The livelihoods of a majority of farmers remain highly vulnerable to drought, disease and market fluctuations. Conventional agriculture based on high external inputs has made agriculture unremunerative and unpredictable. Multifunctional, biodiverse farming systems and localised diversified food systems are essential for ensuring food security in an era of climate change. Alternative agricultural approaches build on the principles of agro-ecology, recycling of resources and self reliance as the means to achieve this dual goal.
A transition from conventional to ecological systems is slowly taking place. This requires a different set of mindsets, skills and support systems to be operational. Also, as farmers are moving from subsistence agriculture to market/high value agriculture, they require different type of support and information.
Transition is happening in pockets, largely by farmer to farmer sharing or with the support of NGOs. For it to happen on a wider scale, support from various stakeholders is essential. The case of SRI in Tripura proves that it is possible to spread an agroecological practice like SRI to a whole state, provided there is appropriate policy and support structures in place.(Bhattacharjee and Raj, p.6)
In this issue we present experiences which show how farmers are being guided to organize themselves to learn, adopt and leverage collective benefits and the supportive roles played by diverse external agencies.
Farmer, the major stakeholder
Knowledge on agroecology is highly localized and is constantly evolving from the field. And farmer plays a key role in co-creation of knowledge as well as its dissemination. From generations, farmers have been instrumental in disseminating knowledge on agroecology. Many of us know Shri. Narayana Reddy, an organic farmer from Karnataka, who has been passionately spreading knowledge on agroecology. We have many examples of such dedicated and passionate farmers in India, who have been promoting agroecology on their own. For instance, Mr. Pradeep Kumar from Orissa (T M Radha, p.22) has been motivating a large number of farmers to practice agroecology, using local platforms like farmer networks.
Also, farmer to farmer extension has been the major driving force in the SRI movement in Tripura that has helped the social innovation get traction in the state.(Bhattacharjee and Raj, p.6)
Supportive roles of diverse stakeholders
NGOs have been pioneers in promoting agro ecology. The civil society organisations are providing the necessary support mainly working on the principles of participatory learning, community mobilization, sustainable development based on agro-ecology. By making farmers as partners in development, BAIF has enhanced the livelihood security of 21000 farmers across 505 villages in Karnataka. It has proved that critical inputs like seeds, planting materials and knowledge and motivation are enough to take their present, unsustainable agriculture towards the path of sustainability.(Kulkarni and Hiremath, p.19)
Besides promoting agroecological practices, non profit organizations like AME fostered initiatives for purposeful collaborative action by diverse stakeholders. Starting with a few members or stakeholders, the group enlarged to include diverse stakeholders from the civil societies, Research institutions, Universities etc. For instance, the Groundnut Working Group emerged as a platform for identifying major problems in groundnut crop; conduct farmer led trials using participatory technology development (PTD) method; assess results, adopt suitable alternatives and also, identify new problems emerging, which need to be addressed, in the next seasonal cycle. (KVS Prasad, p.10)
Mainstream agriculture institutions like the Krishi Vigyan Kendras through collaborative initiatives have been promoting agro ecological practices, but mainly targeted towards organic markets. For example, Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Karur with its multi institutional approach helped farmers in Karur district to switch over to organic ways of farming, in rice and sesamum. Also they established processing units for organic sesame and organic rice and an excellent network for marketing of organic produce.
The State government departments still largely promote chemical agriculture. However, the state of Tripura achieved a massive success in promoting SRI, an agroecological practice, through the stakeholder approach. Major support came from various programmes like Macro Management in Agriculture (MMA), Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and recently introduced National Food Security Mission (NFSM). Similarly, in Bihar, JEEViKA, a World Bank supported program for poverty alleviation in rural Bihar, is implemented by Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS), an independent society of the Government of Bihar. JEEViKA facilitated the formation of a producer company with small and marginal farmers to provide better market support. The members capacity on weighing and grading were strengthened which made the entire marketing business transparent, thereby ensuring them better returns.
With increasing spread of digital communication tools, farmers are being supported by providing access to digital platforms. Non-profits like Technoserve and ICRISAT have been using ICT tools to help farmers. Technoserve empowered small farmers in Bihar by connecting them to information and market opportunities. ICRISAT, in the face of climate change, is helping farmers reduce risk by empowering them with information to take the right decisions, and introducing tools and technologies for diverse stakeholders to come together and work towards climate-smart agriculture.
Sustaining change processes
Diverse stakeholders are supporting farmers, individually or in partnerships. While some focus on outcomes, others focus on processes. However, to sustain the change process initiated, a balance between both is what is required. While civil society organizations focus on processes empowering people, their initiatives are comparatively more sustainable. For example, BAIF, by making farmers pay for many activities, increased their ownership and brought down the intervention costs to a minimum. The focus has been more on building capacities, rather than doling out funds.
Transitioning to agroecology calls for different sets of capacities, mindsets and support. It means that organisations with varied competencies need to collaborate and innovative models of partnerships need to emerge. While collaborations typically engage a variety of players, including NGOs, academia, and governments, successful, sustainable change requires committed participation. Optimally, partnerships need to start with a small group of proactive individuals from organizations, have a common goal or agenda, have role clarity and, above all, build and maintain trust (KVS Prasad, p.10). The group needs to grow organically involving all interested players and communities, with a focus on the purpose rather than position of individual stakeholder. While there is no prescribed model for stakeholder partnerships, one should evolve over time, moving from one model to another or taking on features of multiple models.