Smallholder farmers contribute the most to our food systems, and yet they are amongst the most vulnerable groups in poverty. With COVID-19 posing a threat to their livelihoods, to bolster the resilience of smallholder farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Digital Green’s COVID-19 Resilience Support Program enabled efficient delivery of targeted, relevant and timely advisory recommendations, and worked on improving access to markets and market information.
The main interventions were with smallholder cashew and chilli farmers to enhance their productivity in terms of adopting best agricultural practices and increasing quality production. The dissemination of advisories for this would be done through channels like human-mediated group dissemination, Whatsapp, Chatbot and IVR, which was a hybrid communications approach which Digital Green has applied across its work in varying capacities.
Another major intervention was to improve FPO’s ability to access competitive markets to raise farmer incomes by increasing their participation in FPO sales and with Digital Green’s Kisan Diary Enterprise (KDE), a mobile application, that would play a role in increasing FPO revenues.
This program set out to impact 75,000 smallholder farmers. Here are some remarkable stories of resilience from the field:
Resilient Spirit of Tribal Women Farmers | Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh, India
At the time of sunset on beautiful hills in tribal areas of Vizianagaram district, more than 15 women farmers – each on their tiny farm fields plots, sizes up to .15 acres to .20 acre – are always found harvesting different vegetables in a happy mood. Some of them were watering the vegetable plantations. All their vegetable cultivation plots are adjacent to each other, adjoining their village Gotiwada of Kurupam revenue block of Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh, India. All of them are small-holder tribal women farmers and they cultivate vegetables for household consumption purposes and sell surplus produce in the market in nearby Kurupam town. Every evening at Gotiwada village, these scenes of women farmers watering vegetable plants, weeding, harvesting, packing or walking in the vegetable fields and once-in-a-while friendly banter with neighboring farmers sum up shared values and intrinsic togetherness in tribal culture and community.
In the subsequent lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and market closures, like in many other parts of rural India, these tribal farmers too faced many challenges in accessing the essential daily food requirements that they buy and sell in local town markets. In an attempt to minimize the disruption caused in supply chain by Covid-19 pandemic, Digital Green with support from International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) & Walmart Foundation and together with field partner NGOs Jattu Trust in Vizianagaram district and Velugu Association in Srikakulam district conceptualized and implemented Covid-19 Resilience Support Program in tribal areas from September 2021 through February 2022.
As part of this program, around 1800 tribal women and men farmers in both districts were supported in different ways – by providing native variety vegetable seed kits, fruit saplings, neem cake powder, cycle weeders and by paying shareholder membership fee for ultra-poor to join in Farmer Producer Organizations. Also, as a follow-up, they were provided with advisory support through our community video disseminations and interactive voice response (IVR) messages on how to grow vegetables and fruit in rain-fed or in drought-like conditions through natural farming dry sowing method which can ensure round year green cover.
“The support we have received through this program is quite helpful especially the situation is quite difficult,” said Nimmaka Lalitha of Gotiwada village. Many of her fellow farmers echoed the same feeling and detailed the various kinds of benefits that they have received through the program. “Native varieties of vegetable seeds that have got pest and disease resistant,” said Nimmka Kavitha. “Vegetable cultivation through natural farming methods ensured us pesticide residue-free food,” said Nimmaka Mani. “Weeding used to take 10 days’ time in my tiny field. We have received a cycle weeder through this program. With the cycle weeder, I am able to remove the weed in just two days’ time. It is such a saving of my labor and time,” Pattika Naresh of Kondabaridi village. “By growing different vegetables around the year, nutrition diversity is ensured for our community members. Some of my fellow farmers are selling surplus produce and getting additional income,” said Nimmaka Dhalamma of Gotiwada village.
The program benefits are not only limited to a few farmers in Gotiwada village. Several hundreds of poor tribal farmers in Vizianagaram district have received the complementary support from this program. Many of them have now become shareholders in local farmer producer organizations with program support. After seeing all these benefits, many of them opined that they will continue to grow vegetables in a natural farming method and share knowledge and seeds among their fellow farmers to grow their own food.
Abundant Will of a Farmer Couple in a World of Scarcity | Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh, India
Vooyaka Shanti and her husband Bhaskar Rao of Mohan Colony hamlet of Chinnabagga revenue village of Seethampet revenue block in Srikakulam district are an inspiring farmer couple. Shanti and Bhaskar Rao own a five-acre cashew orchard. Since cashew cultivation is a once-in-a-year income provider, they grow loads of vegetables on tiny pieces of land in extreme rain-fed conditions with many innovative agriculture methods and low-cost irrigation technologies for supplementary livelihood. They have three small vegetable growing plots – between .02 and .05 acres each, adjacent to their cashew orchard.
In the first plot, Bhaskar Rao invented a technique to bring bund water, which is steep 50 feet below, to the field above to water vegetable plants through the use of battery-operated power sprayer at a cost of two thousand rupees. In the second vegetable plot, Bhaskar Rao installed a tiny solar panel to generate electricity and connected it to a tiny water motor to take water from a small pond to their .03 acres tomato field. This cost him around two thousand rupees. In the third vegetable plot, he uses the force of gravity to bring water from a hill slope, which is half-a-kilometre away, with an underground pipeline. Making otherwise impossible plant irrigation possible is not the end of their inspiring story. It has a beautiful continuity.
Bhaskar Rao and Shanti are one among hundreds of beneficiaries Covid-19 Resilience Support Program in Srikakulam district. Digital Green, with support from ICRISAT and Walmart Foundation conceptualized the Covid-19 Resilience Support Program and jointly implemented it with its NGO partner Velugu Association in Srikakulam district. “We have faced many difficulties during Covid-19 times,” said Bhaskar Rao. “Though we have been cultivating vegetables in the past also, there was some investment required especially for seeds and fertilizers,” Bhaskar Rao added. He further said that through Covid-19 Resilience Support Program, they have received different types of native vegetable seeds, cycle weeders and neem cake powder. “Earlier, we used to buy hybrid seeds which can’t be used as seeds the following season. Now we are going to preserve seeds from native variety vegetables for many next seasons to come,” Bhaskar Rao added. “We have never cultivated these many types of vegetables. Our food at home is quite diverse now with many vegetables, Shanti said. “Most importantly, we are not using any fertilizers to grow vegetables. We have learned natural farming methods through video dissemination sessions and by watching Digital Green videos on YouTube. We have also received weather information and farming practice details through IVRS*. With less cost of cultivation in the natural farming method, we are harvesting safe and bountiful vegetables. After reaping sufficient produce for household consumption and sharing vegetables among our extended family, we have sold 1.5 quintal of tomato produce,” said very happy Bhaskar Rao and Shanti.
They say where there is a will, there is a way. In Vooyaka Shanti and Bhaskar Rao’s story, it is like since they have a will, many things have come in their way.
*IVRS = Interactive voice response system