Building farm resilience

Building farm resilience is all about preparing farmers to cope, absorb and recover from challenges in dealing with their agricultural production and livelihoods. Small and marginal farmers are invariably caught in fragile eco systems with degraded resource base. Further, face climate change induced uncertain and extreme weather events. Perpetually, also deal with uncertain markets threatening their incomes. COVID 19 further complicated the scenario.

In fact, farming communities, traditionally have been always resilient and innovative. When encouraged by empathetic support, at the farm level, three major dimensions offering resilience can be recognised. One, the type of eco farming approaches promoting better conservation, reuse and recycling of natural resources; women led farming activities invariably focusing on meeting food and nutrition needs of the family; diversity as the fundamental way forward for dealing with optimal use of natural resource endowments and eco balances and sustainable food, feed and improved incomes. However, for scale and wider adoption, collaborative activities of community organisations, civil societies and enabling policy environment emerge as the key determinants.

Natural/Organic farming helps

Natural farming is showing the way in terms of offering farm resilience, reducing expensive cultivation risks, and serving as a sustainable agricultural model at the farm level and addressing SDGs at the global level. It addresses both environmental as well as economic challenges. While it minimises the negative impacts on environment, it squarely addresses economic risks in farming by bringing down costs of cultivation. the issue of risk and uncertainties The field assessment studies recognises the benefits it offers. A study conducted by Azim Premji University in Satyasai district in Andhra Pradesh, recommends a multi-pronged approach that adopts strategic interventions on the institutional, governance and marketing aspects for natural farming to be promoted as a new paradigm for inclusive agricultural growth, at scale. (Manjula, M et.al., p. 19). The case of Pitar Sabar shows how a tribal farmer with the support from WOTR, adopted sustainable agriculture practices and organic formulations. By meticulously maintaining clear records, could observe the differences, expand his crop choices including vegetables. Thus, he got gainfully engaged throughout the year resulting in enhanced  income levels. (Harshal Khade, p.11).

 Women as torch bearers of resilience

Rural women from small and marginal farmer households are predominantly identified as agriculture labour. Despite their immense contribution of time, labor, and knowledge, they are not recognized as farmers. (Upmanyu Patil, p. 6). Given a fair opportunity and a leadership role, having deep understanding of food and nutrition needs of the family as well as the local biodiversity, they naturally build resilience.  They prefer nutri-rich local millets, pulses and vegetables. Their choices lead to better food access as well as coping with challenging conditions too. Being traditionally the custodians of livestock management, besides managing their feed requirements they are also aware of the manurial requirements of the crops, undertake preparation of biological inputs for cultivating healthy farm produce. “If we need 10 varieties of leaves to prepare pesticides, women will not stop till they find the tenth leaf; men may be happy with nine.”  says Rupali Vikas Shendage from Tugaon, Osmanabad. Thus, women contribute not only to farm resilience but also to improved soils, lesser resource use when they think and decide what to grow, what inputs to use and what farm allied activities to take up. The Women-led Climate Resilient Farming programme illustrates how women farmers even gained access to land and right to cultivate land, meeting the food, nutrition and income security of the families. Besides contributing to improved production systems and natural resource management offering healthy produce, they participated in the entire value chain, got involved in marketing, became more financially independent.

 Diversity and innovation

Diversity and farmer innovation are the fundamental pillars of resilience. They include, crop choices and their innate natural growth patterns optimising land, water, sunlight. These offer productivity throughout the year based on different harvest times. Creating conservation water bodies on the farm,  innovative eco-friendly pest repellent mechanisms and measures all of which bring down the risks in farming, are practical measures. For instance, Thammaiah’s multilayer farm (200 varieties of plants including 80 medicinal plants) and one acre farming model amply illustrate diversity and innovation in full measure offering food, income and nutrition security. Thammaiah grows millets for household consumption, sells millet powder as Arogya Spoorthi, gets income from coconut, sapota, banana and black pepper trees and sells Kapha Churna prepared from medicinal plants. (B M Sanjana, p. 33).

Farmers themselves are the best role models of resilience for inspiring and encouraging others. Pitar Sabbar (p.11), Thammaiah (p.33) have been on their own guiding several others by showing practically what is possible.

Enabling policy environment

For fostering resilience, policy focus should not be on a single policy angle and restricted participation of diverse stakeholders. Investments in resilience by governments, development agencies, and civil society organizations must target multiple social domains of resilience. For instance, it could focus on access to resources, freedom to choose strategies, capacity to organise themselves for favourable and responsive community action.

Enabling infrastructure network and improving regional co-operation on water and land management was the primary focus in a World Bank project in The Mekong Delta, Vietnam, which has supported more than one million farmers’ transition into more climate-resilient and resource-efficient ways of living. Extreme floods, droughts, saline intrusion, coastal and riverbank erosion are some of the characteristics of agricultural and aquaculture hub of The Mekong Delta, Vietnam. To support farmers sustain these good practices after the end of the project, the World Bank has also focused on creating an enabling infrastructure network and on improving regional co-operation to manage a resource that knows no boundaries, like water. With this project’s support, climate resilience has been mainstreamed into top-level policy documents. (p.24).

Resilience is not just with reference to dealing with technical options. It is also about dealing with social situations and challenges. Studying community responses in COVID 19 pandemic, Global Resilience Partnership, identified the following key social domains of resilience. They are (1) the assets (natural, physical, human, financial) that people can draw upon, (2) the flexibility to change strategies (3) the ability for social organization to enable (or inhibit) cooperation, collective action, and knowledge sharing (4) learning to recognize and respond to change (5) behavioural and cognitive factors (e.g., risk attitudes, personal experience, social norms) that enable or constrain resilience, and (6) the agency to determine whether to change or not. (p.14). Lessons learnt reveal trust, social networks and community cohesion, collective action, shared learning, community wide decision making are the forms of social capital, which are important in determining resilience to shocks and challenges.

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