Innovations assist Jharkhand farmers to revive agriculture

Deoghar, January 22 (ANI): Sanjay Singh, a small landholder but a market savvy farmer claims to be producing the best quality of vegetables in his village Madanpur in Jharkhand. He sells his produce in the nearby weekly market without allowing any bargaining on the price.

"I grow vegetables without using any chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Many people here would not know the benefits of organic farming but they buy my vegetables at a higher price because they say it tastes better and looks fresher," he says with pride.

Sanjay Singh has been growing organic vegetables for over a year now but has been able to successfully tap the market in the last six months. "I was hardly able to cash in on the quality of the produce. The reason was poor electricity supply in my village in the absence of which I was unable to store my vegetables for long. I had no option but to sell everything at the end of the day in the hatiya (weekly market) for whatever price I got," says Sanjay Singh.

Things have improved recently. The credit for this transformation goes to a small but impactful rural innovation called Zero-energy cool chamber or desi-fridge, as the locals call it, which allows farmers to store vegetables , keeping the temperature 9-10 degrees lower than the surroundings. This unique fridge has not only increased the overall profit but has also encouraged farmers to take up vegetable farming.

It is a simple design that consists of two brick walls separated by a gap of 3 inches. Sand is filled in this gap and water drip is added to keep the sand cool. A thatch roof created above the chamber prevents direct sunlight from falling on the structure. This chamber does not require any external energy source and can store 60-80 kg of vegetables or fruits easily for 5-6 days with barely any weight loss.

The use of this innovation has helped Sanjay Singh and other farmers to earn a profit of Rs 700-800 a month during the harvest season.

The idea for this appliance was developed by Jharkhand-based non-profit organization Abhivyakti Foundation and Centre for World Solidarity (CWS) and executed with aid from German development agency WeltHungerHilfe as part of its 'Sustainable Integrated Farming System' (SIFS) program. Under SIFS, the non-profit organisations have been supporting farmers with small landholdings in the drought-prone areas of Jharkhand and West-Bengal to work out innovative ways of increasing agriculture output while decreasing the input costs.

"We realized that many farmers were not diversifying into vegetable cultivation because they faced a storage issue. Vegetables don't even last for a couple of days after being harvested. This is when we introduced the zero-chambers. It has a lot of utility at India's grassroots, where electricity is still a luxury," says Krishna Kant of Abhivyakti Foundation.

Farmers in Deoghar have been struggling to get good agriculture outputs due to poor rainfall (1200-1300mm) and an upland terrain which hardly retains rainwater. A baseline survey done by Abhivyakti Foundation for implementing SIFS in 2012 revealed that in the 12 villages in Devipur block of Deoghar, all the families involved in agriculture, irrespective of income, were able to produce less than 50% of their food requirements, while the other half was purchased from the market. Agriculture contributed only 14.02% of the total income. It also highlighted that 53% children in the area are stunted while 74% mothers, anaemic.

It was in this context that WeltHungerHilfe decided to promote rural innovations under SIFS in Deoghar. While Zero-energy cool chamber caters to farmers with enough surplus to store their produce, many other such innovations in agriculture have reached farmers across demographics, which have transformed the landscape of districts like Deoghar.

Take for instance, the key-hole kitchen garden which focuses on increasing the consumption of nutritious food to curb health problems and malnutrition. A key-hole garden is generally developed near the house, so that vegetables are readily available.

The design consists of a circular convex in the middle for centralised feeding of water and manure which is evenly spread to the circularly grown crops. The design also involves mulch lining underneath, so that the water does not percolate, and is available for absorption by plants. The water requirement through this system is minimal, almost negligible, making it suitable for the arid region. Key-hole gardens maintain a regular supply of 4-5 types of vegetables in small amounts, sufficient for daily household consumption.

Rajesh Jha of CWS talks about the lack of assorted nutrition intake. "We surveyed 466 households across 12-13 villages and found that most families consume carbohydrates only, from sources like rice and potato. Key-hole farming and other innovations focus on diversifying the food they consume, to include green vegetables in their diet."

The key-hole kitchen gardens have been successful in supplying many with vegetables for household consumption, improving their nutrition intake. Gyani Devi of Baarwan village, one of the many to have developed a kitchen garden, counts the benefits of the innovations, "Earlier, I could give my children vegetables only twice a week but now vegetables have become a part of our regular diet." Like Gyani, many others in Deoghar have benefited from key-hole farming, as the number of these gardens has grown to 100-125 in the block.

Another such innovation, the rice par-boiler, has helped many women like Gyani by reducing their drudgery and also brought profit to the farmer families. The apparatus, constructed by reworking a mobile drum, reduces labour requirement and fuel requirement by half. The design involves dividing the drum into two portions: the lower portion is for water and the upper one for paddy. The container is put over a flame to par-boil paddy and prepare cooked rice.

Par boiled rice is quite popular in eastern and southern India as it forms the primary part of people's diets. The introduction of this new method of parboiling has reduced drudgery for people, and has encouraged them to sell par-boiled rice, which has more returns, instead of paddy.

"We generally get Rs.10 per kg for paddy while Rs.18-22 for parboiled rice. The traditional method of producing rice was quite cumbersome but with this new technique, we have started producing and selling rice," says Bhuvani Devi, a paddy farmer from Baarwan village.

The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that these small but useful innovations have changed the lives of many farmers in Jharkhand. Their success can be measured from the fact that they are now being promoted through government schemes like National Bank for Rural Development or NABARD's Rural Innovation Fund.

By Aakriti Shrivastava (ANI)