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Building social capital by investing in rural youth

Youth provided with appropriate training and opportunities, have the capacity to engage in activities that bring both economic and social benefits. Building human resources is an investment that can reap rich dividends. AMEF with its focus on rural youth shows the way.

Learning by experimenting

Ramesh Kumar is an enthusiastic youth, now in his late twenties, living in Balamande village in Kolar district in Karnataka. He hails from a farm family which has been living on three acres of dry land growing crops like ragi, castor, groundnut, bajra and saame. Inspite of belonging to a farm family, Ramesh was not keen on farming.

Life took a turn when Ramesh lost his father and had to take the family responsibility. Being a graduate, his natural choice like any youngster was to find a job.

He succeeded and worked as a security guard, a baker boy and in a gear company but found himself unable to meet the ends of the family. He returned back to his village.

Training rural youth as Sustainable Agriculture Promoters

AMEF believes that season-long Farmer Field School is the one of the most empowering processes to bring about a change in farming practices through changed mind sets. This calls for a strong base of change agents who are well trained in this FFS process. When AMEF planned to train local human resources in FFS it was also aware of the fact that there existed a large proportion of the population who are young and disinterested in farming. Seeing them as a potential to sustain and spread sustainable agriculture in villages, AMEF started identifying and training rural youth with the following assumptions and strategies

– Youth get interested in farming when they ‘experience’ better farming practices – Training in FFS provides this experience

– Youth look for leadership role in communities – Building their capacities not only as practitioners but also facilitators of learning processes like FFS and rural farm guides gives this opportunity

– Youth aspire to be unique and recognised – Ecological approaches help them to be different as well as successful in more than one way

– Youth look for unique learning methods – They get interested when the learning processes include studies, group exercises and games – AMEF Farmer Field Schools and Participatory Technology Development (PTD) processes create several such learning situations

AMEF has been involved in organizing intensive, experiential learning based medium and long term training of youth as farm guides and facilitators. (15 day Short Term Training of Facilitators and even some season long training of facilitators too). These youth are selected from villages, undergo the training and go back as farm guides back to their own villages as well as neighboring villages. They not only practice eco alternatives but also pick up facilitation skills of participatory learning processes like Farmer Field Schools. They get involved in conducting Farmer Field Schools as well as sharing events like study tours, field days etc as part of their learning. They serve as Sustainable Agriculture Promoters in development programs. Thus, with enhanced understanding of concepts, technical, social as well as organizational skills they not only practice eco-friendly farm alternatives, also serve as farm guides and facilitate learning events. As a result, they experience enhanced self respect among their own communities. Primed with Knowledge, they become lifelong assets in the community. Also, they also help in considerably bringing down the intervention costs. So far, around 500 rural youth have been trained and involved in various programs. They have been actively involved in SRI promotion in AMEF programs in three southern states. They are not only serving as rural resource persons in AMEF, other NGOs as well as resource persons in mainstream development programs like ATMA farm schools.

Learning on the field

Ramesh owing to his education was chosen as a book writer for self help group organized by MYRADA, an NGO. After an year, he got involved in development projects being implemented in his area. This provided an opportunity to interact with the farmers and understand many aspects of farming. A desire to farm his land started to grow.

In 2007-08, AME Foundation, an NGO promoting sustainable agriculture started working in his area. Simple technological options like azolla, vermicomposting etc were being promoted among interested farmers. Ramesh, owing to his enthusiasm and interest in farming, was identified as a person who could help in reaching farmers with these technologies. He was first trained on Azolla cultivation and vermicomposting. Before training other farmers on these practices, Ramesh first tried them out on his farm. He built 2 vermicompost units as lots of raw material was available in and around. Starting on a small scale, he continued producing vermicompost. He used it for ragi crop and was excited to harvest 12 quintals from an acre of land. Later, he also guided a number of farmers in producing and using vermicompost and azolla.

Later in the year, he got involved in another project promoting tank silt application for improving soil productivity. After getting trained, he conducted around 15 trainings in surrounding 12 villages. He guided members of around 20 SHG groups in improving the organic matter of soils by using tank silt. His constant interactions with the farmers guiding them in various aspects, helped him gain a thorough understanding of the field situations. His confidence in farming also got boosted.

Meanwhile, AMEF started building the capacities of rural youth in sustainable agriculture. Building social capital in rural areas was a strategy adopted by AMEF for ensuring sustainability of the sustainable agriculture interventions that AMEF had initiated (see box). In 2008, Ramesh was identified and trained by AMEF in STOF (Short term Training of Facilitators). The 15-days training focused on Farmer Field School Methodology and also built in the facilitator skills. Ramesh along with others learnt many things related to ecological farming.

More importantly, the training helped him to understand various aspects of resource management and pest and disease management by practical methods like Agro ecosystem analysis (AESA), short term studies and long term experiments. His outlook towards farming changed. Inquisitiveness and the spirit of experimentation in him was aroused.

In 2009-10, he learnt the nuances of SRI method of paddy cultivation. He further trained farmers of surrounding 15 villages on this specific method. He also started practicing SRI in paddy on his own farm and reaped benefits.

Presently, Ramesh works as a Sustainable Agriculture Promoter (SAP) in five villages of Balamande gram Panchayat spreading sustainable agriculture practices among more than 1200 farmers in the region. He is an efficient FFS trainer who has been conducting FFS in tomato, ragi, paddy and groundnut crops.

Spreading far and wide

Equipped with skills and knowledge, Ramesh is a sought after resource person in the region. He is recognized by different government departments like agriculture, veterinary and horticulture. He served as local resource person for FFS, and successfully tested groundnut crop varieties through trials in the the ATMA-Agriculture Technology Management Agency implemented by Govt. of Karnataka

He is not only earning well in farming but is also motivating and helping other farmers in practicing sustainable agriculture methods. He insists other youngsters to take up agriculture as a profession. Every year he organizes youth to visit Krishimela, a Farm Exhibition to motivate them into farming. He also helps in linking farmers with Raitha Saparka Kendra (RSK) for getting inputs for farming. As of now, more than 150 farmers benefited from the departments in different schemes.

Today, Ramesh is a happy person living with his family in his village. His self esteem and self worth are quite high as he feels he is leading a purposeful life. He is recognized as a committed and research oriented leader among his peers. No wonder he is a role model to the youth in his village.

B V Joshi and K V S Prasad

AME Foundation, No. 204, 100 Feet Ring Road, 3rd Phase, Banashankari 2nd Block, 3rd Stage, Bangalore – 560 085, India.
E-mail: amebang@giasbg01.vsnl.net.in

Inputs provided by Mr. Arun Kumar, AMEF and Mr. Ramesh are gratefully acknowledged.