19 August, 2015

It's better when the income is regular

The Trusts’ intervention effected a marked increase in the income of small-time farmers Varsati and Parshuram in eastern Uttar Pradesh, apart from ensuring them earnings at regular intervals 

Village Saida in Risiya block, Bahraich District, eastern Uttar Pradesh, is dominated by the Muslim community. Vegetable farming does not exist in this area except in kitchen and rooftop gardens, for private consumption. Paddy, maize, wheat and pigeon pea are the main crops.

Varsati, a marginal farmer, has 1.4 acres of land where he grows paddy, wheat and maize. He sustains a family of nine members including his wife, four sons and three daughters-in-law. His sons are casual labourers and do not contribute much to the household income.  Varsati is not afraid to experiment with new techniques, or to try out new crops in a small scale. And so, he decided to use .08 acres of his plot to demonstrate ‘machan’ cultivation with turmeric and bitter gourd being the selected crops.

‘Machan’ cultivation (or ‘multi-tier’ system) involves the simultaneous growing of multiple crops on the same land to fully utilise vertical growing spaces. The combination of the crops has to be scientifically decided. The system has the potential to scale up the productivity of small farms.

Varsati cultivated 4.28qts of bitter gourd, earning Rs7000 from its sale, and 2.34qts of turmeric, which earned him Rs2800, bringing his gross income to Rs9,800. Cultivation costs came up to Rs2,150. His net income was therefore Rs7,650. If he continued with machan cultivation on the rest of his land, Varsati could earn a respectable income of Rs95000 per acre.

Income difference
Varsati was traditionally growing pigeon peas in the same plot of land, investing Rs800, and earning Rs3,500. But pigeon peas take 10 months to mature, and provides him a one-time income every nine or ten months. However, Varsati earns a better income (Rs7,650) at more regular intervals (every five months) from the machan cultivation of vegetables. This has increased Varsati’s confidence and he has decided to expand the area under machan cultivation and cultivate vegetables throughout the year.

Similarly, Parsuram lived with his father and other family members in Kadiyapura village in the same block, His father owned 1.2 acres of land, a third of which did not have any irrigation facilities. Parsuram cultivated wheat, paddy and maize, all of which were only enough for the family’s consumption. There was hardly any grain left for sale, and the family had no other source of income other than agriculture. Consequently, Parsuram had no other option but to migrate to Delhi, where he found life very difficult. He was working 12-14 hours a day, and living in a place where health, hygiene and sanitation were a major issue. He could only meet his family once or twice a year. He also became addicted to alcohol.

One day, his wife, Nankuna, expressed her desire to join a self-help group in the village promoted by Trust Community Livelihoods (TCL), an NGO working for the promotion of livelihoods in Risia block. Parsuram was reluctant at first but when other families in his neighbourhood insisted, he relented. Once, Parsuram attended a monthly meeting of the farmers club, where farmers were asked to initiate vegetable farming. He was not comfortable with the idea. He perceived a lot of problems such as technique, safety and security of the crop from the blue bulls, and last but not the least, marketing the crop. But Nankuna insisted he try. She offered to take on most of the responsibility, and Parsuram agreed to initiate the cultivation of chili in 0.1 acre.

Parsuram attended a 3-day residential training programme on vegetable farming. He also attended the on-field demonstrations where nursery raising and transplantation were demonstrated by experts. He used the ‘Bullet’ variety of chili from the Cinzenta company. Initially, he had to struggle to protect plants from an attack of late blight. He overcame the problem with the technical advice from TCL experts, and produced an outstanding yield. He sold chili worth Rs31,801 in the span of 8 months, not including self-consumption. Parsuram thus realised that vegetable cultivation would ensure regular income at regular intervals. He could stay with his family, look after the education of his children, and also take care of his father. He therefore decided to permanently cultivate vegetables in 0.4 acres of land.