Household agricultural income in the semi-arid Bundelkhand region of Central India is taking a serious hit with fluctuating rainfall patterns. Around 80% of the population in Bundelkhand is dependent on agriculture and allied activities for their livelihood. Looking at the impact of climate change, an increase in the occurrence of droughts, failure of crops, Bundelkhand requires a long term, well-planned investment with a focus on human resource development and natural resource conservation.
One important investment required on priority basis is access to correct information and knowledge on various tools, techniques and practices on climate-smart farming. The current trends in the farming system show that it has become more investment heavy due to increased mechanisation in farming which is damaging the farming ecosystem gradually. Farmers are adopting intensive agricultural practices for short term gains without understanding its impact on ecology and farm productivity in the long run. Thus, it is incumbent to demonstrate what is sustainable farming and how it helps build resilience even in the face of the changing climate in the long run. Simultaneously, it is also important to enhance farmers’ skills and knowledge on traditional and new age farming methods, technologies, practices and keep a balance in both to secure crop productivity and enhanced incomes.
Development Alternatives (DA) has been running Farmers Field Schools (FFS) in the region to demonstrate the appropriate farming practices to ensure crop security through participatory methods. As per the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FFS is an innovative, participatory and interactive learning approach that emphasises problem-solving and discovery-based learning. It aims to build farmers’ capacities to analyse their production systems, identify problems, test possible solutions and eventually encourage the participants to adopt the practices most suitable to their farming systems. Rajendar Kushwaha one of the FFS students was able to harvest 4 quintals of Bajra and Jowar each from 1 acre of land in spite of failed rains while other farmers in the region suffered losses by relying solely on rainfed crops.
This example shows that selection of crop should be as per the agro-climatic conditions. These Farmers Field Schools have helped in introducing crop varieties which are native to the region. We have also learnt that for sustaining these changes in practices, farmers need handholding support for at least two seasons. Alongside, we are working with government officers and making sure that availability of seeds is there for the next season. We are also helping the farmers negotiate minimum support prices for their produce.
Inspired by these success stories, several farmers including women farmers in the Jhansi District have made several interventions such as crop diversification, vegetable farming to earn additional income. With soil and water conservation measures such as field bunding, check dams on drainage etc., many farmers are able to realise enhanced crop productivity ranging between 20-22% and a reduction in input cost in the range of 15-20%. Some farmers have also become farm yard manure suppliers to other farmers through vermicomposting the cattle dung using tetra beds, which can fetch them additional income of INR 10,000 by producing 25 quintals of vermicompost in every 45 days’ cycle.
DA has long realised the fact that appropriate communication can bring transformative change if it reaches on time to the right beneficiary. We have been exploiting the power of community radio by transmitting messages on Radio Bundelkhand in the regional language, Bundelivani.
Of late, DA also is using data visualisation techniques and digital technologies to sensitise villagers in recycling and reusing waste water which otherwise has been polluting their fresh water aquifers in the region. Our recent “City Water Flows” initiative is making a new beginning in engaging with city/ small town authorities for taking up better and functional sewerage system at an affordable cost. Hopefully, this will further augment additional water resources to the farmers in this water starved region.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.