Homestead farming system offers tremendous opportunities to adopt and adapt family farming in Kerala. The farming system which was being neglected, got an impetus by the mainstream institutions which supported the farm level value addition. Members of Edava Women’s Association are reaping the fruits of their labour, while engaging in productive farm based activities.
The typical homesteads of Kerala are featured with fertile soils, congenial climate, evenly distributed rainfall patterns and small marginal holding size. Coconut palms form the perennial base crop, offering space for growing many companion crops along with it. Women play a significant role in selection of intercrops and the decisions in using the produce, to meet the family needs, small scale processing and marketing surplus production. Generally, vegetables (nutrition or kitchen garden throughout the year), tuber crops (amorphophallus, colocasia, yams etc. for storage up to one year for family use) and banana (use of various parts as vegetables and fruit) are grown as intercrops and the choice of crops is decided by women in the household. Perennial shrubs like moringa, curry leaves, leafy vegetables are also interspersed in coconut gardens.
Women usually preferred multipurpose crops in terms of utility and income. For convenience of multitasking as well as for meeting safe food needs of family members, they integrate compatible, feasible and interdependent components as well. It was found that, around 30% of households maintained poultry or duck units (10-20 birds), livestock, goats, wherein women did more than 90% of the activities.
Adding value at the farm level
ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute had attempted women oriented participatory programmes during 2010 to 2104 for improving the field level value addition. The objective was to optimally use the available farm resources for enhancing farm family income and women’s involvement in farming.
A field based survey was taken up in Edava Gram Panchayath in Thiruvananthapuram district, to understand the current situation. The study indicated that more than 70% of the women could spare about 1.5 to 2 hours per day for productive activities. Majority of them were members or office bearers of groups, mainly women Self Help Groups (SHG). For women, the objective of farming was production of safe and nutritious food for family and income from micro enterprises. Taking into consideration these factors, a programme was devised to integrate farm level value addition for the produce from homestead gardens. The financial and infrastructural support came from the Department of Agriculture, Industries Department, Agricultural Technology Management Agency and Banks.
For women, the objective of farming was production of safe and nutritious food for family and income from micro enterprises.
Data on the quantity of farm produce available on a seasonal basis was collected for planning and deciding value addition ventures, at the panchayath level. Six sub groups of women farmers were formed for producing various value added products – coconut (10 products), jack fruit (23 products), tuber crops (4 products), mushrooms (fresh & 2 products), farm level multiplication units of Green Muscardine Fungus (GMF) (bio agent for treating breeding sites of Rhinoceros beetles, one of the major pests of coconut), vermicompost (packed), cowdung (dried & packed). These groups were federated into Edava Women’s Association (EWA) in 2010, which was registered. Building linkages with different stakeholders for sourcing information on farming and related activities and centralized marketing of produce are some of the activities taken up by EWA.
The members of EWA initiated an innovative Rural Training Centre (RTC) in the village to offer practical training on value addition of farm produce. In the beginning, several trainings were organized by ICAR-CPCRI and Department of Agriculture. Experts from various institutions, innovators in processing were utilized as information sources.
Around 200 women farmers were thoroughly trained in various skills of value addition of farm produce. From among them, based on the quality of products produced, persistence, co-operation, involvement and interest, 100 farmers were selected specializing in six areas of value addition. Among them, six women were selected as master trainers and provided special training in communication, organization and marketing skills. They, as master trainers, offered trainings in seven districts of Kerala to more than 6000 farmers (in the center as well as off campus).
Being master trainers, their mobility and social status improved along with information seeking behavior. “We never thought that we could communicate and teach so many farmers in value addition. We are really proud of our EWA”, says a master trainer.
The success of the programme enabled all family members and neighbors to become part of these vocations. The unit members could get part time employment throughout the year (Rs. 600-3500/- per month for each) and social recognition. The value addition obtained ranged from Rs. 2-20/- for coconut, Rs. 80- 300/- for jack fruit, and Rs. 10-30/- for mushroom. The organic waste from all these units is being converted into vermicompost and being sold @ Rs. 12/kg. The overall improvement in income was 30-40 percent. The local self government supported in developing marketing infrastructure for ensuring sustainability. The women group members were also able to refine the farm level multiplication procedure of GMF to reduce cost by 45% and production time by 30%.
Mrs. Sulekha, the president of EWA says “this model is woman friendly. Small and marginal homesteads will not have big market surplus, but the small quantities could be collected for a feasible level of value addition unit in rural locality. Women farmers easily shouldered the responsibility of collection of produce”. The success of EWA was widely disseminated by All India Radio, Doordarshan, other television channels and the print media.
Safe food production was attained by using organic resources and recycling wastes from the farm – crops and animals. Women preferred using green leaf manures, compost and farm yard manure along with ash, which is readily available from the kitchen. Integrating different components in homesteads reduced waste, resulting in cleaner surroundings. For women, this type of intensive farming planned around the home, offered opportunities for most effective time management, attending crops, animals, birds while doing household activities and preparations of safe food from farm fresh produce with zero food miles.
Principal Scientist (Agricultural Extension)
ICAR – Central Plantation Crops Research Institute
Regional Station, Krishnapuram P.O.
Kayamkulam- 690 533, Kerala.
Head, ICAR – Central Plantation Crops Research Institute,
Regional Station, Krishnapuram P.O.
Kayamkulam- 690 533, Kerala.