Wednesday, 15 July 2015


Delep Kumar Chakrabarti is a young smallholder farmer hailing from Mohimapur Village of Naogaon District in Bangladesh. He lives in a small double story mud house (to save space) with his wife and 6 year old son. He has one acre (3 bigha) land which he cultivates throughout the year to feed his small family. His continuous involvement with Caritas Bangladesh developed him as a skilled farmer. He is also a member of the District Forum promoted under the European Union co-financed SAF-BIN programme.

Delep & Shantana
Mr. Delep very proudly shares that Shantana Chakrabarti (his wife) is growing about 1,000 ducks in a small duck farm tightly squeezed in a corner of their homestead. The duck farming was not so profitable in the beginning and often the farm use to get wiped off due to seasonal diseases. They had to incur heavy loss many times in the past which mainly caused due to inadequate know-how of duck farming. 

Delep near his duck farm
His situation changed after he met with Dr. Md. Abdul Majid, Livestock Officer, Naogaon District during the district forum meetings. He had an opportunity to have one to one interaction with the livestock officer, who him a lot of information and exposure to the duck farming practices. He also introduced and trained them on the requirements of vaccination, medicines and care and maintenance of the unit. He also shared information on the high yielding duck varieties like Khaki Campbell and Jinding. His position as a District Forum member has given him the opportunity to have close interaction with the officer, who is also extra supportive in providing constant feedback and consultation over phone and visits. He was quite excited to share that the livestock officer frequently calls him and enquire about his duck farming. Mr. Delep shared that this was never possible without him having a leadership position at the district level. He also shared these learning and skills with the fellow farmers in the village.

Delep in the trial plot
As a result of the improved knowledge and access to updated information, the mortality rates of the birds have reduced and egg production has increased. Shantana shared that their income from duck farming has increased and they have increased the birds in the farm. Mr. Delep being a skilled farmer of SAF-BIN project, he is engaged in leading the fellow smallholders in the village for strengthening the collective initiatives and on-farm adaptive research. He has taken up trials in his farm on effectiveness of practiced management options to control of rice stem borer in 2013, Performance assessment of minimize of seedling and to increase yield in 2014 and increase productivity and profitability through introduction Pulses and oil seed in T. Aman-Fallow cropping pattern and stability of them in 2014.
Seed bank at Delep's house

He recently got the opportunity to participate in the Conference on Smallholder Farmers and farmers learning exchange programme in India, which gave him the confidence and motivation to take forward the issues of smallholder farmers in the district. He shared that various climate resilient options collectively tried and tested by the collectives, they have become friends with the climate. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Tribal Farmers Revive Millet Cultivation for Food Security

Farmers on the Kodo millet farm during a learning meeting
Kodo millet, until recently, had been the staple diet for the Gond tribals of Madhya Pradesh. This hardy millet, however, lost ground to wheat and paddy. The tribal farmers of Katigahan village of Mandla district, who now realise the millet's food and nutrition potential, have teamed up with Caritas India to salvage kodo cultivation from the verge of extinction.

This initiative is one of several  funded by the European Union to improve the climate resilience of small-scale farming in rain-fed areas of India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The project will directly benefit 3,000 families in 90 villages in 9 districts. Through its work with national agricultural research systems, extension networks and policy makers, it hopes to reach out eventually to around 10 million small farmers.

Reviving the production of kodo millet is part of project strategy.  India consumes around 40% of the world's millets. The production of millets (like jowar, bajra, ragi and kodo) in India has, however, fallen in the last 50 years although these cereals are nutritionally rich, need much less water, and grow well on relatively inferior soils. In addition some of them have stalks that are good for fodder.
Aghanoo Singh, a marginal farmer, led the community's initiative to bring kodo millet back to the cultivation system of the tribals of Katigahan. “Kodo cultivation had vanished from our village mainly because of our ignorance about its nutrition values. Problems of marketability and reducing yield have contributed to the decline in its cultivation”, Aghanoo Singh believes. Kodo millet or Paspalum Scrobiculatum is a hardy crop and thus suitable for the rugged mountainous terrain of Mandla where frequent droughts jeopardise the cultivation of all crops that require irrigation.

Kodo cropped up in one of the discussions of Farmer Field School (FFS) which was constituted in Katigahan village. While analysing the food insecurity that often hounds their village, farmers observed that kodo used to constitute a major part of their diet. “During the analysis we understood the correlation between our health and the prevalence of kodo cultivation. We observed that our health standards came down with the disappearance of kodo”, Aghanoo said.

Traditionally, farmers would simply scatter the seeds on unprepared land and would leave the crop to survive, returning to the field only for harvesting. This year, the farmers of Katigahan procured seeds of Jawahar-41, a high yielding millet variety from an agriculture university in Jabalpur, a neighbouring district, treated them with hot water and bavestine, and used botanicals and bio-manures prepared with locally available materials.

They prepared and applied matka khad, a highly effective nutrient solution prepared with cow urine, cow dung, leaves of neem (azadirachta indica), gram flour and sugar molasses. The result of the trial was impressive. “The kodo crop set several records unheard of in the entire Mandla region. The average panicle length of the crop was 4 cm against the normal length of 2 cm. The yield rate of 3.5 quintals per hectare was amazingly big”, said Valentine Denis, coordinator of the action research programme.

Since the farmers were apprehensive of the success of Kodo crop, they cultivated the crop only in small pieces of their farms. They are now enthusiastic about cultivating the millet during the next crop season and convinced that kodo can give them food security even during the lean summer months when they do not get enough food.


Read this article in European Union newsletter

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Caritas Austria President Mr. Franz Küberl Lauds SAFBIN Efforts

“Smallholder farmers can achieve food security and self-sufficiency with their traditional and innovative agriculture practices that have the potential to solve the adverse effects of climate change”. Caritas Austria president Mr. Franz Küberl observed this while addressing the farmers’ fair organised by Caritas India in Satna on 12 October. The conclave of smallholder farmers who are engaged in adaptive agriculture practices in three districts of Madhya Pradesh was organised as part of the ‘Strengthening Adaptive Farming in Bangladesh, India and Nepal’ (SAFBIN) programme. Implemented by Caritas India, SAFBIN is jointly supported by European Union (EU) and Caritas Austria.

Mr. Franz addressing the smallholder farmers' fair
Citing the severity of agriculture losses suffered by farmers across the globe due to climate changes, Mr. Franz underscored the need of identifying local solutions for making smallholder farming systems more viable and profitable. “Developing an effective agriculture practice based on the synthesis of modern agriculture methods and local wisdom holds key to the success in the efforts to achieve food security of smallholder farmers”, Mr. Franz said. He appreciated Caritas India for leading the campaign for protecting the livelihood and food security of smallholder farmers in the region. “Quality of life of smallholder farmers is dependent on the adaptability of farming system and the immunity of smallholder farming systems to the vagaries of climate. If we do not make local farming systems robust and sustainable, we will live in poverty which will only push our future generation into greater poverty”, Mr. Franz added.

The farmers’ fair was organised for facilitating the exchange of learning and experience of smallholder farmers who are implementing various trial combinations of paddy, wheat and black gram. Over 400 smallholder farmers from Mandla, Sagar and Satna districts attended the fair and shared the learning and experiences emerging from the three rounds of trials. The farmers fair also showcased the innovations developed by farmers, various trial design illustrations and farm produces.

Mr. Christoph addressing the function
Mr. Christoph Schweifer, General Secretary of Caritas Austria, spoke on the occasion and shared his experiences about the general struggles of smallholder farmers. “Smallholder farmers need to have thorough understanding about the various dimensions of climate change and its effects”, Mr. Christoph said. Developing sustainable solutions for combating the ramifications of climate change on agriculture is possible only when communities work concertedly and purposefully. Modern agriculture has made creditable advancements in the direction of mitigating the detrimental climate change effects on agriculture. He expressed hope that SAFBIN will emerge as a platform of communities for technology dissemination which will eventually lead to greater well-being of smallholder farmers.

Mr. Manfred Aichinger, Project Manager of Caritas Austria shed light on the symbiotic relationship between agriculture practices and the prosperity of smallholder farmers. He said that SAFBIN envisages not only the achievement of agriculture prosperity of smallholder farmers but it also seeks to realise better indicators in the sectors of education and health. He appreciated SAFBIN programme for creating an understanding on climate change among smallholder farmers and enabling them to develop locally viable and cost-effective solutions.

Caritas Austria delegation visiting a paddy trial
plot that experiments spacing for increasing the crop yield

SAFBIN is an agriculture research and development programme which is being implemented in three agro-climatic zones in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. In India, the research trials on food crops are underway in Sagar, Satna and Mandla districts. Mr. Sunil Simon, South Asia programme manager of SAFBIN informed that SAFBIN is a comprehensive agriculture research intervention steered by smallholder farmers’ collectives. The intervention process includes community-level problem screening, scouting of innovations practiced by communities, screening of solutions proposed by mainline agriculture research, blending of solutions, development and refining of trial designs, trial implementation, community analysis and development of candidate models. SAFBIN also strives to restore the sovereignty of local agriculture systems by identifying and promoting traditional knowledge and practices which have great potential to offer solution to the riddle of climate change, Mr. Sunil added.

Mr. Franz giving sprayer pump to a leader of farmers' group
Later, Mr. Franz distributed sprayer pumps to the representatives of Small Holder Farmers’ Collectives (SHFCs). During the programme, SHFCs staged cultural programmes including songs, folk dances and street play. The delegates from Caritas Austria also visited the stalls where smallholder farmers had displayed their innovative equipment, trial plot harvest details and agriculture produces including spices, herbs, yams, tubers and vegetables. After attending the farmers' fair, Caritas Austria delegation visited paddy trial plots and reviewed the progress of implementation of paddy trials.

Fr. Mathew Cheruvil, director of Samaritan Social Service Society (SSSS) Satna and Mr. Atul Gautam, local village headman, also spoke on the occasion and appreciated the success of SAFBIN which manifested in the form of greater yield and reduced agriculture input cost for the smallholder farmers. Mr. Vivek Tripathi, district project officer of SAFBIN, conducted the programme.

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.