al, 1999). We go through a comprehensive training process with NGOs which has two phases, each covering a period of about three years. This sounds like a time-consuming process – it is! But we are talking here of a long-term capacity building process where practical field-based training is the entry point.  From there, we move on to Training of Trainers (ToT),  strategic discussions on scaling up, resource mobilisation and other related issues.

The support given to each organisation is specific, depending on background and experience – a different starting point and mix of social and technical development and a varying degree of complexity. The experience of the participants is the starting point for both practical and theoretical learning.  AME prefers to work with NGOs that are active members of larger networks, because this enhances the potential for scaling up. We aim at building up network teams that can handle the training needs of member organisations in the long term.

First phase of training: Initially, the emphasis is on season long field training (on a weekly or fortnightly basis) around PTD processes. From the second year onwards, we start Training of Trainers (ToT) programmes for NGO field staff and  farmers with proven training capacity.

Second phase – scaling up: The trained NGO and a core group of farmer trainers are expected to be able to carry on by themselves. AME monitors field-level training and PTD activities implemented by the NGOs and farmer trainers. Stakeholder fora are being strengthened, and there is strengthening of forward-backward linkages. 

Table 1 shows the number of NGO staff and farmers who went through season-long training and ToT processes between 1996 and 2001. Shorter courses organised by AME are not included. The table shows the shift in training focus, from season-long training directly supporting PTD processes in the field, to a greater emphasis on ToT for NGOs’ staff and farmers. This led to a significant increase in numbers of farmers trained; most of them were trained by NGO staff, not by AME. AME continues to guide the NGOs and farmer trainers and monitors their training activities.

Table 1: Number of NGO staff and farmers trained in PTD and LEISA technologies




NGO staff newly trained  Farmers trained (cumulative)
Season-long training / PTD ToT Season-long training / PTD  ‘Extension farmers’ ToT
1996 10 —- 30 —- —-
1997 64 —- 135 135 —-
1998 63 18 350 410 10
1999 70 36 763 1205 22
2000 61 48 1600 6900 28
2001 80 35 1900 10300 35
Total 348 137 1900 10300 95

Effects of PTD processes

What have farmers gained from being part of a PTD process? Reviews with farmers groups, our own field level observations and  a detailed impact study in one area (V. Khatana et al, 2001) lead us to the following conclusions.

Farmers’  knowledge about LEISA practices has increased: notably about  the  importance of FYM application, the rationale for reducing fertilisers and pesticides, and alternatives available. In the farmers fields we see an increase in FYM application and therefore in organic matter content of the soil; farmers have stopped selling FYM . The use of  fertiliser has considerably reduced.

LEISA knowledge is not always applied. Sometimes inputs are not available (e.g. bio-control agents, bio-fertilisers, organic fertilisers). There may be labour constraints for women or men. Groundnut farmers may decide not to apply a LEISA practice when rains are poor, as, an alternative use of their labour (e.g. as farm labourer) gives safer returns. Generally, efforts are made to strengthen linkages with input suppliers, with SHGs playing an active role.

Farm performance has improved: Paddy yields have increased by 20–40% on average, cotton 10–20%, groundnut 20–30%. The quality of produce has also improved: E.g. groundnut in experimental plots, where more FYM and other natural fertilisers were applied, had better germination, more haulms, higher yield and higher pod-filling percentage. Organically grown paddy stores and tastes better and the seeds germinate better. Pesticide-free paddy is easier to shell; less rice is broken. In most cases, net profit has increased, sometimes considerably (this can be up to 40% when IPM practices are applied in paddy).

Farmers have increased on-farm biodiversity: inter-/ mixed cropping, trees, green manure,  and reduced pest and disease incidence. There is a better soil health and moisture retention capacity. They  are better able  to see larger connections in agro-ecosystems. Farmers decided to grow trees on field bunds, as these provide living space for predator insects. Farmers are aware of the natural balance between pests and predators.

Social coherence got strengthenedPTD as an activity has been integrated in the agenda of SHGs. Collective decision-making on input purchase, pest and disease management, and marketing, is happening. Farmers have improved access to knowledge centres: farmers visit as a group. They visit each other’s farms more frequently and learn more  from each other.

Women are empowered by increasing their knowledge: Knowledge empowerment of women through PTD is an important aspect of a larger empowerment process. Women’s mobility has increased; they visit agricultural knowledge and training centres and regional farmer meetings. Especially for women, more knowledge leads to more self-respect and respect by others. In several cases, women resisted pressures of husbands to go back to chemical farming.

Some technologies are labour intensive especially for women, e.g. bio-fertiliser and mussoorie phosphate application. Other technologies are big labour savers, e.g. in cotton IPM women are spared the work of fetching water for pesticide application (= 800 km walking with water per acre per cropping season). Women take labour increase positively, as long as it is offset by benefits in terms of improved status and/or more say in decisions about farm and money.

Health and nutrition improved: The reduction in pesticide use leads to less health  problems, less  medical expenses, food tastes better and can be kept overnight because the storage capacity has improved.  Skin rashes, loss of appetite, respiratory tract problems and reproductive health problems are frequently mentioned in connection with pesticides.

Innovation capacity  and general awareness increased:  farmers are applying the concepts learned through PTD on other crops . They also have taken up experiments independently. Confidence in own capacity to improve agriculture has increased. Farmer groups resist pressures of pesticides dealers and money lenders and collectively negotiate for ecofriendly input supplies.

 Spreading results

 Technologies and approaches spread, within one farm  – from one crop to another, from entry point to system level. They also spread from farmer to farmer, from village to village, within and between organisations, and so on. In 1997 we started experimentation with 270 farmers in four districts, in collaboration with 12 NGOs. In 2002 we are involved in PTD processes with 1900 farmers in 27 districts, with an estimated outreach to another 10300 extension farmers, who get exposure to the technologies tested through PTD and are encouraged to also try them. Eight NGO networks are involved, with a total of about 180 member NGOs.

Our impact study gave insights into the way in which PTD tested innovations spread autonomously. It was found that the spread is quicker when the crop is more profitable, the technology is simple, and when there are low crop specific risks. Social cohesiveness of the group and the village also contribute to the extent of spread. In some cases farmers‘ federations started playing an active role. This lead to a shift in strategy  in areas with strong federations. From an earlier strategy that focused on capacity building at NGO level, we moved toward a strategy that views farmer institutions as the central pillars for scaling up. As the records of our partner NGO Myrada  in Kadiri show, the shift in strategy was effective: whereas only 37 farmers adopted LEISA technologies through PTD in the period 1997–98, two Federations of Self Help Groups became involved in 2000 and were instrumental in involving 900 farmers.

Active NGO networks and good collaboration between NGOs and government extension and research institutions can help innovations to spread far and wide, once farmers have seen their usefulness. A good example is the very fast spread we have witnessed of IPM in paddy in Tamilnadu: from just   a few villages in  Tiruchi District in 1997 to as much as 2 lakh farmers in nine districts in 2002.

The challenges ahead…

 From entry points to Integrated Farming Systems:  the challenge is now to move with the farmers and institutional partners towards more complex changes in their farming system. The aim is to gradually restore the ecological balance in the farm as a whole, moving toward more sustainable land use systems….

 Capitalising on the potential of people’s institutions: we have seen the enormous potential of people’s institutions to take PTD processes further. In future we will further capitalise on this, by giving strategic support and training to the key people in these institutions.

Strengthening Stakeholders Platforms: District Level Working Committees which consist of a cross-section of important stakeholders should increasingly act as a platform for stakeholder concerted action at the district level. Similarly, the Crop-based Working Groups should become effective instruments for policy advocacy and lobbying.

 Balancing the scaling up process: How far should we go in scaling up? Once going into the mode of stakeholder concerted action, lobbying and policy advocacy, there is a risk that we lose touch with field level realities – and being connected with them has been our strength. We need to evolve models of institutionalisation which can be replicated and taken further to scale by others.

Can PTD become part of an alternative route to globalisation? The dryland farmers in South India are facing crashing farm gate prices for almost every crop. Are there new niches for dryland farmers? These challenges we have begun to confront by looking, together with the farmers, for alternative cropping and marketing systems.


 This article is a shortened version of a paper presented at the International Workshop on Advancing PTD,organised by IIRR and ETC Ecoculture in Septermber 2001, in The Philippines.


Khatana, V. et al. 2001. Impact of Participatory Technology Development in popularising the sustainable crop production systems in Raichur and Koppal Districts of Karnataka, India. AME, 2001.

Kolli R. D. , Lanting H. and Naidu Y. D. 1998. Leaf wetness counter: a case study of institutional partnership towards sustainable groundnut production in South India. Paper presented at the International Workshop on NGO-Research Partnerships, IIRR Philippines, October 1998. In:  IIRR. 1999. Research partnerships: issues and lessons from collaborations of NGOs and agricultural research institutions. Silang, Cavite: International Institute for Rural Reconstruction.

Prasad K. V. S. , C. Suresh  and H.  Lanting . 1999. A platform for groundnut production. ILEIA Newsletter 15 (1/2): 72–76.

Walsum. E.  van, Jangal J & Lanting H. 1999. Training for NGOs: the approach of the AME project. In: Farrington J et al (eds), Participatory watershed development: challenges for the twenty-first century (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp 247-260.

Walsum, E.  van & Kolli R. D. 2001. Mainstreaming gender in Participatory Technology Development: Dynamics between Farmer Groups, NGOs and a Support Organisation in developing Sustainable Dryland Agriculture in South India. In: Murthy RK (ed), Experiences in Gender Transformative Capacity Building. New Delhi: Sage, pp. 252 – 272.

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