Meeting multiple needs of small farmers

NGOs have been pioneers in promoting agro ecology. By making farmers as partners in development, BAIF has enhanced the livelihood security of 21000 farmers across 505 villages in Karnataka. It has proved that critical inputs like seeds, planting materials and knowledge and motivation are enough to take their present, unsustainable agriculture towards the path of sustainability. 

BAIF’s saga of integrating the small and marginal farms with fruit trees, forestry trees (fodder trees, biomass species, timber and fuel wood species), fodder on bunds with soil and water management (tree based farming system, TBFS) was started back in 1985.   TBFS was implemented on a pilot basis in selected villages of Hunsur taluk, Mysore district during 1985 to 1990.

What is tree based farming system?

TBFS is also popularly known as WADI, meaning “orchard” in Gujarati.  TBFS includes a menu of low cost, environment friendly activities like- planting of horticulture trees, forestry trees, fodder trees, fodder grasses, adopting enriched composting methods, natural methods for disease and pest management, dairy animals, small ruminants, soil and water conservation measures etc.  In this practice, farmers are encouraged to plant 35 to 40 fruit species (mango, tamarind, cashew, guava, etc) and 8-10 forestry species per acre. The fruit plants can be planted in the cropping field or they can also be aligned along the internal bunds and boundary bunds.  Fruit trees start bearing fruits from the 5th year planting and would fetch income for the farmers.

Forestry plants can be planted along the field bunds and field boundaries.  The forestry plants need to include fuel wood species like Acacia auriculiformis, Cassia, Glyricidia, timber species like-teak, silver oak, melia dubia, dalbergia etc. Sesbania, erythrina, subabul, moringa yield good quality fodder, thus sustaining dairy activities.  The forestry plants start producing biomass and fuel wood after 4th year of planting.  Biomass produced from forestry plants can be used as substrate for producing vermicompost and applied to the field.  This helps to reduce the application of chemical fertilisers and thus reducing the emission of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere.  There will be enough fuel wood production by the 5th year of plantation.  This will meet the fuel wood needs of the family and reduces pressure on forests.  Thus, in a period of 5-6 years, dry lands under TBFS will become diversified farms with increased food security, fodder availability and resilience from climate change effects.

It is found that soils under TBFS or organic farming would harvest 733 – 3000 KG or more carbon per hectare per year from the atmosphere. Increasing the sequestration of carbon in soils is a vital aspect of climate change mitigation. By increasing carbon absorption, TBFS has a lower climate impact than modern agriculture.

Integrating a new idea

Integrating trees in the farming system is an insurance against crop losses and also helps in preserving the environment. Thus, tree based farming system (TBFS) is good in the larger interest of the farming community and environment. However, farmers do not perceive it that way, as they have to wait before the trees start yielding.  Hence, the role of implementing agency becomes very crucial in motivating farmers to practice TBFS.

Village meetings, personal contacts and focus group discussions were organized to explain the concept with economic and environmental benefits. Exposure visits to successful TBFS locations facilitated farmer to farmer sharing and learning. This was followed by demonstrations of pit excavation, pit filling and planting methods and also activities like basin preparation, shading, mulching and after care activities. Good quality planting materials were supplied to ensure timely plantation. The planted area is protected by live fence to avoid grazing by stray cattle.  Village level trainings and frequent follow up visits ensured disease and pest management. Also, facilitated building marketing linkages and linkages with the State departments to avail benefits.


Increased availability of plant biomass has motivated farmers to go in for rearing small ruminants like sheep or goat and in some cases dairy animals.

There is significant improvement in soil productivity in TBF plots. Tree coverage in the project villages has improved the micro-climate. One can experience the cool climate in the TBFS land compared to non TBFS land.

Due to TBFS, soil and water conservation, organic farming, and livestock, the family income has improved significantly.  On an average, farmers earn Rs.10000 to 12000 per acre from fifth year of plantation.  This is in addition to the intercrops that were also grown in the same land.

Fodder trees, shrubs and grasses planted on bunds and barren lands have improved fodder availability.  This has motivated farmers to go for rearing of small ruminants like sheep or goat and one or two dairy animals.

The families who have adopted TBFS are able to get firewood from their farms thereby reducing the hardship for women who used to walk to nearby forests and village common lands to collect firewood. Also there is less pressure on forests too.

Enhancing the role of farmer as stakeholder

BAIF has been implementing the TBFS with the financial support of several donors like DANIDA, CAPART, Government of India, Government of Karnataka, NABARD, Deshpande Foundation etc. In all these programmes, the funding agency, the implementing agency and the farmers have worked in tandem. Over the years, it can be clearly seen that these programmes had greater role for the farmers in planning and implementation.

During the pilot phase, farmers had to be supported and compensated for implementing every new idea. There were several cash incentives to farmers for adopting TBF like pit excavation, planting, aftercare, farm bunding, watch and ward, fencing and watering during summer.  Apart from this, there were other expenses like exposure, training and field demonstrations.  The cost per acre shot up to Rs. 30000 during the pilot project period.

For increasing the ownership of farmers in the programme, BAIF had to change its strategies from time to time.  Cash incentives to farmers were minimized from 1995 onwards.  The concept of cost sharing, both in the form of kind and cash was introduced for the projects implemented since 1995.  Gradually, farmers started contributing for specific activities like pit excavation, plantation, aftercare etc. In some of the programmes, they made cash contribution to the extent of Rs.500 per acre and in some cases contributed in the form of labour. Today, the cost for adopting TBFS has come down to Rs, 7000 per acre.  This includes man power and administration costs also.

We have reached a stage, wherein, TBFS can be scaled up with critical inputs like good quality planting materials at subsidized costs, exposure and motivation.  The model has been demonstrated well and accepted by the farmers across Karnataka.  NABARD is replicating this model across the country under tribal development funds.  Department of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, has recognized BAIF as a resource organisation for implementation of WADI in tribal belts of India.

Irfan sees his future in TBFS

Irfan Kamadolli, 31, resides in Hirebendigeri village in Haveri district with his family.  He owns three acres of rainfed land. Earlier, Irfan was engaged in construction work in Goa.  Eight years ago he returned to his village, but he was in a confused state about his livelihood in the absence of assured water for agriculture.  He was growing sorghum, little millet and groundnut worth Rs. 30,000/- per annum in three acres.  He owns a pair of bullocks and two cows.  He used to depend on crop residues for fodder and made use of the compost for his land. He engaged in agriculture for six months and engaged in labour work for the other six months.

Initially, he was reluctant to adopt TBF stating that ‘we cannot look after the plants year around, as we come to the land for only six months during the season and engage in labour work for the rest of the time’.  However, finally, in 2010 he had decided to join the project. The project assisted him with critical inputs such as mango grafts, forestry seedlings and fodder seeds.  Irfan took utmost care and followed the technical inputs provided by the staff to nourish 120 mango plants.  He brought the water in pots from the village and hired water tanks to provide protective irrigation during summer.

His hard work started yielding. During 2014, he sold graded mangoes in the market.  On an average, he earns Rs, 30000 from sale of fruits per year. He also grows maize and vegetables as intercrops.

Now, the TBF has revived his hopes for the future. He goes to the field everyday and says ‘There is some work to be attended every day and it gives me pleasure to see greenery in my land’

Bounties from mixed farming

Sri. Gangaiah Vibhutimath, is a marginal farmer of Madapur village, Savanur taluk in Haveri district.  He owns one and half acre dry land.  Before 2008, he was cultivating only annual crops like sorghum, maize, chilly and pulses under rain fed system.  During 2008, he started to diversify agriculture by adopting mixed farming system by planting sapota, mango, lemon, guava and curry leaf.  He got the support for planting materials through Samrudhi project supported by Deshpande Foundation.

He took care of the trees by providing protective irrigation during the summer.  Now, his land consists of 41 sapota, 70 curry leaf, eight mango and six lemon trees.  He is also growing flowers (aster and kanakambara), fodder and annual crops as intercrops in the same land.  The horticulture trees have started yielding since 2013 onwards.  During 2015, he earned Rs.10000 from sale of sapota and guava fruits.  His average income from sale of flowers is Rs.20000 per month.  He sells flowers at Savanur market, 10 km from Madapur.  All put together, he earns Rs. 1.8 lakh annually.  This is apart from the harvests from annual crops which he uses for home consumption.  “Mixed farming system has helped me earn good returns to meet the marriage expenses of my daughters, adds Gangaiah with a smiling face.

M N Kulkarni and S M Hiremath
Dharwad, Karnataka.

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