Reports from the Field
I recently visited Agro Rangers, an agri focussed incubatee of Cohort 9, that is working towards promoting natural farming and agroforestry in villages within a 50 km radius of Pune.
The farmers in the region mostly have small land holdings of 4-6 acres and grow a mix of crops including Jowar, Wheat, Vegetables, and Pulses. While they use natural fertilizers for crops that they consume themselves, they are hesitant to adopt natural farming for all their crops due to the rigor and discipline required, as well as the labor involved in preparing bio inputs.
However, some farmers have taken the initiative to adopt natural farming by themselves, figuring out markets without any academic knowledge or support. The benefits of natural farming are visible to the naked eye, with a clear difference between the soil treated with natural fertilizers and chemical fertilizers.
Farmers are beginning to understand the potential of organic production and its niche buyer segment. The consistent prices of organic produce as compared to the fluctuating prices at the mandi are also an attraction.
However, the lack of labor due to the youth moving out to cities is leading some farmers to move towards agroforestry, where they can combine tree crops with traditional agriculture. This is the key insight which is central to Agro Rangers choice of agroforestry as a model to strengthen resilience for the small and marginal farmer.
What is agroforestry?
Agroforestry, which involves combining tree crops with traditional agriculture, is becoming an attractive option for small and marginal farmers. The integration of trees in farms can help in improving soil fertility, reducing soil erosion, and providing additional sources of income through the sale of tree products such as fruits, timber, and medicinal plants. This practice can also provide shade to crops, regulate micro-climate, and promote biodiversity. Overall, agroforestry has the potential to be a game-changer for small and marginal farmers, and it's great to see that some farmers are already adopting it. As stated earlier, among key reasons, the lack of labor due to the youth moving out to cities is leading some farmers to move towards agroforestry as it requires less labor and can be a more sustainable form of farming.
Agro Rangers has taken a target of piloting agroforestry as a solution in 100 acres for FY 23-24 and have already begun onboarding farmers.
Lighthouse Communities Foundation (LCF) is an A4 accelerator cohort organisation which partners with local government offices to set up large airy aspirational spaces called lighthouses from where they run their skilling and employment programs for urban poor youth in neighborhood localities. They are based out of Pune and have a strong presence in Maharashtra. They have expanded their lighthouses to Delhi, Odisha and Telangana in the last year and hope to increase their count of lighthouses across the country to 100 in 3 years’ time.
During my visit to their site, it was very interesting to see their close interplay with an ensemble of stakeholders to create a large palette of training courses and placement options for their students. My interaction with students and alumni across three different centers revealed how they felt empowered with increased confidence, better communication skills, vocational training and awareness of industry opportunities. Their placement team works very closely with the alumni even after they are placed to ensure stickiness in their new roles and comfort level in entering employment. They found that 60% of their graduates are in employment by the end of year 1, which is a huge accomplishment nationwide.
In the last quarter, the first batch of the lighthouse program for youth from LGBTQ community began at Pimpri (PCMC) Lighthouse in Pune, with 12 students participating in the program. Out of these 12 students, 10 have secured positions at the Tax Department of PCMC, while the remaining 2 have been employed as Customer Care Executives at Big Basket. They also celebrated successful placement of 10,000 Pune Lighthouse graduates by organising an event called Connecting Pathways.
Reports from Meri Mitti Challenge
A majority of rural and tribal women contribute to India’s economy through land-based livelihoods including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and pastoralism. Yet as per NSSO 2019 data women constitute barely 11% of the country’s landowners, and rarely have control over the land they work on.
Women, when they are landowners, are more economically independent, physically safe, and their families have improved nutrition and health outcomes. To make this a reality for more women, The/Nudge Institute initiated the Meri Mitti Challenge. . A cohort of 5 organizations worked with women, families, communities, panchayat and district level governments to implement Individual Forest Rights (IFR), Community Forest Rights (CFR) and the Hindu Succession Law, all of which guarantee women’s rights to hold property. These organizations promoted and facilitated land ownership of women.
I had the opportunity to meet the beneficiaries of three organizations and understand how the organizations have impacted their lives.
1) In Korchi block of Gadchiroli district, the men & women were discussing how difficult it has been to obtain land under the Forest Rights Act due to red tape, lack of understanding of the law, and dependencies on multiple departments. And when the application is passed, even though the law dictates joint ownership, the name of the wife is not added as a co-owner due to inherent bias. This has often led to women having faced discrimination in accessing land based schemes.
Amhi Amchya Arogyasathi successfully trained a team of rural barefoot lawyers in 4 blocks of Gadchiroli districts to provide free legal aid to tribal families seeking land rights under Individual Forests Rights Act, and have filed 233 Joint Entitlement IFR claims, and three CFR claims. Their intervention has increased the confidence of women in voicing their opinions and taking an active part in village planning.
2) Jeevu and Bhouni Ben are homemakers and work as laborers in farm and salt fields near Movana village of Kutch District. They own 50+ goats and a few camels. Traditionally belonging to a nomadic tribe, the Maldharis have not always owned land and relied on the barter system for feeding their livestock and themselves. However, they now use the little income they have to buy fodder for their livestock, and feed them first. With the intervention of MARAG, both Jeevu and Bouni Ben are now part of a women’s village committee that owns 10 acres of community land, assigned only for growing grass. They lead the group and facilitate decisions regarding the types of grass to be sown, quantity to be stored and sold, and the selling price. Their committee is the only women led committee in the village.
MARAG has established this community-owned model in 10 villages of Kutch district. They have not just developed the land, but trained the 100+ women to grow grass, and manage and maintain a fodder bank from their respective lands.
3) Pradeepan works in Betul region of Madhya Pradesh and has been working on facilitating government schemes and decoding the land and property rights law for families. They have not only supported Joint entitlement under FRA for 187 women; but also convinced 162 men to name at least 1 acre of land to their wives, along with supporting 200+ women to access government schemes.
Phulvanti claims that the intervention of Pradeepan has led to recognition for herself and other women in their families and the community. It has helped her in getting access to schemes and the ownership of land has made her feel secure about her future. She no more feels at risk of being homeless anymore and can have the confidence to fight back in case of domestic abuse.
The Meri Mitti Challenge culminated in March. Cumulatively the 5 (Ayang Trust and Darpan in addition to the three) organizations have advocated equal land rights to more than 4500+ families in the 9 months of intervention.
These visits to 10 villages, across 3 states have been an eye opener. It has exposed the gender based inequities that are being faced by women on a regular basis and how providing of resources, and access can drastically improve their mental and physical health.