Scaling up Sustainable Agriculture to Sustain Small Holder Agriculture

Most of India lives in villages. Being a predominantly agrarian society, nearly three-fourths of India’s population live in rural areas. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for two-thirds of the population. The profound changes in Indian agriculture since the 1960s have had cascading effects on India’s agrarian economy and society.

These changes may be understood in two broad phas- es, namely, as the effects of the ‘Green Revolution’ technolo- gies, and of the industry-market-Multi National Companies- reforms driven agriculture and technologies during the post green revolution period. Related to both were the agrarian reforms, which gradually loosened the existing and emergent farming classes from the traditional safety-nets at the com- munity level and forced them to be under the newly institu- tionalised bureaucratised farm services away from the gaze of the village locals. The worst affected in the process are the small and marginal farmers [SMF] who constitute 70% of the farming community.

Small Holders in Indian Agriculture

The census 2011 for the first time records numbers of agricul- ture workers out numbering (144.3 m) the cultivators (118.7 m). (Figure 1)

Figure 1: People depending on Agriculture in India (1951- 2011)

People depending on Agriculture in India

Source: Indian Census, 2011

Census data from 2011 shows that people depending on agriculture has come down from 69.43% to 54.6% in last 60yrs and for the first time the number of cultivators is lower than agriculture workers both in proportion and absolute numbers. Between 2001-2011 about 86.10 lakh people have left farm- ing in India which is about 2358/day. In 2011 main cultivators (depending on farm income for more than 6 months) are only

95.8 m which is about 8% of Indian popula- tion).

National Sample Survey 70th Round (2014) Report shows that the percentage of households for all categories of holding has declined, except for marginal category (who own less than

1.00 ha of land), which showed an increase in 2012-13 over 2002-03. More than 81.83% of agricultural households today own less than 1.00 ha of land.

Table: Changes in the percentage distribution of house- holds and area owned by category of household owner- ship holdings in 2012-13 over 2002-03

Category of holdings% of households% of area owned
 2002-03 (59th Round)2012-13 (70th Round)2002-03 (59th Round)2012-13 (70th Round)
Landless (0.002 ha)10.047.410.010.01
Marginal (0.002-1.00ha)69.6375.4223.0129.75
Small (1.00-2.00 ha)10.811020.3823.54
Semi-medium (2.00-4.00ha)6.035.0121.9722.07
Medium (4.00-10.00 ha)2.961.9323.0818.83
Large (>10.00ha)0.530.2411.555.81

* In 2002-03 (59th Round) the marginal category of land holding included ‘landless’ category also. In the above Jetable for better comparability, the estimates of the round for ‘landless’ is shown separately and excluded from marginal

Source: NSSO 70th Round

As per the data from the Census Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Total number of operational holdings in the country increased from 129.22 m in 2005-06 to 138.35 m in 2010-11 showing an increase of 7.06% Operational area also increased from 158.32 m ha to 159.59 m ha during the same period (0.80%). Average size of the operational holding declined from 1.23 ha in 2005-06 to 1.15 ha in 2010-11. (Figure 2). The small and marginal holdings taken together (below 2.00 ha.) constituted 85.01 percent in 2010-11 against 83.29 in 2005-06 and the operated area at

44.58 percent in the current Census as against the corre- sponding figure of 41.14 percent in 2005-06.

Figure 2: Average Land Holdings in India 1970-2011

Source: Indian Agriculture Census, 2011

Social dimension of agriculture

National Sample Survey 70th round (2014) report shows that the percentage share of SC agricultural households decreased gradually from 28 percent in the lowest size class to about 3 percent in the highest size class of land pos- sessed. OBC agricultural households had an almost uniform distribution over different size classes of land possessed except for the lowest and highest size classes where they had slightly higher share than the share of ‘all sizes’ class.

Distribution of agricultural households by social groups over different size classes of land possessed

Crisis in small holder Agriculture

While the small holder agriculture needs maximization of space, optimization of time utilization, minimization of exter- nal inputs and risk of production, pushing high external input based monoculture has led to the serious crisis in small holder farming. The increasing costs of cultivation and lack of ac- cess to formal institutional credit pushed farmers into high borrowings and into a vicious cycle of indebtedness. In the last 19 years 2.96 lakh farmers have committed suicide across the country.

Smallholders have their own identifiable disadvantages and vulnerabilities in terms of their socio-economic back- ground in the Indian context as well as access to agricultural support systems and services from the State.

There is also a disadvantage they face from dominant discourse which portrays smallholder farming as inefficient, unviable and unproductive. Policy discourse has predomi- nantly favoured “land consolidation” (understood both as re- arranging all small holdings in different locations of one farmer into one larger contiguous plot in negotiation with other farm- ers as well as removing small and marginal hold- ings in an operational/legal context and working with larger holdings) as an answer to productivity problems and has advocated free(r) play of market forces which could favour larger holdings and thereby allowing smallholders to exit farming. These market forces could be related to agricultural credit, agricultural ex- tension, agricultural technologies and specific inputs used as well as to marketing of produce.

In the current agrarian crisis which is reflected in slowed- down agricultural growth rates at the macro-level, lowered contribution of agriculture to the national and state GDPs,

decreasing productivity in several regions and crops, large scale farmers’ suicides, deepening indebtedness, decreasing factor productivity, displacement and exodus from farming, negative net returns from farming, environmental health crisis in several locations and unfavourable markets for many producers/products, questionable national food security situation and increasing agricultural imports into the country, there is a need to analyse and understand the extra burdens faced by smallholders who constitute a majority of Indian farmers. Put together the changes in several policies led to a situation where in the net incomes farmers realize are reducing.

NSSO 70th Round also states the monthly income (from all sources including labor, livestock, farming etc )of farmers who own land less than one ha and who form about 81.83% of the total farming population is less than their monthly expenditure.

Table : Estimated Income and Expenditure of Farmers in India

Land holdingCategoryTotalincome (Rs/month)Expenditure (Rs/month)Percent of farmers
0.01-0.4Sub marginal41525101 
2.0-4.0Semi medium1073077865.01%

Source: NSSO 70th Round (2014)

One of the main reasons for the low incomes is the in- creasing costs of cultivation, decreasing public support sys- tems because of decreasing investments (and subsidies) and stagnant prices. The livings costs of the rural people are also increasing as the state is withdrawing from providing the es- sential services and the people have to depend on the pri- vate agencies even for health, education and water.

The prices farmers get is not in commensuration to the costs incurred. For example if we take the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) offered by the central govt during the year 2014- 15 are as follows

CropCurrent Support price (Rs/q)Cost of production (Rs/ha)Cost of production (Rs/q)Support price recommended (Rs/q)Support production announced by centre (Rs/q)
A grade paddy1,3451,05,2092,104.003,156.001400.00
Ordinary paddy1,3101,02,4801,708.002,562.001360.00
Cotton (long staple)4,00098,8964,945.006,306.004050.00
Cotton (short staple)3,70092,3234,859.007,288.003750.00

Farmer Suicides

In 1987-88 in Prakasham and Guntur districts, Andhra Pradesh more than 100 farmers died after the cotton crop failed due to heavy incidence of pests. Many farmers from these districts have migrated to Telangana region where lands were avail-

able at lower prices for purchase and lease. They again started to test their luck with cotton which initially showed promise. Others in the region also started adopting similar practices. The tentacles of the pesticide and seed industry have not spared them. The costs of cultivations increased. The prob- lems with pests and seed also increased. The crisis mounted and during 1997-98, hun- dreds of cases of suicides were reported from the Warangal and other cotton growing regions. During 2004-05, the year when the elections were fought and new govt. came to power more than 2000 farmers ended their lives in despair. This time the incidents were not limited to cotton crop or dry land regions but spread across districts and farmers growing all kinds of crops.

National Crime Records Bureau reports show that more than 2.96 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last 19 years for which the data is available.

Total 2,96,466 in 19 years

Suicides are only one extreme symptom of the larger crisis looming over the agriculture sector in India in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular. The situation of the people who are surviving in the deceased families and others still farming is no different. The crisis is also manifested in terms of large scale migration, unemployment to agriculture work- ers,

pauperization, malnutrition, ill health, and other social problems. At the same time one can see several industrial houses lined up to sell the inputs to the farmers, rushing to enter into contract farming, more business houses trading busily in the commodities exchange. Several new legislations made and which are in pipeline transforms the way agriculture is practiced today. From subsistence farming to market oriented farming. Understanding this paradox is criti- cal to understand the crisis.

While the agriculture in India in general is in crisis the deep crisis can be seen in about 18 districts of Telangana and Vidharba region of Maharashtra put together account for about 44% of the total suicides. The ever increasing risk in rainfed areas, shift to commercial crop like cotton lack of sup- port from government in the form of seeds, credit, extension, market etc are the main reasons for this.

Farmers Suicides in India, 2013 Total 11,772

Four major cotton growing states form 65% of the suicides AP (including Telangana) and Maharashtra form 44%

Source: NCRB 1995-2013,

Many of the Commissions appointed by the State and Central Governments, Civil Society groups have commonly agreed severe personal debt as the main culprit. Beyond that many of the analyses ended up either recommending more and cheaper credit, or waiving of the loans. None of these committees have introspected into whether the model of agriculture (both technological and policy support) adopt- ed is right. Every time the crisis mounts new technological solution is brought in as a magical solution. If the 1987-88 crises brought in new generation Synthetic Pyrethroids, 1997-98 crises brought in the genetically modified Bt cotton. In subsequent years these solutions are the major problems which are responsible for the crisis.

India has basically adopted the industrial model of farming without any clear understanding of its implications to the livelihoods of crores of its population depending on agri- culture. Agriculture, being concurrent subject major deci- sions are taken by the central governments and role of state govts is limited to being implementing agencies of the central schemes.

This industrial model of farming popularly called ‘Green Revolution’ aimed at educating farming with the western sci- entific knowledge, to improve their yields. All the knowledge they had and inherited from their earlier generations was thrown out as backward. The new technologies received all the support from the govts in the form of subsidies, credit, establishing supply systems, and an extension system to advice on how to use them. The industrial policy adopted at the same time required to get cheap labor which forced the govts. to keep the food prices lower. The govt. procurement and public distribution system were effectively used to pro- vide the minimum support price to the farmer and distribute the procured food to the consumers across the country at an affordable price.

From then a series of wrong steps by the policy mak- ers, short sighted plans of politicians coupled with the global changes in trade and technology have affected the agricul- ture and rural livelihoods seriously. Changes introduced as part of ‘Economic Reforms’ during nineties have completely changed the social situation. Govt. withdrew providing basic facilities like health and education to the people and in the name of efficiency ‘user charges’ are introduced, private industry was given a free hand.

The chemical agriculture which showed results in the irrigated belts was mindlessly adopted across the regions. This has completely damaged the ecological situation. While the govt. procurement operations restricted only to rice and distribution of cheaper rice as food security measure have increased the area under paddy replacing the earlier millets, the growing commercial needs have promoted crops like cot- ton and chillies across the state.

Growing rice in all the conditions have led to a serious crisis. The ground water depleted fast. With increasing tube well technology more farmers tried to have these tube wells. The costs of having a tube well may range any where between 50 to 80 thousand rupees. The depth as well as density of the tube wells increased soon and majority of them dried. While farmers in the canal region get water at a nom- inal price paid as water cess, the farmers in the rainfed regions have to shell out lakhs of rupees on each tube well. Estimation shows that the total amount of money spent by the farmers across the state on tube wells are more than the investments made by the govts on the irrigation systems. While these farmers could drill their tube wells borrowing from private sources, they were forced to depend on the govt. for electricity which became a critical issue. Realizing this, the new govt. played the ‘power’

card promising free electric- ity. Now govt. is planning to construct irrigation dams across the state with a hope of bringing larger areas under irrigation. The problem is not limited to rice cultivation alone, but to the large scale fruit orchards coming up in rainfed areas and the gigantic bio fuel plantations in every land available. All these actions are without realizing either social and ecological con- sequences or limitations of the nature.

On the other hand aggressive promotion of hybrids and GM crops made farmers perpetually dependent on the com- panies for seed. The seed prices increased many fold. For eg. Cotton prices rose from about Rs. 200/acre during 1997- 98 to Rs. 1800/acre during 2004-05. The prices of chillies seed have gone up to Rs. 70,000/acre. The increasing con- trol of the companies also led to monoculture of crops and varieties. The public sector research organizations have remained passive spectators behind all these changes. Their agenda was never set by the farmers needs and their tech- nology not benefited the farmers to the required extent. Take the case of cotton, Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University is working for at least 25 years on hybrid cotton. Today their hybrids do not meet the needs of at least 1 % of the cotton growers. While more than 400 private hybrids are available in the market, they all derive their genetic background from 4-5 lines. Today after the introduction of the Bt cotton, the situa- tion worsened. Almost 70% of the cotton growing areas has come under various variant of Bt cotton. Though more than 16 hybrids are permitted for commercial cultivation, most of them derive their genes from Monsanto’s proprietary technology. The company charges Rs. 1200/- as royalty on each packet of seed (450 g suitable for one acre). The situation in not vastly different in other crops where industry has strong presence.

While the increasing costs of cultivations have increased the debt burden, the dependency on industry for inputs made the farmers loose control, increased use of chemicals created ecological problems, -opening the flood gates for the cheaper imports by removing quantitative restrictions and reducing import duties with WTO have com- pletely destroyed the farming. Be it the farmers growing groundnut in Ananthpur or sugarcane in Krishna or Cotton in Maharashtra or soybean in Madhya Pradesh the story is same.

In the last fifty years many of the first and second gen- eration children of the farmers have moved out of agriculture pursuing higher education and getting employed in other sec- tors. What is interesting is equal no. of people also moved into agriculture during the same time. These are the young generation from the artisan families like carpenters, black- smiths, gold smiths, handloom weavers, agriculture workers mainly from dalit communities. Unable to get any kind of employment and failing to go for higher education they are taking up agriculture. Agriculture sector absorbed these peo- ple who were displaced by industrialization of their respective sectors. This prevented the major social problem that could have happened like in England after industrial revolution. This has also brought in new problems. The land rights still remained with the land owning class and these people have to take lands on lease. These farmers were not covered by any support systems as their tenancy is not legally protected. They have to depend on the money lenders for credit sup- port. Often these money lenders are also the input dealers, technical advisors and traders who buy the final produce. This makes the farmers completely gets into the trap. The knowledge of these young enterprising farmers about agricul- ture is rather limited and are lured by the aggressive market- ing of the industry.

Today the process of industrialization of agriculture is going at a faster rate. Till now the industry’s presence was restricted to input production and marketing and agriculture produce processing and trading. Now with the changes intro- duced though various legislations, the industrial houses are taking control of production as well. This will lead to the large scale displacement of farmers from agriculture, the largest displacement humanity has ever witnessed.

While the problem seems to be multidimensional and unlimited, the solution seems to be much simpler. Developing sustainable models in agriculture which are local resource based, knowledge centric rather than input centric and more community managed is the only way out. Many of the independent initiatives in this direction are showing prom- ising results. This coupled with systems which give the farm- ers more control over resources is the only way to the pres- ent crisis seemingly possible.

While this looks too simplistic at the farmers’ level at policy level we need to wage a big war. The dominant para- digm is still reluctant to change. It’s high time we decide who controls farming in India, farmers or industry. We should decide who sets our research agenda, we should decide what model of trading we need and we should decide how we protect our farmers from the global forces. Otherwise the cri- sis continues unlimited and farmers will disappear into the thin air.

The Farmers Commission headed by Dr. Swaminathan recommended to the fix prices as 50% over the cost of pro- duction, while in reality in most of the crops the prices fixed are less than costs of production. The fate of crop which are not covered under MSP is much worse.

Given this situation, the only option left to the people is to strive to reduce their costs of cultivation by reducing the dependency on the external inputs. The results from various studies shows that the costs of cultivations can be reduced by more than 20% if the farmers can shift towards agro-eco- logical approaches like Non Pesticidal Management (NPM), Organic, Natural farming etc (details in the subsequent arti- cles).

At field level, Sustainable Agriculture approaches are now acknowledged for the wide set of benefits that accrue to the practitioners and their farm ecology as well as consumers of agricultural products. However, the promotion of sustain- able agriculture on a large scale is often confronted with some fundamental questions that skeptics would like to ask about its potential as well as its practical limitations. Practitioners have sound responses for these questions. Sustainable agriculture is probably being practised in almost all districts of Andhra Pradesh in one form or the other, with at least some of the components being addressed in these efforts (could be sustainable soil nutrient management, or could be pest management; sometimes, it could be water management while at other times, it could be certified organ- ic farming; while majority of the efforts focus on production technologies, there could be experiences on alternative cred- it or marketing approaches in an ecological farming context), in addition to pockets of agriculture which have never stepped out of their traditional, eco-friendly practices.

While the larger goal of all these initiatives is to make farming profitable, they differ vastly in their focus and approaches. Some of these initiatives have remained restricted to small pockets while some could be scaled to a larger scale. Today, in the context of the serious agrarian cri-

sis, there is a need to look at the experiences well document- ed and undocumented and synthesize the learning to devel- op a perspective towards sustaining SMF-farming.

Scaling up Agro-ecological approaches for small holders

Agro-ecological approaches (ecological farming/organ- ic farming/LEISA/Non Pesticidal Management/SRI etc) approaches are now acknowledged for the wide set of eco- logical and economic benefits that accrue to the practitioners as well as consumers of agricultural products. These approaches which are based on low external inputs are also low energy intensive and less polluting hence mitigate and help in adapting to the climate change.

However, the promotion of sustainable agriculture on a large scale is often confronted about its potential as well as its practical limitations. In the last five years two large scale initiatives, NPM scaling up (Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture-CMSA) in Andhra Pradesh (Ramanjaneyulu and Rao, 2008) and SRI promotion in states of Tripura, Odisha and Tamil Nadu have brought in new learn- ings and broken the earlier apprehensions on scaling up such practices and their relevance on a large scale.

These successful experiences had three elements in common. First, all have made use of locally adapted resource conserving technologies. Second, in all there has been coordinated action by groups or communities at local level. Third, there have been supportive external (or non- local) government and/or non-governmental institutions working in partnership with farmers. Almost every one of the successes has been achieved despite existing policy envi- ronments which still strongly favor ‘modern and established’ approaches (technology and support systems) to agricultural development.

Now the challenge is how these can be scaled up onto a large scale across the nation given the wide diversity of sit- uations. This needs a newer approach in terms of capacity building, horizontal learning, newer institutional systems and newer forms of financial support to be put in place. The pro- grammatic support to agriculture today favour only high external input based agriculture. As a result, none of the mainstream programs provide any support for promotion of these models. This needs the recasting of program guide- lines or initiating newer program to provide support to more sustainable models in agriculture which can be easily acces- sible to small and marginal farmers. The mission on sustain- able agriculture can initiate a programmatic support to scale up sustainable agriculture with the objectives to

  • Reduce the dependency on external inputs and reduce the costs of cultivation
  • Reduce the risks with uncertain weather conditions and degraded and limited natural resources in these regions, by adopting suitable cropping patterns and production practices,
  • Diversify the assets and income sources to sustain the livelihoods by integrating livestock and horticulture into agriculture and promoting on-farm and off-farm employ- ment opportunities,
  • Conserve and efficiently use the available natural resources like soil and water, and promote biomass gen- eration,
  • Organize farmers into institutions which can help them to have better planning, greater control over their produc- tion, help to access resources and support, improve food security and move up in the value chain, and link to mar- kets
  • Build livelihood security systems to withstand the natural disasters like drought, floods and other climate uncertain- ties

Suggestions for way forward

  1. Promoting Sustainable agriculture: Sustainable Agriculture which is an integrated farming system based on locally

adapted cropping patterns and local resource (natural resources and natural processes) use based on local knowl- edge, skills and innovations.

The capacity of a farming system to adapt to changing climate and weather conditions is based on its natural resource endowment and associated economic, social, cul- tural and conditions. The viability of these elements also con- stitutes the basis for sustainable agriculture, understood as agricultural production that: ensures adequacy of food pro- duction; does not harm the resource base; is economically viable; and enhances quality of life. Many climate and weath- er risk management strategies fit squarely into sustainable agriculture practices and can, therefore, be promoted with several of the programs and policies targeting environmental- ly responsible production. Monocropping also leads to less labour days and peak labour requirement at the same and for a short time, which increases migration – hence mixed crop- ping models need to be encouraged.

Strategies to be adopted

  1. Changes in cropping patterns and cropping systems to suit the local resource and weather conditions. Multiple/ mixed cropping, intercropping systems with legume components etc.
  • Ecological farming practices which can maximise the local resource use. Many of these practices are based on indigenous knowledge and focus on building soil biological productivity. Non Pesticidal Management, Organic Soil Management, Community Seed Banks, System of Rice Intensification, Soil moisture management etc have already proven to be useful.
  • Locally adopted crop varieties specially in saline and flood prone areas, drought prone areas, making suitable selec- tions adopting Participatory Plant Breeding and Participatory Varietal Selection.
  • Developing suitable farming systems integrating agricul- ture, horticulture and livestock.
  • Research on improvising these practices
  • At the macro level, there is a need to revisit the paradigms governing the agricultural

research in the country. Probably one needs to revisit the concept of agroclimatic zones and consider regrouping them in the changed con- text

  • There are many technologies/varieties that are sitting in the laboratories of the public sector research organiza- tions. One needs to take stock of these and test them in the field to see which of them work in the changed context
  • Efforts towards natural resource generation: There die need to be efforts towards natural resource regeneration (especially in rain shadow districts like Anantapur, rainfed areas like Bundelkhand or tribal areas of central, eastern and north eastern India) so that there is ensured water supply for agriculture, livestock and human consumption.

Strategy to be adopted –

  1. Soil fertility should be recognized as the national property and government should invest in building it. Suitable incentives should be given to encourage for increasing the soil organic

matter and soil conservation.

  • There is a greater need to revive the traditional water har- vesting structures in the drought affected villages. These structures can be revived through the imaginative use of MNREGA funds and watershed funds.
  • Farmers’ Institutions: Organized communities have proven to be more effective in planning and managing their resources and livelihoods, value addition and mar- keting. Appropriate institutional systems for each of the purposes need be established.

Strategy to be adopted –

  1. The farmers would be organised into common interest S groups federated into producer collectives. Existing institu- tions like Women SHGS etc would be used to initially Meanchoring the program.
    1. These institutions would take the roles of planning, mobil- ising resources, organising production, and take up post harvest management and marketing activities.
    1. The producer collectives will improve the collective bargaining power of the farmers, will internalize market activi- ties like bulking, primary and secondary processing which improve the village economy.

3). Food and livelihood Security: Shift to sustainable agri- culture is often seen as a compromise on food security. This is mainly because food is understood as only wheat and rice, few pulses, oilseeds and vegetables. The food basket can be increased if we can expand the scope to include millets, coarse cereals, dryland fruits, uncultivated greens etc which can also bring in nutrition security. Data from National Centre for Organic Farming (NCOF), ICRISAT and CMSA have proven that crop productivity can also be maintained with organic/ecological farming. Going beyond the current food security systems like PDS and mid-day meal schemes, systems need to be estab- lished to improve livelihood security in terms of sustaining food production in the village, improving income genera- tion opportunities to the small farmers and agriculture labor is important in the rural areas especially in rainfed regions. The frequent monsoon failures results in droughts and support systems needs to be build to help the farm families and livestock to tide over.

  1. Building house hold food security systems by adopting suitable cropping patterns
  2. Village level management systems for alternative models like grain banks would be appropriate and attempted.
  3. Suitable off-farm and non-farm employment opportunities would be identified and promoted.
  4. Financial Support Systems: Currently all the financial support systems to agriculture are given only for external inputs. We need to create proper support systems for farm internalized inputs, community based infrastructure, knowl- edge and skill building and sharing etc.
  1. Direct Subsidies to farmers rather than input subsidies be including for their own inputs
  2. Integrating NREGA with sustainable agriculture so that each farmer gets 100 labor days for farming can provide ample scope in this direction.
  3. Explore tools like Direct Income Support which exist in many developed/developing countries need to be ex- plored as decent living income cannot be explored only through pricing mechanism.
  4. Partnerships: At the district level we need build partner- ships between various governmental and non governmen- betal agencies to implement the program. At the national my level we need to build an alliance of Public sector re- search organisations, extension agencies, departments dealing with rural livelihoods and NGOs which are work- ing on sus- tainable agriculture/organic/natural/ecological farming.
  5. Special bonus for ecological services by ecological farming: While conventional agriculture receives various support in the form of subsidies shift to ecological farm- ing models do not get any support. Government should evolve a mechanism to directly support such models. The methodologies already designed for ‘Payments for Eco- system Services’ should be used.

Pilot phase

We propose a progressive approach towards scaling up of ecological farming and realizes that an overnight shift to organic farming is not feasible. We believe that a small pilot in 100 districts across the country with clusters of 5-10 vil- lages, to at least in 10,000 villages to for at least 3-4 years, wherein

a mix of subsistence and market-based agriculture scenarios exist. The focus should be on small and marginal farmers, in the rainfed and ecologically fragile areas/biodi- verse areas in addition to crisis-ridden farming belts. The pilots should pri- marily focus on production related changes but also be able to pilot innovative approaches around collec- tive enterprises around inputs, collective marketing including with processing and value addition, systems for running com- munity level seed banks etc. It has been found that working with women’s SHGS for management of the programme and through FFS (farmer field schools, with participation of both women and men farm- ers) for capacity building, knowledge enhancement, horizon- tal sharing and learning etc., works out well.

The objective should be to make farming a viable and sustainable profession, thereby restoring farmers’ dignity in their profession by improving their social status.

Despite a number of government-funded projects and programmes on agriculture on the ground, these lack the abil- ity to pull out farmers from their distress due to problems in approach, design and implementation. One important com- ponent missing is farmers’ organizations being built so that farming can be made into a collective enterprise both in the production phase and post-production marketing phase.

This needs:

  • enhancing the knowledge and skills of farmers on effec- tively conserving and using their resources for sustain- Aplicable production;
  • building institutional platforms at the village level for man- aging, planning and implementation by the farmers them- selves;
  • convergence of various government programmes to admaximize the benefit

Given under is our proposal for the pilot project related to Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture:

  • Identify 100 districts across different agro-climatic condi- tions in the country; in each district identify 5-10 districts which are ecological and economically crisis ridden in agriculture and 100 villages in all as clusters of 5-10 vil- lages, map out and draw in local resource agencies and nearest practicing ecological/organic farmers once these locations are finalised in addition to mapping out and understanding local resources.
  • A cadre of resource persons need to be built. A team of br people who will coordinating the project can be identified and be given four trainings spread over a year.
  • The package of practices for most crops is already well- evolved; any fine-tuning to be done for particular agro- ecological conditions should be taken up.
  • Identifying resource agencies who would take up cre- ation of appropriate IEC materials as well as take up trainers’ training in a cascading model would be impor- tant.
  • Large scale awareness campaigns to be taken up on ecological/economic problems of conventional farming and benefits of ecological farming
  • Developing resource persons at all levels, including ones who will be with the participating farmers constantly is a necessary pre-requisite.
  • In terms of programme management, in the scaling up phase, around 400 acres spread over 10 villages can be treated as a cluster, work of which will be coordinated by one trained person, in addition to one village-level prac- ticing farmer as a resource person. Further on-the-job training would be provided by the government agen- cies/ NGOs who provide technical support.
  • The staff at village and cluster level should be account- able to the farmers’ group/cooperative. The funds have to be released to the farmers’ group which conducts month- ly reviews and releases the funds.
  • Participating farmers need to be organized into groups based on homogeneity and proximity of landholdings, crop etc.
  • Regular Farmers’ Field Schools (FFS) should be organ- ized every week for learning for at least four seasons. These groups can also engage themselves in issues of quality management, production planning, processing, marketing etc.
  • Farmers Groups can be federated at cluster level to form Farmers’ Cooperatives/Producer Companies for storage, value addition and marketing which forms single window for everything. Village Institutions can plan for the need- ed infrastructure by mobilizing financial support for vari- ous ongoing schemes and through banks.
  • Village plans can be prepared and submitted to the Dis- trict Planning Board. The village production plans can be integrated with the district level plans sourcing funds from RKVY, FSM, NHM and NREGA-this can be based on new partnerships between NGOs, CBOS, and govern- ment departments.
  • Beyond block level, the program should be integrated with the Departments of Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Hus- bandry, Sericulture etc.
  • At the district and state levels, special project manage- ment unit should be set up with people from agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and rural Development de- partments etc along with representatives of farmers eye institutions.
  • draw in some research agencies/Krishi Vigyan Kendras to work along with the resource organizations to docu- ment and validate the models (parameters of assessment should be evolved differently) including collection of baseline information etc.
  • As sustainable agriculture practices are largely based on local resources mapping local resources which can used as inputs in agriculture and planning for their sustainabil- ity becomes important. An inventory of such resources would be prepared for each identified village.

The entry point can be any successfully-established prac- tice to address the most pressing problem locally and move on to other components in an incremental fashion (for instance, the CMSA programme in AP began with dealing with the is- sue of synthetic pesticides in farming, by promoting Non Pes- ticidal Management (NPM) on a large scale; later, it moved to localised seed production systems at the grass- roots level; zero-budget farming etc.). In each cluster of vil- lages, thrust could be on creating at least one village that will become com- pletely organic with integrated farming systems in 3-5 years’ time. It has been found in the past that such iconic examples leave an inspiring impression on participat- ing farmers and help the scaling out of the effort. The need for data-based docu- mentation from Day 1 cannot be over- emphasised.


One of the most critical activities in the spread of eco- logical farming is that of organising farmer field schools on a regular basis, facilitated by a knowledgeable/experienced / trained extension worker (the cluster coordinator along with the village level extension worker), since ecological farming is a knowledge-intensive production process, as opposed to chemical agriculture which is input-intensive.

Experience shows that FFS plays a very important role for farmers to acquire knowledge and skills over sustainable production practices and these fora have been used to take up collective crop planning, programme planning, monitoring and implementation.

Every farmer has to undergo such a training for at least 4 seasons.

Farmer field schools which are taken up on a rotational basis in various farms throughout the season also help in iden- tifying innovative and successful farmers who can then be trained as future resource persons during the expansion phase.


Preparations for the main phase will have to begin in the pilot phase itself through seasonlong capacity building programmes on the technical as well as institution building facets of the programme from the end of the first year of pilot. The pilot project should be used to develop modules of trainings, materials in different languages (for farmers, for motiva- tors etc.) and for locating as many resource agencies as pos- sible in all districts in the state. The third and fourth seasons of the pilot can be used for exposure visits etc.

The main phase of the programme’s mission-mode scal- ing up should be centred not on the technical/technolog- ical aspects (which would get firmed up in the pilot phase, given that enormous knowledge exists already across crops and locations on agro-ecological approaches) but on creation of sustainable institutions, systems and mechanisms by which the livelihood needs of farm households can be met compre- hensively this should include livestock integration, insurance, marketing, collective enterprises etc. It is important therefore, to carefully combine various existing pro- grammes towards a common objective. The example of CMSA in Andhra Pradesh where convergence with ongoing programmes like NREGA, NRHM, credit coverage for agriculture, marketing support etc. is well worth emulating.

Home The main phase should attempt to scale up the pi- lots by adding other components like building infrastructure facil- ities for storage and value addition, support for market- ing etc.


Funds are required for such a scaling up mainly for cam- paigns, IEC materials, capacity building efforts, institu- tion- building efforts, and most importantly, for extension sup- port from village upwards. They are also needed for adminis- trative costs especially in the pilot phase.

Finances are also needed for seed capital for setting up Seed Banks, for marketing by farmers’ collectives, for any in- frastructure and capital costs around storage, processing etc., funds for insurance and risk management funds etc.

Resources can be tapped from the ongoing schemes like RKVY, NRLM, NFSM, NHM etc.

The Andhra Pradesh experience shows that the per acre investment in the CMSA programme was Rs. 800/acre in 2005 when the programme started on 25000 acres and that this has become Rs. 175/acre when the programme reached two lakh acres. The investment of the project at present is around Rs. 100/acre, after it reached 25 lakh acres.

The pilot is expected to cost Rs. 800 crores per year (1000 villages, 25 states, each village reaching 400 acres in the pilot phase, at the rate of Rs. 800/acre).

Thereafter, it is expected that scaling up would have tar- gets of 10% of India’s agricultural land per year (incremen- tally), over the next 10 years. From the sixth year onwards, the first year’s intervention areas can be closed for interven- tion; in the seventh year, the second year’s intervention areas and so on.

Each year, the investment is expected to be on 14 mil- lion hectares across India (out of 140 million hectares net sown area at the national level). This is around 35 million acres or 350 lakh acres. With a per-acre investment in the scaling up phase of Rs. 200/acre, this works out to around 700 crore rupees per year.

While this is for the production-related aspects, for mar- keting infrastructure-related support for such organic farming produce, fixed investments can be staggered between regions based on some parameters evolved in the pro- gramme. In the CMSA programme in Andhra Pradesh, it has been seen that an investment of 1 1.5 lakh rupees per vil- lage for seed banks, community level storage facilities, pro- cessing facili- ties etc., is of immense value. This would require financ- ing to the tune of Rs. 675 crores, for forty five thousand villages approximately each year.

While this is for the production-related aspects, for mar- keting infrastructure-related support for such organic farming produce, fixed investments can be staggered between regions based on some parameters evolved in the programme. In the CMSA programme in Andhra Pradesh, it has been seen that an investment of 1 1.5 lakh rupees per village for seed banks, community level storage facilities, processing facilities etc., is of immense value.