Scaling up agroecological farming – Capacity building is the key

 Wider adoption of agroecological practices are limited by certain constraints which are highly region and community specific. A study across the tribal communities in Odisha found that capacity building activities with a focus on women farmers will be of strategic value which would result in better adoption of sustainable farming practices, leading to multiple benefits like livelihood improvement, family nutrition improvement and empowerment of tribal households.

Generally, farmer related challenges are perceived as the major constraints in scaling up organic farming practices.  Limitations of knowledge or intervention processes are seldom perceived as challenges. Organic farming is always considered as labour intensive and therefore perceived as not preferable by farmers.

Community labour management has also come handy for learning and adopting new practices like transplantation and line sowing.

Context matters

Interactions with a group of farmers in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu and a group from Mysuru district of Karnataka show nothing otherwise. Farmers consider buying a bag of urea and broadcasting it to be a convenient option than searching for good quality dung manure, hiring labors to load and unload in cart, and spreading it in their paddy field. Infact many lead farmers consider that lack of motivation among their fellow farmers as a major challenge in scaling up organic farming.

In stark contrast, our survey across eight villages in Kandhamal and Koraput districts of Odisha showed that farmers doesn’t see the labor-intensive operations in organic farming as a barrier. These farmers who were practicing seed broadcasting for cereals and millets till five years back, have started transplanting seedlings recently. While they acknowledge the increase in labour requirement and intensity in adopting transplantation, they do not have any second thought as it visibly gives them better yields and income. A male farmer from Kandhamal district in Odisha says “farming is our livelihood; how can we see it as drudgery?” and similar opinion was expressed across villages. However, not different from other places, majority of the operations, especially those involving more drudgery are done by women.

Interestingly, farmers especially the women in many of the villages in Kandhamal and Koraput, have a community understanding and each of them works on their neighbors’ farm during the time of sowing and harvesting, free of cost. Although the landholding among them vary marginally, they do not shy away from spending an extra hour in neighbors’ farm. This community labour management has also come handy for learning and adopting new practices like transplantation and line sowing.

Visible benefit motivates

The interaction with farmers in Kandhamal district showed that almost all the farmers practice subsistence farming with almost no links with market, either for inputs or for selling their farm produce. However, a three quarter of them work as wage labour in nearby town or migrate to other states during non-cropping season to meet their growing household expenditure. As these farmers are relatively new to transplantation practice, over 70% of them reported transplantation to be the hardest work in the entire farming operation process. However, the visible increase in yield and surplus that could fetch income has resulted in 100% adoption and continuation of transplantation, even after the withdrawal of promoting agency.

In Koraput district, several groups of women farmers have adopted few organic practices which helped them harvest better yields and increase the number of crops produced for self-consumption from their farm. This led to better nutritional access and intake for the entire family and also increased access to cash incomes.

Similarly, a group of several hundred farmers in Kalahandi district continue to grow non-BT cotton inspite of acute seed shortage. They take all the efforts to pre-order the seeds or collect, conserve and reuse seeds from traditional cotton varieties.

Need for capacity building

Analysis of average yield level in Odisha over a decade shows that the yield in almost all the principal crops is significantly low in Odisha than that of the national average. Further, we could also observe a stark difference in the yields, farm incomes and in farming practices in villages like Gachergan and Sodakia within the same block (Tumdibandh) that are hardly couple of kilometers apart. Although both the villages are inhabited by similar community, farmers from Gachergan are well-versed with various organic farming practices and marketing of their farm produce as well.

Knowledge on farming techniques seems to be a critical factor that limits their development. Interestingly, while we were interviewing couple of men farmers in one of the hamlets in Sodakia village, a group of 8-10 women farmers surrounded the community resource person who accompanied us and requested him to demonstrate the preparation of straw base for mushroom cultivation. A few more gradually joined the group with paddy straw in hand and eventually, it turned out to be a good half an hour session of demonstration which showed the level of desperation to learn.

The results from survey across several villages showed that the adoption rate is as high as 85% for almost all the techniques demonstrated by various development agencies. However, the reach of any sort of training or demonstration for any type of organic management practices is less than 40%. This confirms with the national sample survey that, only 40% of the farmers have ever interacted with any resource agency with a meager 10% from public utilities. The adoption rate and value addition through capacity building activities holds a huge potential both for improving the livelihood of the farmers as well as decreasing the yield gap in Odisha compared to other states. The risk averse tribal communities are visibly better off with systematic capacity building and marketing support for organic farming practices.

Women farmers play a key role

Within the existing limited extension activities, most of them have been engaging primarily with men farmers due to rigorous socio-cultural restrictions. However, in the last four years, participation of women has increased. During a focus group discussion, a woman who kept shying away from any discussion, stood up suddenly and told us aloud that a few years back they wouldn’t even come out of their home in the presence of any outsider, but now they go to district headquarters to attend training programs and have their say in farm management decisions. Thus, the training programs have mobilized women and improved their self-confidence in adopting  organic farming practices.

Further, women farmers give higher priority for the health and nutritional intake of their household than the men farmers. Hence, in districts like Kandhamal and Koraput, capacity building activities with a focus on women farmers will be of strategic value that would result in multiple benefits like livelihood improvement, adoption of sustainable farming practices and empowerment of women farmers.

Siva Muthuprakash and Shashank Deora

Vikas Anvesh Foundation,

6th Floor, Galore Tech Park, LMD Chowk,

Bavdhan, Pune 411021


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