Paderu women have proved that despite having access to fewer resources, it is possible to adopt agroecological methods of farming, with some initial assistance and training. Use of biologicals is only a small step towards a greener mode of farming, but has the potential to be scaled up on a larger scale especially through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs).
Organic farming has been creating a buzz all around the world for the past few years. Started as a market for fruits and vegetables grown without the use of chemicals, it has now expanded to encompass food in every form, from milk and eggs to coffee and tea. With rising consciousness among consumers about the health and environmental benefits of organic food, particularly in urban areas, the market for organic foods is now one of the fastest growing in the world, with a forecasted growth rate of 16.4%, during the period of 2020-25.
The unique selling point of organic farming has always been the use of natural fertilizers and pesticides instead of chemicals, making it more environment friendly while simultaneously providing various health benefits. With this, a lot of attention has also gone into the use of biofertilizers and other microbiological inputs to make farming sustainable. However, there is a wide price difference between organic and non-organic food items, such that purchasing organic food is still considered a mark of privilege in urban centres. On the other end of the spectrum, farmers are forced to depend on expensive fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural inputs to ensure a good crop yield. Even when it comes to organic farming, farmers need to depend on some form of inputs to keep pests at bay and produce a healthy yield. So how do people living in the geographically inaccessible tribal villages of India manage to grow their food in an organic way?
During the pandemic, the tribal women of Paderu emerged as self-sufficient, helping not just their own families but also their fellow villagers with vegetables grown right in their backyards
Minimuluru, a small tribal village sitting atop the hills of Paderu, is approximately 100 km from the sprawling city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. In contrast to the city, Minimuluru is quiet and serene, home to people of the Paraja tribe, one of 33 tribes residing in the state. One often sees both men and women toiling away in their farms, usually 1-1.5 acres in size, where they grow paddy, turmeric and coffee. Tribal communities are known to depend extensively on nature for both their food intake as well as livelihood. But studies over time have shown that the nutritional intake of tribal communities, especially that of women, is far lower than what it should be.
TechnoServe, a not-for-profit organization working towards poverty alleviation, started their Walmart Foundation funded program ‘Sustainable Livelihoods for Smallholder Farmers in Andhra Pradesh’ in the Paderu region.One of their goals was to enhance the nutritional intake of tribal women, while also increasing soil fertility in the region. Inspired by the Zero Budget Natural Farming model pioneered by Padma Shri awardee Shri Subhas Palekar, the Technoserve team decided to initiate Organic Kitchen Gardens training as part of the program, to support tribal women farmers to set up kitchen gardens in their backyards. This would ensure nutritional security to smallholder farming households, while also empowering women by increasing their involvement in economic activities and helping them generate an additional income.
Started in September 2019, the team began conducting trainings, distributing seeds and providing hand-holding support to roughly 1,000 tribal women farmers from 41 villages in the regions of Paderu and Chintapalli in Visakhapatnam district. A total of 8 varieties of vegetable seeds were distributed, including Brinjal, Tomato, Green Chillies, French Beans, Cowpea, Radish, Amaranthus and Spinach.
Jeevamrut, the organic liquid manure
Given the low-income levels of small-holder farming households, one major barrier was the lack of access to fertilizers and pesticides due to financial constraints. In response, the team decided to train women in preparing jeevamrut, an organic liquid manure solution that provides nutrients to the crops while also improving soil fertility.
The women were divided into groups of six by the Community Resource Persons (CRPs) and TechnoServe staff who provided hand-holding support throughout the training process. The main idea was to ensure that post-training, the women did not have to depend on any external markets for fertilizers. The biofertilizer prepared primarily using cow dung, cow urine, black jaggery, gram flour, water and soil (from farm bund) was both affordable and easily accessible at all times.
For the training, the team decided to provide jaggery and gram flour to the women as initial support. Each woman was given 200 grams of both jaggery and gram flour, enough to prepare 20 litres of jeevamrut. The cost for these materials came to approximately Rs. 11 per person.
The rest of the materials were locally available, and were sourced by the women themselves. The women formed sub-groups of two to three households each, wherein they collected cow dung, cow urine and soil together. This made it easier to distribute these materials among the rest of the women, who may not have had access to them.
Once all the materials were arranged for, the actual training process started. While jeevamrut can be made in cement tanks or earthen pots, most of the villages chose to prepare the mixture in plastic barrels, which was considered easier and more practical. Under the guidance of the CRPs and the team, the women began incorporating the components in the barrel.
Box 1: Ingredients for preparing 200 litres Jeevamrut
|Local cow dung||10 Kg|
|Cow Urine||10 Litre|
|Jaggery/ Gud||2 Kg|
|Soil from farm bund||2 Kg|
The women first added water proportional to preparing approximately 20 litres of the biofertilizer. Cow dung and cow urine were added next, and mixed well. Post this, the rest of the ingredients, i.e., jaggery, gram flour and soil from the farm bund, were added and mixed well using a wooden stick.
Covering the mixture in the barrel with a jute bag, the participants kept the mixture in a shaded area to ferment.
The final product of jeevamrut could be applied directly to the root area of the plant in the soil. It could also be mixed in the ratio of 1:10 with water and sprayed on the crops in order to be used for foliar application.
The resultant biofertilizer was then distributed among the participating women. While it’s only been one season since the women farmers began using jeevamrut, the feedback has already been extremely positive. “While I used to grow vegetables in my backyard previously, never before have they looked so fresh and healthy. I used jeevamrut as instructed to me by Lakshmi (the CRP) and it has completely removed the pest infestation that had always affected my crops,” said a satisfied Mangamma, one of the tribal women farmers who participated in the training.
According to Vishal, a TechnoServe staff person overseeing the OKG program, women were eager to apply the biofertilizer once they started understanding its organic nature. “Earlier, many farmers complained about how they were unable to access fertilizers and pesticides for the crops. When we told them about our plan to provide training for jeevamrut preparation, they were at first sceptical about its effects. But as they attended the training and started using the mixture on their crops, they realized how something organic, easy to make, and especially cheap, can be so effective!” said Vishal.
Impact during Covid 19
The current pandemic has offered a new perspective on the intervention. Covid-19 and the ensuing country-wide lockdown resulted in more repercussions than immediately visible. Tribal farmers of Paderu not only underwent a loss of livelihood due to the shutdown of wholesale agricultural markets, but were also unable to access basic necessities like vegetables due to the interruption of the supply chain and restrictions on movement. This was when the importance of both, kitchen gardens and easily accessible biofertilizers became evident. While villagers were finding it difficult to purchase basics like vegetables, the tribal women of Paderu emerged as self-sufficient, helping not just their own families but also their fellow villagers with vegetables grown right in their backyards. “I usually harvest more than I need in one go so I can distribute some of it to others in my village. During the lock-down, given the restrictions and the distance of the market from our village, by the time we used to reach, not a lot used to be available for sale even there,” said Mangamma. Since then, many women who have seen Mangamma’s organic kitchen garden are now encouraged to set up their own gardens. “People look at how healthy my vegetables are growing and I can tell them it is because of the jeevamrut. Given how we had no way of purchasing agricultural inputs during the lock-down, jeevamrut was not just an easily available alternative, but also extremely efficient as a fertilizer and pesticide!”
Over the course of the program, a total of 708 women farmers from 32 tribal villages were trained on the preparation of jeevamrut. Almost all the women using the biofertilizer have reported seeing positive results in their yields. The exercise showed the team how, with some initial assistance and training, it is possible to inculcate agroecological methods of farming, even among people with fewer resources. While the preparation of jeevamrut may be only a small step towards a greener mode of farming, it has the potential to be scaled up, especially through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) that have access to a wider farmer base as well as more resources.
One of the main reasons for the success of this intervention was the regular engagement of CRPs with the women farmers. Community Resource Persons who are part of the local community itself, often coming from the same or nearby villages, were instrumental in spearheading a more sustainable and community led model. While TechnoServe staff facilitated the intervention, it was the CRPs who ensured effective adoption of the practices by women farmers. And, one key learning—especially in cases of scant manpower—is to identify community embedded persons who can lead the initiative on the ground.
With the success of biofertilizer adoption in the region of Paderu, TechnoServe now plans to replicate this model not just in other regions under the program, but also across a range of programmes it currently has in operation, across the country.
Laxmaiah, A., Diet and Nutritional Status of Tribal Population in ITDA Project Areas of Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh, 2007,Journal of Human Ecology.
Mordor Intelligence, Organic Food and Beverages Market – Growth, Trends, and Forecasts (2020 – 2025), 2020
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