Sunday, 28 July 2013

Farmers Collective-Led Approach (FCLA) – SAFBIN Perspective

Agriculture scene in India presents a bizarre contradiction of alienation of agriculture from farmers. It is a spectacular example of how farmers lose the wealth of agriculture knowledge with the emergence of technocrats. The ramifications of this process are very significant. Unfortunately, farmers are being considered as a class to be taught and educated about cultivation - a sub-culture which is naturally farmers' very own. Farmers are now being taught on the so-called scientific and modern cultivation. Green revolution and its associated processes shifted the centre of agriculture from farms to laboratories which churn out general and universal theories of agriculture. Though most of these theories remain valid at macro-level; they either failed or short-lived­ at local levels especially in India where regional economic, geographic, climatic and social heterogeneities are so pronounced.
One of the fallouts of this ‘modernizing’ of agriculture was alienating farmers from their own agriculture and supplanting agriculture systems in territories where local agriculture was developed as a result of centuries old of practice and experience. Agriculture modernisation, as a planned process dawned in the country with the Green Revolution, intensified and expanded and local agriculture systems were replaced with crops, which were judged only on the basis of yield capacity.

Farmers preparing traditional botanical solutions
Green revolution also contributed greatly to globalization of agriculture, even though in a smaller degree. Green Revolution helped India to gain self-reliance on the front of food production and filled its granaries. But in the process, communities lost indigenous agriculture systems which were more suitable, sustainable and profitable than those were introduced. Green revolution on one side filled the food basket of the country, but on the other, created dependency among farmers. The agriculture that farmers now practice is not entirely theirs, the inputs that they administer are not locally made or procured and the agriculture economy, at micro and macro levels, are greatly controlled by globalised agriculture markets.

Indigenous farming, though less profitable and less-yielding at times, was the first casualty of the Green Revolution. Indigenous agriculture systems were nearly wiped out with the onset of the modern farming which did not pay much respect to the intricate ecological balance, judicious use of natural resources and sustainability; the focus was only on production. Due to this inherently flawed approach, the agriculture practice of people became unviable and unsustainable. No surprise then, this also marked the beginning of increasing farmers’ distress, crop failures, land degradation and severe shortage of natural inputs for agriculture.

Community-based learning and assessment of farmers
Farmers Collective Led Approach (FCLA) forms a part of the overarching People Led Approach (PLA), which emphasizes people’s initiative and lead in the development process. In PLA process, people are at the centre of development action in all its stages. The nomenclature and conceptual framework of FCLA are fairly new. Issues related to food security, agriculture distress, agrarian unrest, etc indicate that the problems of agriculture sector are in a great way dependent on the processes of globalization and modernisation of agriculture sector. Of course, these processes, have contributed significantly to the global agriculture output, especially of the Third World countries like India where agriculture land is under tremendous pressure due to ever-burgeoning population. Ever since its advent in 1945, Green Revolution played a significant role in mitigating the food crisis of the globe but the solutions it prescribed failed the litmus test of sustainability. Notwithstanding its temporary successes in mitigating food crisis, Green Revolution is often criticized as the root cause for the food insecurity that has gripped many countries. It has also contributed heavily to land degradation, ground water depletion, infertility, desertification and destabilizing the agrarian economy. Rather than building sustainable local agriculture systems, Green Revolution had created dependency among people. Generalised agriculture solutions, which yielded excellent results in controlled situations, were introduced in areas that are geographically, climatically and economically diverse. FCLA is suggested as a curative measure that will check the damages done by Green Revolution and reviving agriculture systems that are locally sustainable and viable.

Some of the main features of FCLA concept are given below;
A field-based analysis session in progress
  • FCLA is not just reviving traditional systems but building on these traditional agriculture systems that are results of the interactivity of centuries-old innovations, people’s experience, experimentation and finally, community wisdom.
  • FCLA enables farmers to analyse their situation and identify solutions to their problems that are locally viable and sustainable. It does not prescribe solutions or introduce in a community those solutions which had worked elsewhere.
  • FCLA is all about involvement of people and not just their participation. NGOs will work only as catalysts of community’s momentum. Development agencies must accompany farmers and help them ‘in their way’ and also wean them away from the dependence on the external world. The dynamics of praxis (of action, reflection and action) should start, develop and sustain at community level.
  • Ultimately, FCLA will enable farmers to recoup the control over agriculture which they had lost long back. This will increase their knowledge and confidence. Farmers now use inputs on which they neither have control nor information. These exogenous inputs have never been part of their community wisdom. Agriculture as it is practiced now has reduced farmers’ confidence. If they cultivate in a particular manner now, it is largely because of some external determinants – market, policies and the others.
  • FCLA is a people-led process of identifying and unraveling dependencies and making communities self-reliant.
  • FCLA seeks to secure food security by stabilizing local agriculture systems and agriculture economies and shield rural economies from volatilities and external onslaughts that will rob communities of control over agriculture.
  • FCLA is a process-oriented approach; it helps to go deeper than the levels of problem manifestation and strike at the roots of problems of farmers.
  • Green revolution destroyed innovation of farmers. Solutions were packaged and distributed and dependencies were created among the masses on these solutions. FCLA seeks to promote the innovation of farmers and thus enhance the sustainability of identified solutions.
People-centred development models have gained currency in the development discourse across the world. Community participation is increasingly becoming a non-negotiable component of development efforts of not only of governments but development agencies as well. In this context, FCLA needs to be seen as a refined and purposeful interaction of communities in the development process and the embodiment of the collective aspiration of farmers for their progressive empowerment. 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

SAFBIN Helps Farmers Innovate Black Gram Cultivation

Black gram, locally known as Urad dal, is the major food crop of smallholder farmers of Sagar district. The crop is cultivated mainly for meeting the consumption needs and thus constitutes the mainstay of household food security. This year, smallholder farmers of Shahgarh block of Sagar district designed and implemented an improved black gram cultivation system that can resist the attack of the dreaded Yellow Mosaic Virus (YMV).

Broadcasting of treated seeds on a trial plot
YMV is a highly contagious disease spread by white fly - a vector aphid. Farmers can easily recognize YMV attack at its early stage itself since the leaves of affected plants turn into pale yellow before dying out. Since the affected plants become yellow, farmers call YMV attack as ‘Peeliya’ which translates into jaundice in Hindi. Farmers have traditionally been helpless in warding off YMV which is considered as the nemesis of black gram cultivation. The helplessness of farmers in protecting their black gram crop from YMV is very pronounced. Whenever a farmer detects YMV attack on even one plant, the entire standing crop is chopped down and fed to the cattle! Black gram, botanically known as Vigna mungo, has been in cultivation as a monsoon crop from ancient times and is one of the most highly prized pulses of Madhya Pradesh. Black gram cultivation, over the last couple of decades, has witnessed a steady fall thanks to farmers’ preference for soybean, a cash crop. To a great extent, high vulnerability of black gram to YMV has also dissuaded farmers from its cultivation. Notwithstanding its high vulnerability to YMV, black gram continues to be a popular crop due to community’s dependence on black gram for consumption purpose.

Unlike soybean, which is grown as cash crop, black gram is grown as a food crop. Besides, black gram is a hardier crop than soybean and its cultivation involves lesser expenditure than the cultivation of soybean. However, nowadays when farmers cultivate black gram they rely more on providence than any other. For, if YMV spares their crop farmers get sufficient pulse for domestic consumption. But if YMV attacks the crop, they get nothing.

Representatives of farmers' groups finalising trial design
Small Holder Farmers’ Collectives (SHFC) constituted by SAFBIN had held several rounds of discussions to identify solutions for the dreaded YMV attack. They also held consultations to identify traditional practices which were efficient to fight off the YMV. Caritas India’s SAFBIN programme endeavours to insulate smallholder farmers from food and nutrition insecurity by developing adaptive agriculture solutions that are efficient to meet the challenges of climate change. The programme envisages developing locally viable and affordable agriculture models. SAFBIN is being implemented in 30 villages of Satna, Sagar and Mandla districts of Madhya Pradesh.

During the community analysis the farmers discovered the climatic features that precipitate and aggravate YMV attack. They found that a combination of climatic conditions involving high humidity, cloudy weather and increase in temperature due to uneven rains or dry spell is primarily responsible for the spread of YMV. Farmers of the region have traditionally been cultivating Khajua, a local variety of black gram which is robust and suitable to the local conditions. However, like any other black gram variety, Khajua too is susceptible to YMV attack.

Small farmers preparing field for trial implementation
Since the smallholder farmers did not have a variety of black gram that could withstand YMV attack, they started searching for traditional solutions that can ward off YMV. Finally they zeroed in on ‘Neem’ (Azadirachta indica) which is traditionally used as a remedy for several human, animal and plant diseases. Farmers decided to test the ability of extract of Neem seeds to defeat the dreaded YMV. SAFBIN then conducted several reviews to check the effectiveness of Neem oil to check YMV attack. It also contacted agriculture research and extension institutions like Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) and authenticated the efficacy of Neem oil in fighting YMV. Encouraged by the endorsing opinion of researchers and agriculture extension officers, farmers designed a black gram trial involving Neem oil for solving the YMV riddle.
SHFC members then developed a draft trial design with a combination of Neem oil application and use of organic growth promoters. After the trial design was ratified by farmers’ collectives, several farmers volunteered to test this design on their farms. Thus twenty progressive smallholder farmers of ten villages implemented black gram trials in their plot. Significantly, all these farmers volunteered to conduct the trials without seeking any material or monetary assistance from SAFBIN.

Planting of treated black gram seeds on trial plot
The black gram cultivation model which is trialed in 10 villages for combating YMV menace is an innovative combination of solutions. Apart from using traditional solution of Neem oil, the trial will apply Rhizobium and Phosphate Solubilizing Bacteria (PSB) culture for treating seeds. Besides, the trial will also use various Farm Yard Manure (FYM) and fish manure during the branching and pod initiation stages as growth promoters.

The process of trial design finalization itself was a great learning for the smallholder farmers of Sagar. Community supported progressive farmers who volunteered to conduct the trial by participating in the trial implementation like field preparation, broadcasting, seed treatment etc. Smallholder farmers are now confident that their trial design will repel YMV attack and create a sustainable black gram cultivation model that is environmentally sound and efficient to meet the vagaries of climate change.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

SAFBIN’s Wheat Cultivation Models Register 275% Production Increase

Wheat cultivation models developed by Caritas India’s SAFBIN programme registered up to 275 per cent increase in production and brought down the input cost by up to 80 per cent. This information was shared during SAFBIN’s quarterly review meeting held in Sagar on 4 July 2013. The review meeting, attended by SAFBIN teams from 3 districts and representatives of partner organisations, took stock of the progress of monsoon crop trials being implemented for developing climate change resilient models of wheat, black gram and paddy cultivation.

Fr. Shaju of MVSS Sagar addressing the review meeting
Successes of winter crop season trials and plans for Kharif trial implementation were also shared during the review meeting. SAFBIN team presented the analysis of Rabi trials on wheat and vegetables and the superior performance of trials over farmer’s plots in terms of productivity and resistance to pest attacks. Smallholder farmers, encouraged by the trial successes, have decided to adopt the package of practices of successful models and replicate these models on bigger plots. 

Mr. Saju MK, national programme coordinator, welcomed the participants and gave an overview of SAFBIN programme. “Caritas India is committed to securing food and nutrition security of smallholder farmers by helping them develop agriculture models that are environmentally sound and climate change resilient. SAFBIN programme is an innovative intervention of Caritas India for making small farming profitable and sustainable”, Mr. Saju said. He further said that the monsoon crop trials on wheat, paddy and black gram will focus on the severest vulnerabilities identified by small holder farmers. Fr. Shaju Devassy, director of Manav Vikas Seva Sangh (MVSS), in his keynote address appreciated Caritas India for the innovative intervention to address climate change threats to agriculture. He underscored the necessity of assisting small farmers in identifying and implementing agriculture models that are robust enough to deal with the challenges of climate change.

Mr. Saju MK sharing about the achievements of SAFBIN
Strengthening Adaptive Farming in Bangladesh, India and Nepal (SAFBIN) is a European Union (EU) supported agriculture research and development programme that seeks to develop sustainable agriculture models that can withstand the perils of climate change. Analysis of the completed trials prove that the candidate models developed by SAFBIN are more robust, resilient and locally viable in the context of climate change and its adverse effects on small farming systems. Small holder farmers developed candidate models by conducting trials which combine good practices of traditional and modern farming systems. SAFBIN also creates village level reflection platforms for smallholder farmers who depend on rain-fed farming for subsistence. The project is being implemented in ten each villages of Mandla, Sagar and Satna districts of Madhya Pradesh.

District officers informed the review meeting that the trials have generated tremendous interest among small holder farmers and large number of smallholder farmers have decided to adopt the ‘blended’ solution for meeting threats posed by climate change to agriculture.  All trials in the last three seasons were blended agriculture models which incorporated the positives of mainline agriculture research and traditional farming practices of communities.

Mr. Vivek, DPO of Satna, speaking on trials
SAFBIN, this year, is also focusing on reviving cultivation of Kodo millet which used to be the main pillar of food security of a sizable chunk of population, especially the tribal communities in Central India. However, in the past couple of decades,  cultivation of Kodo had drastically declined thereby exposing a large section of rural population to risks of food and nutrition insecurity. Trials of Kodo millet cultivation using indigenous varieties and local inputs will be implemented in all three project districts. Apart from conducting trials on food grain and Kodo millet, SAFBIN is also promoting the cultivation of Moringa Oleifera, fruit trees, tomato and okra. 

The review meeting concluded with the vote of thanks by Mr. Saju MK.