Transforming Rural India through Agricultural Transformation
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With a majority of its population living in villages, rural poverty is a major problem in India. The disparity between the urban and rural incomes is also on the rise. This leads to migration to urban areas resulting in urban blight as well. Therefore addressing the problem of rural poverty assumes urgency. On my last trip to India, I witnessed an innovation experiment, National Agro Foundation (NAF), that addresses this wicked problem.
Since its inception in 2000, NAF has been involved in a range of interventions—infusion of technology, soil enrichment, efficient farm and water management, improved cattle development, functional literacy, rural sanitation and public health, human resource development, establishment of self-help groups particularly among women, self-employment opportunities and facilitating institutional credit—to address the problem of farm productivity in India. Founded by Mr. C Subramaniam on his 90th birthday as a parting gift to his country, the NAF focuses on the poor and marginal farmers, women, unemployed youth, and depressed communities. (Mr. Subramaniam is widely acclaimed as the Father of the Green Revolution in India, because in the mid-1960s, as the Minister for Food and Agriculture, he successfully handled a major food crisis).
NAF works in about 250 villages in Tamilnadu and has reached 30,000 rural families. A large part of NAF’s effort with farmers is to help break their initial emotional barriers to new technologies. This has provided the platform to launch into other initiatives. The success of these measures has had a demonstrative impact on the farmers’ willingness to adopt and internalize new technologies. This may be considered an attitudinal breakthrough.
Another initiative, the Center for rural development (CFRD), a training cum village knowledge center, has been established in Illedu Village of Kancheepuram district with classrooms, computer lab with internet facilities, input and product handling center, farm machinery workshop, model experimental farm, residential complex for trainees and an open air theatre to cater to the needs of various sections of rural community. NAF has also established a Research and Development Center in Chennai housing a comprehensive soil testing laboratory, food safety and standards laboratory and a plant tissue culture lab to provide agriculture support services.
Here are some highlights of the outcomes as a result of these NAF interventions:
Agriculture productivity improvements through resource conserving “Lean Farming”: Paddy (55%), Groundnut (113%), Vegetables (116%), Sugarcane (40%), and Corn (150%). Through successful lead farmers, technology transfer has been effected over an area of 10,000 acres with a “Lead Farmer—Lead Village” concept. Addressing the agriculture value chain—soil testing, facilitation of inputs and credit, market linkage, and field advisory services—is part and parcel of agriculture development initiatives. Promotion of climate resilient agriculture, resource conserving technologies and promotion of use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in agriculture are being attempted too.
Watershed and natural resource management initiatives have resulted in increase in water table ranging from 3.5 meters to 5 meters in the project area of over 6,000 hectares. Cropping intensity has been doubled (two crop cultivation in a year instead of one crop) and about 20% additional area which had been left fallow has also been brought under cultivation. Soil erosion, nutrient loss, damage due to flooding during rainy seasons have reduced significantly.
Over 6,500 high yielding cross bred cattle with a milk yield improvement to the extent of 300% has also been achieved through NAF’s animal husbandry initiatives.
To sustain the benefits derived, the Social Development initiatives of NAF have helped village communities in establishing community-based institutions like Farmers Clubs (160), Self Help Groups and Joint Liability Groups (900), Farmers Producer Organizations (6), Watershed committees (25) etc for collective decision and action. Over 6,000 people have been made functionally literate through adult literacy program. Over 1,900 beneficiaries have established micro-enterprises for which microfinance has been facilitated. 30 children are passing through every year through its play school for the past six years. The children are provided nutritious food in order to ensure nutritional security to the underprivileged. Over 1,400 toilets have been built with people participation under sanitation initiatives.
Training is imparted on “technology-oriented” and “participation-oriented” modes to various stakeholders of agriculture and rural development like farmers, youth, women, socially excluded, functionaries of NGOs, water users, producer groups, input suppliers, bankers, students etc. Over 50,000 people have benefited in the past decade.
Reducing income inequality is not just a matter of charity, it is a challenge for innovation. NAF is an interesting experiment. The problem is so large, will more corporations step forward to collaborate with organizations like NAF to tackle this challenge?