Reaping health and wealth benefits from nutri-gardens

Janaki Bobbili from Veerabhadrapuram village in Andhra Pradesh, India, is one of the champions of the nutri-garden initiative, which seeks to increase farmers’ income, while enhancing the health and well-being of rural families through better access to diversified, nutritious food across seasons. The initiative is creating a powerful wave of change across rural India and has emerged as an effective tool for empowering rural women.

Despite improvements in food security in rural India, under nutrition, especially the deficiency of micro nutrients, remains a big concern. Hence, in 2021 the Ministry for Women and Child Development launched the nutrigarden initiative. It promotes well planned kitchen gardens under the motto ‘grow what you eat and eat what you grow.’ The initiative encourages the cultivation of indigenous varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, without the use of chemical inputs. It also promotes the recycling of kitchen waste into organic manure. As such, the initiative helps conserve precious agro biodiversity and water.

However, there are a lot of differences in the way the nutri-garden initiative is implemented across the country, depending on the environment and farming traditions. For instance, the APCNF (Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming) programme, which promotes farming in harmony with nature, introduced nutri-gardens under its ATM (Any Time Money) model.

The ATM model aims to attract rural youth into farming by promoting relay cropping of a variety of crops on the same plot, using natural farming methods. This ensures harvests at different times and a steady stream of income, starting from within a couple of weeks after sowing. “Before young women establish their nutri-gardens, we train them on every step along the way,” says Janaki who has been actively involved in awareness campaigns and training programmes relating to the ATM model.

Janaki knows well the challenges faced by women farmers as she comes from a farming family. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, and keen to deepen her knowledge of farming techniques, she participated in a livelihood enterprise development programme, organised by Sabala, a local NGO. Soon after, in 2016, Janaki joined Sabala to help form and train farmer producer organisations. As one of the resource organisations for the APCNF programme, Sabala focuses on natural farming, organic production and empowerment of vulnerable women.

Through multiple activities, including biodiversity fairs, Sabala also promotes local production,consumption and procurement of millets, a family of drought-resistant, nutrient-rich grains thatare part of India’s traditional food culture. Having been neglected for a long time, millets are gradually
making a comeback. In 2022, when Janaki heard about the Access Agriculture Young Entrepreneur Challenge Fund initiative for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, she decided to apply, along with her colleagues Syamala Bobbili and Kommu Eswara Rao. “Sabala creates awareness among the rural
women and local tribal youth on natural farming and agricultural biodiversity, so this motivated us to apply,” Janaki recounts.

She was delighted when her team was selected as one of the young Entrepreneurs for Rural Access (ERAs) in Andhra Pradesh. During a three-day training workshop, her team received the smart projector, containing the full library of Access Agriculture training videos. She felt especially honoured when Dr. P. Chandra Shekara, Director General of the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE) told all the selected ERA teams: “With this magic box in your hands, you are now superheroes as you can convincingly show to farmers the benefts of agroecology and natural farming.”

Janaki and her team members realised the truth of this statement when they saw the enthusiasm of women farmers and tribal youths after showing them the quality farmer-to-farmer learning videos in the Telugu language. To empower women, Sabala has established a Millet Sisters’ network with about 1,200 women farmers from 40 villages and a millet processing unit under the name ‘Arogya Millets,’ which trains its members to make value-added millet products. “The smart projector is like a weapon to build the capacity of all these members,” Janaki says.

The Sabala ERA team has been screening relevant videos in many villages to promote improved practices on soil fertility, water conservation, plant health and organic composts. These include: Compost from rice straw, Coir pith, Managing mealybugs in vegetables, Managing the rice leaf folder
and Killing fall armyworms naturally. As integrated farming and nutri-gardens have been major thrusts of Sabala, other popular videos shown by the team include Intercropping maize with pigeon peas, Grow row by row, Making a good okra seeding, Taking care of okra, Staking tomato plants, Good
handling of tomatoes, Storing fresh and dried tomatoes, and Drying and storing chillies.

The video shows are always followed by group discussions on how to adapt the practices to their context. The Sabala ERA team use the smart projector to raise awareness about the ATM model, which includes vegetables, flowers, millets, pulses and oilseeds. The farmers can choose what they want to grow on their plot, but they must select at least one variety from each category recommended by the ATM model. Farmers are being encouraged to include a wide range of local vegetables, such as brinjal (aubergine), okra, tomato, chilli, onion, radish, carrot, sweet potato, various types of gourds, curry leaf, coriander and leafy vegetables, like spinach and fenugreek leaves. Even during very hot summers, the crops under the ATM model survive, ensuring food security.

“Farmers generally grow these crops on small plots of around 400 square metres and as they can  harvest throughout the year, they earn money on a weekly basis. The farmers mostly sell their entire produce in their own villages and if there is any excess produce, we link them up with potential buyers
from other districts,” explains the Sabala team.

Sappala Prameela, a woman farmer from Kotanuvaripapem village, set up an ATM model farm with their help on a plot of 4,000 square metres with an investment of 9,600 Indian Rupees (106 Euros). She chose to grow 13 types of vegetables, 3 types of legumes and marigold flowers. Thanks to
this, she earned a weekly incomeof 3,500 Indian Rupees (38 Euros). In just four months, she earned 45,000 Indian Rupees (500 Euros). In addition, she saved money by not having to buy vegetables and her family was able to eat chemical-free, home-grown vegetables.

The ERA team also uses the smart projector during visits of schoolchildren to raise awareness about food production and biodiversity. Within one year after receiving the smart projector, Janaki and her colleagues screened videos to about 1,000 people, of whom 68% were women and 78% were youth.
To encourage members of farmer organisations to set up nutri-gardens, they also show their own videos and successful case studies from APCNF on natural farming. During the follow-up group discussions, Janaki – a practising farmer herself – convincingly motivates other farmers to
adopt the new model. In August 2023, seeing her commitment and experience, Janaki was invited to join APCNF as a Cluster Activist, where she continues to promote natural farming.

Making food systems more resilient to climate change requires a holistic approach. In addition to promoting natural farming and nutri-gardens, Sabala plans to use the smart projector to raise awareness about the value of millet-based food and also use it to boost its own bio-resource
centres and processing units for millet, jackfruit, groundnut and turmeric.

Ms. Janaki Bobbili can be contacted at +91 934 739 93 63 or;

Note: This case is originally published in Van Mele, P., Mohapatra, S., Tabet, L. and Flao, B. 2024. Young changemakers: Scaling agroecology using video in Africa
and India., Access Agriculture, Brussels, 175 pp.

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