Pune farmers reap benefits of expert advice

— The Hindu Business Line


Apply training provided by philanthropic arm of Cybage Software to boost yield and income.

When farmer Shivaji Shinde first planted ash gourd in a small part of his field in Surwad village in Velhe cluster in Pune district, he was both anxious and excited.

Since he had never grown anything else but rice, Shinde was anxious. This was the first time he was growing vegetables in the interim period before the next rice season. He was also excited at the prospect of increasing his income as it would help him repay his loans.

After 90 days, when the first crop of ash gourd was ready for harvest, Shinde’s nervousness turned to joy. So good was the yield that it earned him a net profit of ₹37,000. He has now planted the entire field with ash gourd. Shinde no longer has to depend on one crop to survive. Even if the rainfall is poor and his rice production goes down, he can now rely on ash gourd to boost his income.

In nearby Sonde Mathana village, farmer Shantaram Bodke has also learnt a new lesson. He wasn’t aware that his practice of flooding the lady’s finger seedlings growing in his field was counterproductive. Instead of increasing production, the over-watering led to fungus. Consequently, many of the seedlings shrivelled up and died. After he was introduced to drip irrigation technology (where the quantity of water can be controlled), there were fewer weeds, which reduced labour costs. Importantly, the production of lady’s finger at Bodke’s field went up from 50 kg to 70 kg. He managed 17 harvests and earned a profit of ₹40,000 at the end of three months.

It is not just Shinde and Bodke who have benefited. Around 800 farmers in 11 villages in Bhor and Velhe cluster in Pune district are using their new farming skills and knowledge to increase agricultural production and income.

The option of growing an additional crop, better variety of seeds and, using better farming technology and water management techniques are proving to be a boon in an area where hilly topography and water scarcity make worse the vulnerability of farmers.

“I was not aware that lady’s finger required a measured quantity of water and that flooding was leading to fungus and aeration. It was only after learning about drip irrigation that I understood that by controlling the watering I could improve the porosity of the soil, thus boosting production. I now save water and labour. I am really happy that I adopted this new technique,” says Bodke.

However, it wasn’t easy convincing the farmers in the beginning. Two years ago, in 2017, when CybageAsha, the Pune-based charitable trust and philanthropic arm of Cybage Software, began working here in partnership with the BAIF Institute for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development, farmers were not ready to give up their agricultural practices. They didn’t believe that there were ways to improve their yield and incomes.

“We were aware of rural distress and that many farmers were migrating to cities in search of better incomes. So, we wanted to make a difference through our integrated livelihood development programme. Considering the climate conditions and the fact that the majority of farmers here grew rice, we had to ensure sustainable development, livelihoods and incomes even during the off season. This could only be done through modern agriculture practices and income-generating activities,” says Ritu Nathani, head, CybageAsha.

So a study was conducted to check the soil fertility and the socio-economic condition of the farmers in Bhor and Velhe to enable identification of problems and then design livelihood opportunities accordingly. The study revealed that farmers here were mostly small, with minimal education and had reduced the soil fertility due to excessive fertiliser usage.

Farmers had no awareness about integrated water management or about maintenance of soil fertility and its role in improving productivity. Neither did they have any knowledge about integrated pest management or managing pest damage by the most economical means.

Several meetings were held with the farmers to explain how production and incomes could increase if these practices were adopted. Having found that almost all farmers grew the traditional Indrayani, a variety of paddy that was more prone to pests and diseases, CybageAsha and BAIF introduced Phule Samruddhi, a hybrid version of the same rice variety developed by Maharashtra’s famous MPKV Rahuri University. “This would lead to a 25-30 per cent more yield than the other variety. Also, it was best suited for the climate and was disease resistant,” says Pradip Khose, joint programme chief, BAIF. Modern techniques of rice plantation were taught, like the distance to be maintained between plants and rows, as well as urea deep placement technology suited for smallholder farmer agriculture production systems, to manage soil nutrient and crop disease. “Farmers were also taken for exposure visits to other districts so that they could see the benefits on ground. Once they were convinced, 300 farmers were trained in the new techniques,” discloses Pankaj Katte, BAIF project manager.

Market linkages
Within a year, in 2018, the rice yield increased from 1,328 kg/hectare to 1,800 kg/hectare, giving these 300 farmers growing Phule Samruddhi a 140 per cent rise in incomes, according to project records. The number of farmers opting to grow vegetables increased from 15 to 350 after doing so brought an additional income of at least ₹35,000.

Now, these villages are growing vegetables never sown before, like cucumber, chillies, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, brinjal, capsicum and coriander. “More importantly, it has prevented mono-cropping and initiated crop rotation,” points out Sunil Chavan, agricultural expert, BAIF.

The success of this intervention is also due to the market linkages provided and shared-costing strategy. “We help with the equipment, seeds, training and linkages. The farmer has to chip in with costs of labour, fertilisers and pesticides, and water tanker needed for drip irrigation. This way, they are invested in the process. This partnership makes the process sustainable and brings the smile back on their faces,” says Nathani.

The writer is Swapna Majumdar, a senior journalist based in Delhi.

You can find the article on The Hindu Business Line portal - https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/specials/india-interior/pune-farmers-reap-benefits-of-expert-advice/article27028136.ece