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Cultivating in grow bags- small farmers can now reap big produce!

The Jawahar Model of Farming is an innovative and cost-effective method that has the potential to double the income of small farmers with reduced inputs.

Farmers in central India are feeling the need to work harder. Factors such as the depletion of necessary resources due to climate change and lower income levels force them to climb up a mountain that has no summit in sight. They fall under the category of Small and Marginal Farmers (SMF) who constitute about 71% of the farmers in Madhya Pradesh. They are pushing a boulder that keeps tumbling back down, but their smiles are slowly fading.

“Since I began using the Jawahar Model of Farming, I’ve worked hard in the badi(backyard kitchen gardens) and have been able to grow vegetables to feed my family and give away the extra to some of my neighbours.”, says Purab Bai Armo, a hopeful farmer who lives in Gudma, a small village located in the buffer zone of Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. She smiles as she looks down at her healthy crop and softly whispers, “We will definitely earn if we work hard. How can we earn without hard work?”

SMFs face significant challenges when it comes to the healthy cultivation of crops.

SMFs have less than 1-5 acres of land for cultivating crops, are resource-poor and have low net returns from crop production but they contribute 51 per cent of the country’s total agricultural output and 70 per cent of high-value crops. They need to grow vegetables for their own consumption and also to earn a daily income. This becomes quite a strenuous task as the land in Kanha’s buffer zone is fallow and the water is scarce for most of the year. Hence, a majority of the farmers living in this area have to resort to rainfed agriculture which forces them to find alternative sources of income to survive once the Kharif season ends. In Chicharangapur, a village belonging to the Baiga community, located on the banks of the Banjar river in the buffer area of Kanha National Park, 90% of the people are forced to migrate to Andhra Pradesh to pluck chillies.“Chilli plucking helps us earn is a lot more than what I could earn by working in my field. I take my entire family along with me to Andhra Pradesh after harvesting the rice here and they too work in the field so that our family can earn more money. My children have to stop going to school when we migrate and cannot study on their own.”, says Suman Singh, a farmer from Chicharangpur.

An organization known as Earth Focus Foundation has implemented the Jawahar Model of Farming in four villages in the buffer zone of Kanha National Park and is steadily planning to expand this initiative to 15 villages in the area. Currently, 50 farmer families have adopted this model in their badis. They are being assisted by the organisation’s livelihoods team in effectively utilizing this model for a greater yield output through purely organic cultivation. The Jawahar model of farming was innovated by a team of scientists led by Dr Moni Thomas from the Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur. According to research conducted by Dr Thomas and his team, this model is a low-input, versatile and adaptable option to double the income of SMFs in India. It helps in the timely sowing of crops without waiting for rain, diversifies crop production systems to minimise risks, ensures the inflow of cash at shorter and more frequent intervals and engages farmers to cultivate crops on their farms throughout the year thereby facilitating social well-being.

A fairly simple concept which doesn’t require a lot of resources and promotes organic farming.

The Jawahar Model of Farming uses empty Polypropylene Bags (PPB) that are 24×24 inches in size. These PPBs are then filled with Kapu (riverbed basin soil) or light soil which is the basic substrate for growing crops and is a widely available resource in Kanha. The use of farmyard manure enriched with bio-fertilizers helps to promote the growth and multiplication of soil microbes in the vicinity of the plant roots. This model encourages the judicious use of water only at plant bases avoiding spillage and wastage. More produce is reaped for every drop of water spent. Drip irrigation or watering every plant manually in cases where the space is smaller, helps farmers control the usage of water carefully. Mukesh Baiga, a member of Earth Focus’ livelihoods team, teaches farmers organic methods of farming and how to make and use organic bio-fertilizer and pesticides efficiently as insects are a major nuisance for the cultivation of vegetables or even foodgrains. These fertilizers and pesticides are prepared from ingredients that are easily available in farmer households and around their fields. Preparation of a large amount that can last for months requires little-to-no money. Earth Focus Foundation also provides farmers with seeds to grow organic crops using the Jawahar Model of Farming as part of its convergence program with Madhya Pradesh’s horticulture department. 

The use of terraces to grow crops solves the problem of the unavailability of land space.

As SMFs usually have small lands there is not enough space to grow a variety of crops. One such farmer named Chainwati from a village called Lagma has thought of an ingenious way to use the Jawahar model of farming to her advantage. “I was quite intrigued after I saw the progress of one of my neighbours who used this farming method in his badi. I wanted to try it myself but I didn’t have any available land space. So I asked Mukesh to install these bags on my terrace which was unused.”, says Chainwati. 

As the word spreads, more people wish to adopt the Jawahar model of farming using the space at their disposal/ Empowering women through the adoption of the Jawahar model of farming in Kanha!

The matron of the hostel for tribal girls in a village called Samanapur witnessed the children of the primary school beside her hostel enthusiastically help Earth Focus’ education team members plant saplings in grow bags. She noticed them eagerly learning about how to use the Jawahar Model of Farming. Since the hostel campus had no land which was suitable for farming, she thought that the Jawahar Model of Farming was perfect for the hostel. She wanted the girls of her hostel to learn about this model so that they could start growing vegetables for their own consumption. As women are the ones who usually work in badis, the income generated through the use of this model goes into their hands. Learning about this model of farming could benefit the girls in the future as they grow older, get married and begin farming themselves. Baiga told the matron about Chainwati’s idea and helped her set up 10 bags on the hostel’s terrace. In each of those bags, he planted Brinjal saplings which he had grown himself and provided her with tips on how to promote the healthy growth of those saplings. Earth Focus is teaching children how to use the Jawahar Model of farming in 14 primary schools and anganwadis (pre-primary schools) located in the buffer zone of Kanha National Park. The organisation’s aim is to sensitise children towards the biodiversity and environment around them and also spread the word about the benefits of this farming model among the members of the communities living in the area. 

The Jawahar Model of Farming can help dampen the effects of climate change on the SMFs of central India.

The central Indian landscape is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The state of Madhya Pradesh recorded 38 heatwave days in 2022–the highest in over a decade. In December 2021, Earth Focus Foundation piloted a lac cultivation project which failed in March 2022 as all of the lac insects perished due to the heatwave which was India’s hottest in 122 years, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). As global temperatures rise, SMFs in central India could face greater challenges in cultivating crops on land due to increased soil temperatures, water scarcity and the increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods. According to the Global Food Policy Report, 2022 by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the average temperature across India is projected to rise by between 2.4°C and 4.4°C and summer heatwaves are projected to triple or quadruple in India by 2100. In areas like Kanha, increasing summer temperatures can pose a tremendous risk to SMFs as they lack the resources to deal with droughts, and water supply to irrigate drier soils. The report further states that although global food production may increase by 60% by 2050, 50 crore Indians are at risk of facing hunger. A district-level analysis from India concluded that the odds of children suffering from stunting, wasting, and being underweight or anaemic increases by 30 to 60 per cent in districts with high climate vulnerability compared to districts with low vulnerability. Soil moisture conservation, crop diversification, use of organic fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by reducing farmers’ reliance on cattle for draught power and adopting climate-smart-technologies are some of the ground-level solutions that could help SMFs tackle climate change effectively. The Jawahar Model of Farming is an efficient climate-smart method which helps to conserve soil moisture content, prevent the overheating of soil by facilitating healthy air flow, promote crop diversification, diminish the use of cattle power for tilling and ploughing of land and decrease the use of land space while increasing food production per sq metre—all of which are necessary for SMFs so that they become resistant to the adverse effects of climate change.

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