One difficulty Indian farmers face is low crop yields. The government’s policy of subsidising nitrogen-based fertiliser has not increased these yields. ADAS has been collaborating with the University of Cambridge and the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in the UK and with Indian researchers on the Cambridge–India Network in Translational Nitrogen project to find out why.
Leslie (left of centre, baseball cap and pink polo shirt) visiting a farm producing different types of gourd in Vantimamidi near Hyderabad as part of a field trip sponsored by client SAI Platform to look at the challenges smallholder farmers have and to see how the buyer was working directly with the farmers. The team met Metro Cash and Carry, an international wholesaler, and their farmer suppliers to learn about their initiatives to improve the traceability and quality of their products.
One reason for the low yields, Leslie and Andrew suggest, is the “mixed messages” farmers receive about the use of fertiliser that result in them under- or overapplying this important crop input. Another obstacle is the move away from mixed farming that means farmers are more likely to turn to artificial fertilisers in the absence of locally sourced manure. The former is more expensive and less environmentally friendly.
Furthermore, a lack of ‘infrastructure’, both in terms of transport and farmer networking groups, mean that farmers are isolated in their efforts. The lack of efficient infrastructure and transport systems means that the quality has often deteriorated by the time a crop reaches the market.
Without access to organised farmer producer groups, individuals miss out on the advantages of knowledge sharing and the financial benefits of pooling resources.
Moreover, poor access to new buyers means that “if a smallholder finds a buyer for one crop they often stick to this crop and then become completely dependent on this single source of income. Some are encouraged to do so by the promise of ‘cash’ through growing cash crops. This has led to a shift from smallholders growing a selection of crops to monocropping, which stops crop rotation and contributes to reduced soil fertility”.
Training and education, conclude Andrew and Leslie, are key to changing practices for the better. Model farms, they suggest, are one way to do this: “Model farms are a great way of showcasing the benefits of adopting new methods and the importance of integrating the whole value chain. Seeing the benefits of new farming methods at first-hand in a model farm goes a long way to changing farmers’ behaviour and helps with knowledge transfer. When farming provides the only family income, farmers are reluctant to take risks, so they take a lot of convincing to change their practices.”
You can read the full article on the India Inc. website. Although the article is credited to ADAS director Andrew Walker, it was co-authored by ADAS senior consultant Leslie Berger.