Seeds of Hope

By Neha Khator | USAID| January 8, 2018

Improved seeds and better access to water have proved a winning combination for these Indian farmers.

Three spokes in his back wheel have almost come off, but farmer Kunwar Munda adjusts his feet and continues to cycle. Even as the breeze rushes through his hair, it is never enough to match the scorching sun. Trees and the ground have been burnt stony brown and dry.

After almost an hour of cycling, Munda arrives at a tented location in Mungadih village in Angara block in the eastern state of Jharkhand in India.

This is the third Kisan Mela (Farmer’s Fest) organized by USAID, the Centers for International Projects Trust (CIPT) and Birsa Agricultural University (BAU) under the Sustainable Agriculture and Farmers’ Livelihood (SAFAL) Program. Hundreds of farmers from across 15 villages have arrived here. Munda parks his cycle next to a large tree and joins a party of known faces from his village as a few hundred farmers continue to pour into the tent.

Among the arriving farmers is 22-year-old Sapna Devi. Unlike Munda, she had to cross a forested mountain on foot to reach the event.

Farmers gathered under a tent to collect their bags of high-yielding rice seeds. / Neha Khator, USAID

The farmers wait in anticipation before officials from the USAID-supported SAFAL project began distributing 1,200 bags of high-yielding rice seeds to the hundreds of farmers that have congregated.

As names are called one-by-one, farmers queue to get their bags, each containing five kilograms of high-yielding rice seeds.

Farmer Kunwar Munda smiles after collecting his bag of rice seeds. / Neha Khator, USAID

As Munda collects his bag and rejoins his group, his face beams with a smile that’s unstoppable.

“I have heard so much about these seeds. Farmers in villages near mine have doubled their crop production since they got these. And even the drought last year did not affect them. It is my turn now,” he says.

Munda, like every farmer in Jharkhand, is trapped in a vicious and complex agricultural quagmire.

The state has a mountain topography, which means that the land here is rocky, uneven and less fertile.

“Out of the state’s entire land mass, only 35 percent is cultivable land,” explains Kamal Vatta, director of CIPT. “And even though Jharkhand receives monsoon rains twice the national average, the state’s [sloping] geography means that 90 percent of the rainwater quickly washes away, leaving the farmers distressed with severe water shortage and periodic droughts.”

To compound these problems, farmers here grow a traditional, low-productive rice variety using farming methods passed on to them through generations. And, like most farmers here, Munda owns only a small plot of land. His father upon his death divided his one acre of farmland among Munda and his four brothers, leaving only one-fifth of the land each to cultivate. As a result, Munda barely produces enough to feed his family beyond six months.

To break this cycle of extreme poverty and food insecurity, USAID organized the first Farmer’s Fest in June 2015. Through this project, 730 farming families were selected from across 10 villages to receive high-yielding rice seeds along with training in modern sowing and farming methods.

Farmer Sapna Devi after receiving her bag of rice seeds. Through this USAID project, 730 farming families were selected to receive high-yielding rice seeds and training in modern farming methods. / Neha Khator, USAID

But seeds alone couldn’t do the magic.

“In India, farming is still rain-fed and rain-dependent. To cultivate a good crop, farmers need assured access to water during the months of shortage. That is why we began building dobhas or small ponds,” says Vatta.

Adobha is a low-cost rainwater harvesting technique where a 10-by-10 foot pit is dug to trap the rainwater.

“Under the SAFAL project, CIPT and agriculture scientists from Birsa University used geospatial mapping to carefully identify rain and water stream patterns to build the dobhas in strategic locations. In the first year, we built 20 such dobhas — two each in the 10 selected villages,” adds Vatta. The farmers then draw the required amount of water from the dobha using a pipe powered by a pump.

The dobha built near farmer Sukhram Bediya’s farm / Neha Khator, USAID

Farmer Sukhram Bediya from Mungadih village proudly shows the dobha built an arms-length from his less than 1-acre farmland. Whereas before he was producing barely 150 to 200 kilograms of rice a year, after utilizing the higher-yielding rice seeds and dobha irrigation technique, his production shot up to 450 kilograms in only a year.

“After I harvested the rice, the project staff provided me vegetable seeds which again turned out very well. I sold the vegetables in the nearby weekly bazaar, and now I earn an average Rs. 1,000 ($16) every week just by selling vegetables,” says Bediya.

Currently, lush green colocasia leaves (cultivated for its nutritious leaves and root) and ripened tomatoes cover his field. These will soon be cleared to be sold at the weekly bazaar and will make way for his next rice crop.

Farmer Sukhram Bediya shows his field. / Neha Khator, USAID

“In the last two years, I have never left my fields empty. I’m producing something throughout the year now,” says Bediya, a new gold-coloured watch reflecting the sun as he smooths his crisp, light-blue shirt with his hands.

With rising farm production came rising incomes, and farmers like Bediya and Bharat Ram, who is from a nearby village, owe their newfound prosperity to the seeds and dobhas backed by USAID.

Bharat Ram’s daughter had just passed her Grade 10 exams the year he made Rs. 15,000 ($244) by selling a bumper cucumber harvest. “From that money, I paid Rs. 5,000 ($77) for her admission fees to enrol her into the Women’s College in Ranchi (the state capital).” Adds Ram with a tone of disbelief: “Who would’ve thought that cucumbers could one day pay for my daughter’s education.”

As these stories of transformed livelihoods travelled across villages far and wide, farmers like Munda and Sapna Devi began joining the SAFAL project. Like Bharat Ram, Munda too wants to send his sons to study in a private school in the city. “They are talented, bright boys and I know they’ll do well for themselves if they get the right education,” says Munda.

In the last two years, the project has built 320 dobhas in 30 villages in the Angara block alone and has enrolled over 2,100 farmers, providing them with access to water and seeds of hope.

The project has been so successful that the local state government has taken notice and plans to drastically ramp up dobha construction going forward.

“Based on the success of our program, the Jharkhand state government has now committed to constructing 500,000 dobhas across the state by 2022, collectively saving 12.5 million cubic meters of rainwater,” says Vatta. The Jharkhand state government’s efforts support the Indian Prime Minister’s flagship national goal of providing “water to every farm” and doubling farmers’ incomes and productivity.

Farmer Sapna Devi, though, has simpler dreams. With the increased farm income, she hopes to buy herself a red saree. “It would look good on me, right?” she asks. “Oh yes, you’ll look very pretty,” giggle her friends from behind.

About the Author

Neha Khator is a development and outreach communications specialist with USAID’s mission in India.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by USAID Frontlines and retrieved on 01/09/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.

Better farmer access to machinery eases crop residue burning in India


“Super SMS” fitted combine harvester and “Happy Seeder” can be used for simultaneously harvesting rice and seeding wheat. Photo: H.S. Sidhu/CIMMYT

November 14, 2017

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) — In conjunction with recent state regulations outlawing the use of fire to destroy field crop waste in northwest India, some farmers are benefitting from technological innovations that can help prevent damaging smog levels in the capital Delhi and other areas, according to scientists.

Currently, the majority of farmers in northwest India burn leftover vegetation residue to prepare fields for planting in cyclical rice-wheat crop rotations, leading to negative consequences for soil quality, the environment, animal and human health. Rice-wheat crop rotations make up 84 percent of burned crops, a key source of atmospheric pollution.

“Farmers need access to appropriate machinery and training to implement change to discourage burning,” said M.L. Jat, a systems agronomist who works in New Delhi with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “Using crop residue in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner could benefit all stakeholders.”

Many farmers keep costs low by burning residue on the farm, rather than paying for its removal for other uses, which could include animal feed, biofuel,  incorporating it into the soil or retaining it in the field as mulch, according to a research paper titled “Burning issues of paddy residue management in northwest fields of India.” Fire is also used to eliminate weeds, pests, disease and remaining field stubble after harvest.

Ash left on the fields after residue burning increases the availability of some nutrients, while depleting others and negatively affecting soil health in the long term. During burning, soil temperature increases, bacteria and fungi are killed off, regenerating in a matter of days. Residue burning can damage plants and trees on field edges with negative implications for the overall ecosystem.

Residues can be used as a renewable energy source to improve air, soil quality, climate change and reduce global warming, provided these are economically viable options for farmers. Incentives could also help encourage farmers to leave residues on their fields for use as fertilizer.

If residue is mulched into the soil, nutrient levels improve and carbon sequestration capacity increases, lowering the release of greenhouse gases into the environment. Additionally, residue retention reduces evaporation and increases soil moisture by as much as 10 percent during the wheat-growing season.

Farmers can benefit from the Happy Seeder, a machine that can plant wheat seed directly into the soil by boring through crop residue. The Straw Management System (SMS) machine spreads straw residue thinly on the soil surface allowing seeding.

“Residues are also of great economic value as livestock feed, fuel and industrial raw materials, but of the total rice residues produced in northwestern India, only around 15 percent can potentially be used for these purposes and the rest must be managed with in-situ (on site) management technologies,” said Jat, who conducted the research in collaboration with the CGIAR research programs on maize (CRP Maize), wheat(CRP Wheat) and climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS).

“Although farmers are aware of the adverse affects of crop burning, they rely on it due to the lack of economically viable and acceptable machinery and alternatives to dispose of residue.”

However, deploying advanced technology, including the concurrent use of straw management systems, fitted combine harvesters and Happy Seeders for direct drilling is a viable solution to eliminate burning, he added.

With these advancements and aggressive campaigns, within a period of a couple of months in Punjab state alone, over 1,000 combine owners have launched a “Super SMS.”

Additionally, nearly 2,000 happy seeders are being manufactured, which will lead to large-scale adoption of conservation agriculture techniques in the upcoming wheat season, Jat said.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIMMYT and retrieved on 11/24/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Kalam-inspired fellowships for environment researchers soon

Abdul Kalam (File Photo)

Abdul Kalam (File Photo)

New Delhi, Oct 16: Updated: Friday, October 16, 2015, 18:18 [IST]

The Environment Ministry will launch post-doctoral research fellowships in the name of former president late A P J Abdul Kalam to nurture young scientists working in the fields of environment and ecology. “The main focus of the new fellowship programme and also the ongoing National Environmental Sciences Fellows Programme is to nurture young scientists working in environment and ecology for undertaking good quality scientific research under the mentorship of established scientists of the country,” an official statement said today.

The programme, announced on the occasion of Kalam’s 85th birthday, is targeted at young scientists working in the area of environment and ecology in the country and those who have completed their PhD or are about to complete their PhD in areas related to environment and ecology. The applicants are required to be preferably below 35 years and the tenure of the fellowship is for three years. The fellowship includes a monthly fellowship, equivalent to that of a research associate, together with an annual research contingency grant of Rs 1.5 lakh. The post-doctoral fellowship will also be entitled to house rent allowance and other benefits as per the Ministry’s guidelines applicable for research associateship. The Ministry will advertise about the fellowship to call for applications shortly and the guidelines for the programme will be uploaded on the Ministry’s website. It proposes to constitute a committee of experts headed by R A Mashelkar for selection of fellows. The Ministry said that Kalam, the people’s President, had an abiding trust and faith in the abilities of the youth of the country to transform India into a global power. He was also firmly convinced that science and technology would offer solutions to the pressing challenges facing the country, including those of environmental protection and sustainable development, the statement added.

Article Disclaimer:  This article was published at and was retrieved on 10/22/2015 and published here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author. Please cite the source accordingly.



India’s Rush For Development That Is Making Tribals Sacrifice Their Lives And Livelihoods

Youth Ki Awaaz


Image source: Young Baiga Women, India, Wikimedia commons

By Antara Mukherjee

Over the past few decades, the rate of development in India has increased steadily. The methods to encourage this development have become harsher, rougher and prudential in a way that has led to complications on a large scale. As the rate of development rises, Indian Adivasis and the rural population have been largely and purposefully left behind in the dust of the storm. And through this exclusion, millions of voices have been raised to challenge the new ideas of development, wrongful displacement of communities, uprooting of ancient and traditional livelihoods and mostly the snatching away of any authority on their own lives.

Development Induced Displacement and Resettlement (DIDR) is the root of most problems in this case. Large groups of adivasis and villages residing in and around forests, mountains and resource rich areas are being forced to move away for the creation of dams for hydroelectric power, area to set up mines, area to set up airports, military bases. With the use of force these communities are being pushed to give into the demands of the richer and the powerful. In return they are being left without jobs, no money to feed themselves and no homes. They are being pushed to migrate into newer environments where they aren’t able to cope up with new livelihoods.

Kashipur in Odisha is rich in bauxite. A joint international company called Utkal Aluminium decided to lay it’s foundation in the village of Maikanch in Kashipur. Over the past ten years, the villagers have protested to this intrusion and they have been met with violence. To reiterate the fact that this project of mining bauxite is in the name of development, state police and state administration have turned to hostile and uncivilised flow of violence on these peaceful villagers. One fine day, the police vans turned up with armed policemen and opened fire on a few men who were cultivating their land. After injuring a few and killing three men, they fled the scene, leaving behind the threat of further such violence. The kind of violence that has been met out to such geographically favourable areas is a trend. It’s always the state against the people, it’s always cold blooded violence against peaceful protests by the villagers and the affected sections. Not only were the people of Maikanch attacked, the company even tried to bribe some of the villagers and asked them to state how happy they really were about the mining project and how they were alright with the forced displacement.

This shows that the trust between a government and its people is no longer a reliable phenomenon. In each case the authorities have been the reason for more trouble to the people than the foreign companies that only want to sink their claws into profits.

A little further away in Nagarnar, Chhattisgarh another such conflict had arisen. The National Minerals Development Corporation with the help of Russian technology wanted to set up a steel plant. At the beginning, the villagers of Nagarnar didn’t raise any qualms about this project. It became a problem when the site of the plant was announced. The CM was adamant about using the fertile agricultural land of the villagers for the plant instead of the huge barren stretch of land that the villagers had proposed. Protesters were beaten up, wrongfully jailed and shot at. Villagers were lathi-charged, stoned and tear gassed. After four gram sabhas collectively refused to give up their land, they were cheated out of it by the authorities through forgery. Eventually hundreds of villagers were jailed so the plant could carry out the inauguration ceremony peacefully. They were even forced to accept compensations and beaten up for any refusals. Even after all this transpired the state authorities claimed that law and order was being rightfully maintained with cooperation by all.

The truth is that most resource and mineral rich areas have been a home historically and traditionally and may time even legally to tribals and villagers living there. They have resided in those regions for centuries with their own methods of survival and livelihood. And these regions in turn become the ground for conflict between them and the government that refuses to accept any protest against their forced development projects. These areas have been the site for terrible conflict that has led to the killing of innocents in hundreds and thousands. It is astonishing how deaf the state authorities can be when it comes to paying heed to their own “subjects“. It is also astonishing how state governments that claim to have no funds to carry out development of villages and such has enough money to order military battalions against peaceful and unarmed protests.

Development is a huge part of a developing nation, but at what cost? The tribals and poor villagers have nothing to gain from the mainstream idea of development. Their livelihoods cannot be sacrificed for others. And our governments have profusely refused to help and provide refuge to these resilient communities.

When it comes to reasons as to why these communities refuse to give up their lands and livelihoods they are plenty. Some being the fact that they only know their way of life and cannot cope with any displacement and change of lifestyle. They cannot survive without their ancient knowledge and forests as they need them for food and other such basic needs.

But this ancient history, their reservoir of hereditary knowledge of forests and of sustainable development has gone unnoticed by authorities that claim to be the harbingers of development.

In the recent past another conflict that has raised many debates along the lines of what development should mean is the tussle over the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha.

The Niyamgiri hill range is a beautiful landscape which is a fertile and thriving forest land. Within these hills live a tribe called the Dongria- Kondh who revere this hill range as their deity, as their God and the one who is responsible for their existence. But like many other regions in Odisha this hill range happens to be very rich in bauxite ore, a key requirement for mining aluminium. Vedanta Mining is a company that is based in the UK and it has mining operations going on in multiple countries. They currently have their eyes on the Niyamgiri hills and want to mine it for bauxite. The problem with this is that hill range is rich in flora and fauna, it is self-sustaining and is a home to many tribes including the Dongria-Kondh. Since the beginning of the project, the villages within the hill have come out with passionate refusals to the project proposal. The mining would result in their hill being blown apart and their livelihoods destroyed. The tribe lives in its own little world. They grow their own food and are highly skilled at gathering in the forest.

The villages have been able to hold back the proposal through collective refusals at over 14 gram sabhas. They have vetoed the entrance of the mining company and have refused to leave their land even if it means to die. The politicians who stand to profit if the proposal goes through are now proposing military help to diffuse the unanimity of the people by accusing them of maoist activities. Currently the company is yet to make a move due to the lack of a green signal, because a collective veto would influence the state authorities against them. But with the new government in place, gram sabhas may lose their authority to decide for themselves and their lives. This is a different kind of violence. The tribe lives in fear for their Niyam raja who has been their cover for centuries. They are ready for a war, if required, to save their home. The company’s advertisements for the Indian population has the tagline, “Mining Aluminium. Health and Happiness of Odisha.” However the intentions of the company are very two faced. They are only prepared to mine and prioritise their customers who can afford the products of aluminium. They have no intentions of social work, rehabilitation or employing the people of the villages they will be uprooting. With no regard for the people that are being forcibly displaced, our current government aims to take away the right to veto from these villages, making the gram sabhas null and void of their function. This could lead to great problems, one of coaxing these villages into a revolt which would cause both humanitarian and economic problem amongst many others.

What seems common in all these struggles over the country is that none of them, none of the affected people are ready to wait for their fate to be decided in a corporate boardroom. And the authorities, the government cannot take this reaction lightly or de-prioritise the call of the tribals over the greater good of the mainstream society. No one should be sacrificed or be made to sacrifice for other people, a sacrifice that will leave them begging for food and shelter for the rest of their lives and even generations.

The current track record of development that this country has seen has been devastating for those who cannot afford it. They have been systematically excluded from any of the 21st century privileges, even human rights. This tussle over land is only one of the many cases of developmental frauds that has and will result in more problems and complications in the future. Organisations like the World Bank have been equally at fault for pushing projects in such areas where a problem is bound to arise.

In conclusion, all these incidents echo the reality of the phenomenon we call development. It is critically important for us to recognise the sometimes devastating patterns of development and how they affect only a certain section of the society. It is important to recognise and be critical of developmental methods that require the displacement and the sacrifice of people who cannot afford either.

This article was initially posted at YOUTH KIAWAAZ and retrieved on 09/04/2015  and posted on this blog for information and educational purposes.



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