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Life-skills and livelihoods college for the young farmers

Young people from farming families are opting out of agriculture, perceiving farming as drudgery and unremunerative. Baduku addressed this issue by helping these young farmers realize agriculture as a sustainable livelihood option and building their capacities in sustainable farming methods.

Surendra displays miracle millets for food securityDegradation of agricultural land, un-sustainable use of water, irresponsible uses of toxic chemicals, ecologically damaging tourism and energy intensive production are all leading to climate change as well as distress and destitution for farmers, artisans, indigenous communities and unorganized workers. The need for environmentally sound livelihood systems poses multi dimensional challenges. Baduku (which means Survival or Life) is a small step in exploring possible solutions.

Baduku, a Life-Skills and Livelihoods College is promoted by Samvada an organization with a 21-year history of working with youth. The College is the result of a two year process of discussion in response to the social exclusions and economic marginalization that young people, especially dalit youth, are facing in the peri-urban region around Bangalore. Through this initiative, we help build sustainable livelihoods and enterprises which have a scope to address emerging ecological and societal issues through alternative technologies and pedagogies.

Baduku is an attempt to carve out meaningful livelihoods that address key social and ecological challenges of our times. For young people, Baduku College offers a way to combine their activism with creative and remunerative work. This unique college offers courses on “alternate livelihoods” where alternative technologies/perspectives are used to build sustainable livelihoods. Over the last three years we have designed and completed courses in Sustainable agriculture, Urban Rain Water Harvesting Solutions, Education for Social Change (for college teachers) and Child Care Management.

Box 1: Design of training

Participants understand complexity of chemical farming.

Participants get a sense of Green Revolution in to Poison Revolution.

Participants realize the need for equity and mutualism in agriculture.

Participants become open to experiment with alternative remedy for Green Revolution inputs.

Participants realize that irrigation is not must for agriculture.

Participants attempt integration of eco-based components.

They work towards sovereignty for food, seed and water.

Course on Sustainable agriculture

Farming is increasingly seen by young people as a drudgery which gets no respect. As a result, young people from farming families are opting out of agriculture and some small farmers are even leasing out their lands to large land holders.

Our courses in Sustainable agriculture present young farmers with a whole new approach to farming based on Masanobu Fukuoaka’s philosophy on sustainable living. This course is a response to the crisis faced by farmers caught between high prices of inputs, vagaries of monsoons, deteriorating soil and unstable markets.

We started this course during 2008-09. The 30-day intensive training programme also equips them with skills and knowledge necessary to shift towards organic methods, mixed cropping, value addition and organic certification. Interactions with organic farmers, marketing outlets, consumers, and systematic implementation of the “ten steps to organic” form the core of our training.

Youth from agricultural families, having 0-5 acres of agriculture land are trained in sustainable agriculture practices demonstrating how small holder agriculture can be a viable and sustainable option. Organic farming is combined with agro-based diversification. The concept and practice of sustainable agriculture and the practicalities of a transition to organic farming is taught through a season-long process. Skills and knowledge pertaining to crop mixes, farmyard manure, liquid manures, kitchen gardens, bio-pesticides, soil moisture and fertility, water conservation etc., are included in the core content. The course designed for 24 days, is spread over a cropping season of about 6 months.

Post training follow-up

After the training, we regularly visit farmers’ field, meet our students and also their family members. Post training support and mentoring through farm visits and on the field guidance has helped farmers make smooth transition towards sustainable agriculture with confidence and clarity. In a way, our visits have boosted their efforts in applying their knowledge on the farm.

Box 2: Small is ‘beautiful’

Gopal is practicing ‘ZERO’ farming. “ZERO farming is a system of farming in which he conducts different types of agricultural practices together, on a single farm in view of increasing his income through different sources”.

Gopal designed the farm by utilizing every inch of land; he has planted 30 Teak and 32 Melia dubia plants on the border around the fence, then he planted Jasmine and improved grass intra and inter bunds. Inside he planted M5 and V1 variety of mulberry. In between these rows, he grows various vegetables and medicinal plants. All the farm waste is heaped for 2 to 3 months. In this period the waste is converted to aerobic compost, then applied through water channel on to the main field.

He collects cattle waste and dumps it in a corner of his farm. Around the compost pit he has planted castor and cucumber creeper. This provides the much needed shade to the pit. He gets partial income from the castor. Last year he got about Rs. 150/- from the sale of three kilos of castor seeds. Cucumber is for home family consumption.

He believes in ‘practicing mixed farming to get better and sustainable yield’. He says another important element is “MY FARM IS LIKE AN ATM”, I get income everyday from my farm. Last year, he earned Rs. 1,19,650/- from his 18 gunta (it is less than one acre) farm by working two to three hours every day. He is not using single drop of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for the last twenty years. He is planning to convert his farm to no tilling and has not been ploughing for the last two years.

He is also mobilizing young farmers in around Ramanagara of Karnataka state to work on ZERO farming. They started “Nammora siri” team comprising of Ramanagara young farmers.

Moving beyond production

We organized a unique program as a strategy for better marketing. Hasiru Santhe is a platform where organic consumers meet and interact with those farmers who produce “Safe” food for them. Hasiru Santhe is planned with the following objectives.

1. To provide safe and healthy food

2. To promote eco friendly production practices

3. To avoid middlemen and provide better price to farmers

4. To build a culture of trust

5. To assert consumer’s right to know the producer of their food

6. To localize food production and distribution

Hasiru Santhe is organized once a month. Samvada’s five farmers have been continuously participating and supplying organic products in the Hasiru Santhe. Our farmers have sold diverse organic vegetables and foods.

Food products include breakfast cereals, pickles, flours, herbal balms and ointments, nutritious millets, snacks, drinks, compost, free range eggs… all products certified by the farmers through a rigorous peer certification process called PGS (Participatory Guarantee Scheme).

Outcomes

Many young farmers have applied the knowledge gained in the course on to their farms and are doing very well. They have achieved 24.72% sustainability due to intensive training. Farm sustainability was quantified and assessed on the trainee farms before and after training. While the sustainability quantification (SQ) level before training was 32.42% it was 57.14 % after the training.

There are a number of young farmers who applied this knowledge on their fields. For instance, Surendra started working on two cropspaddy and finger millet. He tried out fifteen varieties of finger millet and two varieties of paddy and finally identified five good varieties of paddy and one good variety of finger millet suitable to his farm conditions. He also started rearing rabbits, preparing vermi compost and cultivating Azolla. Surendra is also working with other farmers in converting the whole village into organic.

Now the programme has graduated from being a course to an influencer model. The trained participants mobilize other young farmers in their village and give training to the group in one of the trained participants field. Now our trained participants are working as farmer consultants in our training program.

Hope for the future

‘I am proud to become an organic farmer’,
‘I succeeded in getting sustainable yields’ ,
‘I earned one and half lakh rupees from the sale of herbal medicine and I am able to provide education for my children’,
I won’t sell my land and will convert it into organic farm’,
I will start community seed bank for exchange of local seeds’,

These are some of the young farmers’ voices raised in Bhavasangama program, an alumni meet of young farmers who were trained in Samvada. We are happy that our efforts are bearing fruits. Not only are these young farmers practicing organic ways of farming on their farms but are also working towards motivating others in the village. While our effort has been a starter, we hope that it spreads widely, protecting our environment and people.

Manjunath H
Program Convenor
Samvada – Baduku College, No. 1900 Geetha Badavane, Near Kempegowda Circle, Ijoor, Ramanagara, Karnataka.