Ajit Maru, GFAR’s Senior Officer, reports on his participation in an interesting workshop in India where GFAR’s and APAARI’s primary objective of transforming agricultural research and innovation systems was illustrated in practice by SDAU, a GFAR and APAARI partner!
How to double real incomes of smallholder family farmers and marginal farmers who have less than a hectare of land by 2022? This was the challenge discussed at a Workshop organized by the Sardarkrushinagar Dantiwada Agricultural University (SDAU) in Gujarat, India on 18-19 April 2017. SDAU is a partner in GFAR and also an APAARI partner and is developing and implementing a multi-stakeholder collective action on further developing agriculture in the parched, semi-arid, arid and desert lands of the 7 districts of North Gujarat. These districts are the agricultural development responsibility of the University.
The smallholder and marginal farmers of North Gujarat have an average land holding just above 1 hectare (4-6 Bighas). They earn between 900-1200 USD annually from this land. This is barely above 1.5 USD per day per family. Many of these farmers are tribal and from economically and socially deprived communities. Their agricultural lands are parcels in the Aravalli hills, Kutch Rann (desert) and saline soils at the margins of the desert. They together grow more than 35 different crops in 2-3 seasons of monsoon, winter and summer. These farmers on their own have experimented with growing both traditional crops, such as Bajra (Pearl Millet), Castor and Cotton, and non-traditional ones, such as Pomegranates, Potatoes, Papaya and Figs.
Collaboration from start to finish
The workshop was preceded by a district level workshop for each of the 7 districts at the University at Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Farmers Science Centres). Participants included farmers, with at least one woman farmer from each of the 62 talukas (a sub-division of a district which is the administrative development unit, each district has 7-9 talukas), and scientists and extension professionals of SDAU. Results were presented of an extensive survey on crops, productivity, incomes, and “hotspots”, or problems that affect farmers’ productivity and profits in the farming system and value addition chains that need to be solved and have to be solved together with all stakeholders from input suppliers, farmers, the extension, education and research system, the market intermediaries and the logistics providers., Their possible solutions to these emerging challenges which had been jointly collected by farmers, scientists and extension professionals, were also presented. The results of these workshops were collated, analyzed and jointly interpreted by farmers, University researchers and extension professionals at the two day-workshop of the 7 Districts together, organized at SDAU.
The farmers revealed a myriad of issues ranging from lack of more accurate, localized weather forecasts; lack of quality seeds; over seeding their fields; extensive application of fertilizers; improper, inadequate watering and irrigation; lack of pest and disease management through forecasting; surveillance and monitoring; extensive and unscientific use of insecticides; etc. They raised the issue that increased productivity does not necessarily increase incomes. Both the researchers and extension specialists and farmers jointly discussed and presented their solutions and solicited the support they expected from the University in solving their problems.
Good Agricultural Practices and Hotspots
Some very deep insights and home truths emerged from the Workshop. The most important was that incomes could be increased substantially by harvesting low hanging fruits of simple good agricultural practices and the challenge met as there was a significant yield gap between farmers of the same talukas, districts and same agro-climatic conditions. There was an average of 40-80 percent difference in medians of yields between the farmers with the highest and lowest yields. This revealed that farmer to farmer exchange and sharing of information, experiences and skills could bring about increases in productivity. It was realized by all at the Workshop that incomes can be increased not only by increasing yields and productivity of inputs and resources used but also by reducing costs and time spent in acquiring inputs and farming operations, improving efficiency of all inputs, reducing wastage and improving quality of outputs at various stages of the farming cycle. Quality produce appropriately processed at harvest and post harvest stages can bring higher profits through participation in markets beyond the local, such as national and international markets. Farmers were impressed upon to follow not only Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) but keep records of such practices for their crops and register themselves to the local GAP registration authorities. Farmers demanded appropriate smart phone-based applications for their farm records.
The Workshop aptly summarized the innovative approaches that now need to be introduced in developing agriculture in the area in the charge of the University. The first key innovation was to forego the “package of practices” and “Training & Visit” approaches initiated during the Green Revolution in Farm Extension and Advisory Services in India and replicated in many other parts of the world. The second was a structured and systematic identification using data related to those “Hotspots” that farmers face. For example farmers were found to overseed (put more seed than recommended because they do not trust the germination rate of the certified seed) their fields. This increased costs and reduced yields lowering incomes. The solution was for the University to improve its seed system to show germination as stated and make its seeds trustworthy. The third was to introduce a more data-driven and information-intensive farming making use of the identified Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) and enabling farmers to make their farming records and use them in GAP.
The most important “Aha!” moment in the Workshop was when a participant commented in the Workshop that farmers now need to be made “scientists” and innovators and the University researchers, teachers and extension agents now need to realize that their primary role is to be facilitators and enablers of innovation and innovators. After all, doubling farmers’ real incomes in a short span of five years will require not only thinking but acting “outside the (farming and its extension) box” and that the University enable this thinking to accelerate progress and development among all actors and stakeholders in farming and agriculture.
Report contributed to by Dr. Ashok Patel, Vice-Chancellor and Dr. Suresh Acharya, Director of Research, SDAU, Gujarat, India
Photo credit: CCAFS