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Scaling-Up from Research to Impact: Ensuring Agroecosystem Sustainability and Better Future of Young Farmers in India

Vikas in the fieldIndian agriculture is facing threat from various fronts including climate change, degradation of natural resources and volatile agricultural market systems. Green revolution in India brought food security through intensive use of water, fertilizers, agrochemicals and energy driven inputs. Such journey of agriculture growth impacted various section of farming community, and gradual reduction in agricultural income in comparison to the total costs inures in crop production. Such imbalances and lack of location specific plans resulted loss of agrobiodiversity and degradation of natural resources. The north Indian states particularly Haryana and Punjab have been major contributors in national food production system, although, in recent past these states have been facing problems of depletion of under-ground water, loss of soil fertility, loss of local agrobiodiversity and agroecosystem services. Such problems of agriculture drawn attention to evolve location specific strategies for conserving natural resources and improving livelihoods, however, this challenge need community approach networked with hybrid knowledge systems (scientific and farmers’ knowledge) and buffered by formal and informal institutions.

In order to mitigate and adapt these agricultural challenges, we have formed community based society during the year 2010 with the membership of youth (50 members) who are engaged in agriculture and started networking with formal agricultural research institutions and policy makers. Our motive of coming together was to adapt agricultural challenges in collective mode to minimize risks associate to climate and ecological stressors, and enhance our livelihoods. We were interested to fetch the opportunity from different formal institutions and policies who needs to route their inputs and supports through organized farming community. We started conservation agriculture with rice-wheat system adapting green practices such as using residue incorporation, reducing residue (rice and wheat straw) burning, minimizing tillage operation (to improve physic-chemical structures of soil) and agronomic manipulations through DSR (direct seeded rice) technology by which about 20-25 per cent labour cost, 22 per cent energy cost and about 25 per cent water demand  have been saved. We adapted maize on raised bed in order to replace rice which needs more water demand (e.g. 1 kilogram of rice needs 3000 liters of water) and is being fulfilled by the exploitation of under-ground water. As a result every year about 2.5-3.0 feets under ground water of Karnal district is depleting. The maize crop saves 80 % water and provides Rs. 60,000 net saving (Rs. 8000-9000 cost of cultivation) per acre and provide a time-window also to take some short-duration crop such as radish. Contrary to this, rice crop needs Rs. 16000-17000 expenditure and provides only Rs. 55000-60,000 net saving per acre with Basmati type of variety. With this crop, we get less scope to incorporate any other short duration crop. The state government is also promoting maize based cropping systems by providing some subsidy on seed, machinery and other related inputs. During the winter season in few years, we adapted chick pea to enhance soil fertility, although, due to intense rain chick pea crop failed except one year with optimum economic gain.

At present our Society is networked with more than 250 youth farmers. The collective effort of our Society led to attract several agricultural research and community supported agricultural developed programmes including those from CIMMYT and Indian Council of Agricultural Research. As a result, a massive participatory research with community supported agriculture has been initiated. Several M. Sc. and Ph. D students undertook their agronomic and soil related research works on the farmers’ field in the participatory mode in order to excel the reciprocal learning system. Our community based approach attracted even scientific institutions (Bio-versity International) to start participatory research on selection of wheat and rice germ-plasm adaptable to changing climate, and we succeeded in screening two lines in wheat, although, in rice crop lines were got to be un-successful. We have started quality seed production in partnership mode with Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Regional Station, Karnal, India to enhance the livelihoods needs and maintain socioeconomic status of family members. This venture enable us to fetch Rs. 4224 /quintal in rice crop as compared to Rs. 2500/q of market price, while in wheat crop Rs. 2000/q instead of Rs. 400/q market price. In the Berseem crop (as fodder) Rs. 200/kg seed and fodder extra which can be sold of upto Rs. 60,000/acre (with cost of cultivation and transportation Rs. 20,000/acre).

In the process of coping-up challenges of our soil, water, climate variability and economic stressors, and scaling-up several formal innovations to make them compatible, we evolved our location specific adaptive practices also. These includes some agronomic manipulations in depth of sowing, spacing of seeds, rationalizing size and width of raised bed for cultivating maize, rationalizing the amount of crop residues, etc. As a result, we adapted hybridized knowledge systems to conserve agriculturally important natural resources without yield and income penalty. This success story has several pit-falls and limitations also such as a major challenge was to form the Society of young famers (less than 35 40 years of age) in the scenario when they are searching gainful jobs, retaining the membership of such farmers in group and mobilizing them to get networked with the formal knowledge and institutional systems.

After a period of six years, we adapted in conserving natural resources and enhancing our livelihoods have motivated several hundred farmers to get connect with us and adapt climate smart agricultural practices. For example, this year farmers of six villages have converted their about 4000 acres of land into zero-till wheat to minimize labour, cost, time, energy and water demand. One of the major challenges now lies with us as to how to take our time and climate tested, and ecologically viable practices at larger scale to influence agricultural systems of small and marginal farmers who have less access to external resources and are vulnerable to multiple stressors. How the state and central government is coming forward with their policy and programmes to promote such agricultural systems where lead is taken from the youth farmers. The challenge with scientific organization is to how to formulate their research plans and technological development designs with youth farmers. In what kinds of mode the process of agricultural technology development is implemented so that not only the benefits from agriculture and livelihoods are strengthened, but also the recognition of youth’s knowledge in agriculture is respected and acknowledged to address multiple stressors.

This blog post is part of the GCARD3 Youth blogpost applications. The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.