26 October, 2022

Transforming communities through collaborative development

The introduction of high-value agriculture in the rural areas of Jharkhand has helped farmers raise their incomes and their quality of life

"Lakhpati" farmer, Kalomati Devi in her vegetable field
"Lakhpati" farmer, Kalomati Devi in her vegetable field

Like the other residents of Chainpur, a small village in Tundi block of Jharkhand, Kalomati Devi too practiced subsistence farming. She cultivated rice in her small landholding, which fetched her an annual income of Rs25,000. This was not sufficient to sustain her family, much less meet their needs.

Hers is not a unique story. The residents of Chainpur village in Tundi block, Jharkhand practice some subsistence farming, but their mainstay of livelihood is manual labour. Small quantities of wheat and corn are produced by individual families while vegetable cultivation is limited to brinjal, runner beans and potatoes, mostly grown in individual backyards for direct consumption. The average annual income in the community was Rs25-30,000, which barely covered basic necessities. Education for their children or savings for a rainy day were out of the question.

Kalomati Devi’s life transformed when the Lakhpati Kisan Smart Village programme, a Tata Trusts-supported programme executed by the Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) was launched. The programme’s objective is to create ‘lakhpati farmers’, i.e., enhance the income of every household to at least Rs1,00,000 per annum in a sustainable manner across the central Indian belt of Jharkhand, Odisha Maharashtra and Gujarat. The idea is to introduce the concept of layering – multiple sources of income for every household to supplement the main earnings. Here, in Chainpur, it meant supplementing the income from paddy cultivation with high income alternatives, including optimising paddy cultivation, high value agriculture (HVA or vegetable farming) and livestock rearing, among others.

Preparing the ground

Initially, the CInI team faced a lot of scepticism in the region. To gain the trust of the community, CInI also held a live demonstration of agricultural interventions at the Shibu Soren Inter College field in 2016. Four farmers from the community had grown cabbage, cauliflower, chili and tomato over 2.5 acres. This demonstration helped to showcase how production and income levels could be enhanced through a more technical and crop science-based cultivation method. The venue was ideal since it was easily accessible to villagers who attended a weekly ‘hatia’ or market in the vicinity. The villagers were excited about the prospect of better yield and higher incomes, but the concept of growing tomatoes in the Kharif season was alien to them.

So, in 2017, CInI targeted 28 villages in Tundi region of which Chainpur was one. The live demonstration had helped to break the perception that tomatoes could not be grown in the rainy season, and the team’s persistence on the ground paid off – 81 farmers across 12 villages became part of the CInI’s HVA intervention. Six of these farmers were from Chainpur village. Kalomati was one of them.

Sowing the seed

The six farmers planted tomatoes during the rains. The results were phenomenal – each farmer harvested approximately 1000kg of tomatoes in 2-3 decimal of land that netted them an average income of 20-30,000 rupees per household. This motivated other farmers to join the programme. The idea of earning an income from their land and not having to go out for manual labour was an appealing one. So was the idea of using fallow land to earn a lucrative income.

But there was a problem; while the tomato yield was phenomenal, it was limited to a certain time period. For year-round production, they needed regular water supply. Once again, the villagers were hesitant. The added cost and infrastructure development this called for frightened them. However, they did want to enhance production through the adoption of technology.

The bigger challenge was the lack of a Self Help Group (SHG) in the village. Though one had been formed earlier, it had to be disbanded and the money the community put in was lost. This was a formidable obstacle – CInI typically initiates its programmes through women and SHGs. The Lakhpati Kisan model runs on a joint system of financial aid from CInI and from community contributions. This helps to inculcate a sense of ownership in the community and ensure sustainability.

While improvements could be made to individual fields without an SHG, installation of irrigation systems such as drip irrigation and a grant for establishing other best practices such as mulching could only be done through an SHG. Not forming one would restrict the benefits that a community could avail through the programme.

The CInI team put in a lot of groundwork and held many discussions with the community to convince them that the community money would not be siphoned off. Ultimately, the community came around. In 2018, CInI installed a drip and mulch system for 19 farmers that covered a total of 6.99 acres of land. The community contributed 10 per cent of the total cost, while CInI covered 90 per cent. Community contribution was proportional to the land each farmer owned.

CInI also organised exposure visits to the Santhal and Hazaribagh regions to help farmers understand the drip and mulch process. They understood the benefits of year-round availability of water in terms of greater yield and income. The farmers followed the live demonstration of land preparation, drip and mulch irrigation, transplanting soilless saplings and other techniques and diligently applied them to their land. After October 2018, chili and brinjal were also transplanted to the fields.

Since a soilless sapling nursery was not available in the region, it had to be sourced from Ranchi. CInI provided support from the time the saplings were transplanted until they were harvested.

The installation of the solar-powered irrigation system led to a remarkable output. The yield of brinjal and chilis increased two times, with chili plants yielding 1830kg on an average per farmer while brinjal crops increased to 5142kgs on an average per famer. The farmers were also able to avail excellent market rates, Rs33 per kg for chilli and Rs8 per kg for brinjal.

With limited land available for vegetable cultivation, it was essential to enhance the paddy cultivation in the lowlands as well. So, the CInI team introduced farmers to hybrid paddy cultivation and Systemic Rice Intensification (SRI). These interventions helped double the production of rice.

Harvesting the bounty

The Chainpur intervention has been immensely successful with all 69 families in the village involved in the programme. Seven farmers have become lakhpatis within a year.

Witnessing the progress of the village and the efforts made by CInI and the community to enhance livelihoods, the Block Development Officer (BDO) chose Chainpur for horticultural cultivation in 50% of its land under the MGNREGA and the Birsa Munda Aam Bagwan Programme.

As for Kalomati Devi, following the CInI PoP, she was able to harvest 3000kg of tomatoes and 1500kg of paddy in her first year, earning a cumulative income of Rs56,800. In the second year, she installed drip irrigation that cost Rs17,847. She even travelled to Buskinat for drip and mulch training. Then, she planted brinjal and chili for commercial purposes, and watermelon, bottle gourd and bitter gourd for domestic consumption during the summer. Her brinjal plants yielded 4200kg and she harvested 1200kg of chilis. Her annual income has increased to Rs1.5 lakh.

Kalomati Devi is now a member of her village SHG and hopes that the Farmers Production Company (FPC) will get her better rates for her produce in the future. The Lakhpati Kisan programme has made her realise that agriculture can provide her the freedom to live the life she wants. She is able to send her children to a private residential school and provide them with better clothes and more nutritious food. She hopes her children will have the opportunities that she didn’t.

More importantly, her mindset has changed. “Earlier, there was no money to think about anything else,” she says. Now, she hopes her daughter will study and be independent, instead of waiting for marriage.