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Group Farming: A community farming initiative

Farmers of Tumajore village in Odisha show that community farming results in better utilization of common resources, enhancement of the livelihoods by providing employment and reducing migration. Today, group farming has spread to many surrounding villages.

Collective farming of parwal.
Collective farming of parwal.

Tumajore village under Hemgir Block of Sundargarh District of Orissa, India is home to 74 households. Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute 20.72% while Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute 2.96% of total households. In the absence of irrigation facilities, Tumajore villagers primarily depend on rain-fed agriculture.Non-timber forest produce (NTFP) collection and marketing, particularly that of Mahua flower (used for alcohol preparation) and seeds, forms significant part of their economic activity, during the agricultural lean period between February and June. However, as agriculture production is not sufficient for most of the families to sustain them throught a year, villagers also resort to daily wage labour activities.

The village is characterized by high degree of food insecurity among landless families, and those belonging to small and marginal farmer categories. In the absence of alternative source of livelihood, these families are at the mercy of the village landlords and private moneylenders. Even bonded labour (locally known as goti) system is prevalent in the region. As people are depending primarily on subsistence agriculture and producing paddy crop only, cash crops like vegetable cultivation received least priority from the villagers in Tumajore.

The harsh economic conditions of the villagers has been major stumbling block for the community to invest in lift irrigation though a small perennial water stream which runs by the village. Barring the rainy season, during other seasons of the year, a major patch of cultivable land is left barren. Even during the rainy season, most of the cultivable uplands are left barren due to lack of irrigation facilities.

Group farming

Harvesting parwal
Harvesting parwal

In 2001, CYSD, an NGO, began its intervention of promoting group farming in Tumajore. Group farming, alternatively known as community farming, is a livelihood approach conceived by CYSD. It consists of a group of small and marginal farmers, and landless poor in a village who work together to utilize the cultivable waste lands or under-utilized lands to earn their livelihoods.The participating farmers can either take community or individual land on lease; or can pool land of individual farmers in a contiguous patch for such farming. In promoting group farming, CYSD has always emphasized active participation of the community members in identifying beneficiaries and planning crop cycles for coming years.

CYSD’s intervention in Tumajore began with the formation of village organization involving all households. Village organization is the Village Development Committee (VDC) that serves as a platform to the people to take part in the development processes of the village. Every household is a member of the VDC and takes part in the village planning exercise being facilitated by the civil society organization working in that particular village.

Looking at the benefits of group farming approach in nearby villages, the VDC showed keen interest in taking up the activity. One of the residents, Jeevardhan Padhan played an instrumental role in generating interest among the villagers who later approached CYSD project staff to support them in taking up the activity.

Taking people’s interest in Tumajore as the social capital, CYSD with its experience and technical expertise, developed the requisite project plan to initiate Parwal (Pointed Gourd) cultivation. The village organization then identified the beneficiaries belonging to the most deprived households in the village. On 14 December 2007, a resolution was passed at the village level where 19 such most deprived families of the village were selected to start group farming.

A patch of 3.5 acres of barren upland was identified for the purpose. The land belonged to an individual farmer who had given away the land to the community farming group on lease, thus making available cultivable land which otherwise remained unutilized. CYSD and Village Association members discussed the modus operandi of the project. Together they defined the responsibilities and formulated guidelines for internal management. Upon completion of discussion, farmers began their activities on 09 January 2008.

The group contributed their labour for land clearance, land development, land plotting, constructing water channel and fencing the area. On the other hand, CYSD provided technical and initial handholding support on land, water and crop management; installation of lift irrigation device (diesel pump set); operational knowledge on irrigation scheduling and pump maintenance; training on social mobilization and group management and helped getting access to land under Forests Rights Act. Also CYSD helped establish forward and backward linkages for accessing input services from government and marketing the produce.

Reaping rich harvests

Trader buying the produce at the village.
Trader buying the produce at the village.

All these activities started bearing fruit in six months when the 19 households started harvesting parwals. In the first seven weeks they harvested 77.2 qtls. of parwal worth Rs. 100,760. CYSD facilitated market linkage by making an arrangement with the local trader who would come to the village every week and transported the produce at his own cost.The arrangement proved beneficial as the community did not have to search for market to sell their produce, nor they had to spend extra amount or labour on transporting their produce. The villagers would have faced difficulty in marketing a huge produce of parwal but for the market linkage.

Looking at the success, another 66 villagers joined the initiative. Large patches of uncultivated lands belonging to individual farmers were taken on lease. These lands being located near a perennial stream in the village, did not have problem of irrigation. Presently, 66 households have been cultivating parwal in 15 acres of land.

The traders had the information of parwal being cultivated in large quantities in this village. They visited the village once a week and bought all the produce harvested by the group. All the produce got sold on the same day, posing no problems of storage.

Presently, Tumajore has been able to build its own identity and on an average nearly 100 qtls. of parwal is being produced during the peak harvesting season between August and September. Tumajore parwals have carved a niche in the neighboring states of Chhatisgarh (Raipur, Bilaspur and Raigarh), Madhya Pradesh (Bina, Babina, Jhansi, Gwalior and Sagar) and also in the nearby cities of Jharsuguda and Sundargarh of Orissa state.

The group farming initiative brought an improvement in the livelihoods of people in Tumajore. By providing access to lands, the initiative helped in increasing food production, thereby reducing the food scarce periods. By contributing to better utilisation of waste land, the initiative resulted in providing employment and reducing migration. Group farming with its primary focus on promoting vegetables, evinced a lot of interest among women farmers as an economic activity. Some landless families who were earlier working as bonded labourers have now been able to produce their own harvest through this community farming initiative.

With its holistic impact, this initiative has now spread to other nearby villages as well. Farmers in other villages like Kathaphali, Beldihi, Kuchedega, Dhanrashi, Pandiapalli, Chnadarpur, Surulata, Ramalata in Hemgir Block are practicing group farming.

Seema Gupta and Ganesh Parida

Seema Gupta
E-mail: seema@cysd.org

Ganesh Parida
Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD)
E-1, Institutional Area, Gangadhar Meher Marg, PO. RRL, Bhubaneswar-751 013, Odisha
E-mail: ganesh@cysd.org