Doubling Farmers’ Income – Making it a reality

A view of agriculture fields in Khunti Block (Jharkhand)

Our Prime Minister’s call to double the farmers’s income1 by 2022 is an opportune call as the growth in farmers’ income has stagnated and it caused significant distress to farmers. Doubling the farmers’ income by 2020, if it is achieved, would be a remarkable achievement as it had not been achieved in last 3 decades. The challenge is more steep when it comes to doubling the income of farmers who have less than 10 acres of agricultural land2.

Most of our small and marginal farmers are predominantly engaged in the cultivation of food grains. Almost 38 percent of total cropped area is used for cultivating rice and wheat. Unfortunately, our per hectare yield for these two crops is quite low. Our rice yield is 3721 kgs/ha and wheat yield is 3177 kgs/ha. China has rice yield of 6775 kgs/ha and wheat yield 4987 kgs/ha. The practice of cultivating food grains using traditional methods in small land holdings is often one of the main reasons of low farm income.

NITI Aayog has listed many interventions and given a strategic direction at macro level to transform agriculture sector and reach the goal of doubling the farmers’ income. However, interventions at micro-level with community/farmers participation need to be promoted to achieve this goal for small and marginal farmers.

A couple of weeks back, a visit to a tribal village in Jharkhand showcased us brilliant examples of community engagement, micro-planning and dedicated focus that achieved the goal of doubling the farmers’ income in less 3 years. Tata Trusts in partnership with local NGO partners has transformed the agriculture practices of many tribal villages in Jharkhand.

The villages, we visited were 15-20 kms from Khunti, some yet to get functional road connectivity, electricity and proper mobile network coverage. Villagers (almost all from Munda tribe) have been engaged in the their traditional agriculture and lac cultivation for their livelihood, and had very low income from their fields. The per household income ranged from INR 20-40K per year. But in last 2-3 years, most of the households in these villages have doubled their income by changing their agriculture practices and establishing market linkages to get better value for the crop.

A farmer taking care of his tomato crop

Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CINI), a Tata Trust supported initiative, worked extensively on understanding the cropping pattern, village resources, agriculture practices and the overall infrastructural challenges of each village/cluster.The intervention design and strategy leveraged the local knowledge, and practices and community leaders. The key feature of these interventions that worked as per my understanding are the following and provide some good learning for similar projects.

a) Income Diversification- Providing at least three sources of income to each households-Apart from agriculture, lac cultivation or sericulture, and rearing of pigs were promoted for additional sources of income.

b) Transition from diverse low value crops to selected high value crops-Making a large number of farmers to switch from their traditional crop to a particular high value crop is not easy. But to achieve a viable scale and marketable volume it is essential. In Khunti cluster, the selected crop is a high yielding variety of tomatoes which has a ready market in Jharkhand and Bihar. The intense community mobilization make it possible that a large number of farmers agreed to adopt a particular crop and suggested agriculture techniques.

c) Providing market linkages by aggregating farmers’ produce- Aggregation of produce and planned harvesting ensured that intermediaries and vendors started procuring from these villages for the first time.

d) Community Engagement and Participation- Local resource persons, recruited from village, were given responsibility to ensure that all farmers are following the prescribed schedule for agriculture operations. All key activities, milestones were recorded. Local resource persons and the community leader made it sure that interventions implemented as per their design.

  1. Here the assumption is to double the farmers’ real income (adjusted using the Consumer Price Index) and not the nominal income. ?
  2. Chand, Ramesh, Raka Saxena, and Simmi Rana. “Estimates and Analysis of Farm Income in India, 1983-84 to 2011-12.” Economic and Political Weekly 50.22 (2015): 139-145.APA ?

Empathy and Economics

One of the most annoying thing in the pre-cable/satellite television era was Doordarashan mourning demise of political leaders or other eminent personalities. It meant that there is no music, movies or anything related to entertainment on our television. As a kid, we did not like the forced mourning on us. The other thing that we did not like was the news for hearing impaired.

Once the cable TV made its entry in our home, we completely forgot the forced national mourning and the news for hearing impaired. In fact, we forgot Doordarshan.

Sometime back, on Pune airport, waiting for my delayed flight I looked at the television set placed overhead in the waiting area. It was tuned to Doordarshan. And, it was time for the news for hearing impaired. The news, apart from nostalgia, left me thinking that why does only Doordarshan broadcasts this news? Why not any other channel?

The answer was obvious and a bit uncomfortable one. Broadcasting news for hearing impaired is not a profitable business. It is not viable. And in the era of market based solutions, the market for this news is not attractive. Providing solutions for those who do not constitute ‘a viable market’ is not the priority of the market. The economics does not make somebody enter this segment. And, it is ‘Economics’, not empathy, that drives the market.

Addressing Household Air Pollution and Celebrating Cooking : Dharma Chef

Household Air Pollution (HAP) is emerging as a major health risk and is responsible for more  than 4.3 million premature deaths globally every year. The biggest and most common contributor to HAP is the use of biomass fuels for cooking in our traditional cookstoves. Availability of free biomass, free traditional cookstoves, and our age-old and ingrained cooking practices, which revolve around these traditional cookstoves make these polluting and health threatening cookstoves quite attractive and ‘comforting’ to majority of rural households.

Making these household move from cooking on traditional cookstoves to LPG or other clean cooking solutions such as induction stove, advanced biomass cookstoves can result in substantial economic, health and environmental benefits. Yet, households have been very stubborn in their use of traditional cookstoves and fuels. The transition from traditional cookstoves to new generation cooking devices is excruciatingly slow and frustrating.

While there are many factors such as product performance, cleaner fuel availability and pricing that can be attributed to this continued use of inefficient traditional cookstove and slow adoption of dvanced biomass cookstove, the need for behaviour change has been identified as of the most significant factors. In fact, some studies suggest that it might be even more critical than the economical factors.

“Empirical work demonstrates that people do not make decisions by taking into account all costs and benefits. People want to conform to social expectations. People do not have unchanging or arbitrarily changing tastes. Preferences depend on the context in which they are elicited and on the social institutions that have formed the interpretive framework which individuals see the world.”- (Mind Society and Behaviour, World Bank, 2015).

The transition is complex for a common user. The complexity of transition often decides against the health and economic benefits of the clean cooking devices. It requires them to adopt to a new device, a new way of cooking and probably some compromise on the taste.

“It overcooked my rice.”

“The chapatis were not as good as my regular chapatis.”

“My family did not like the taste of food prepared on this.”

“I cannot cook my regular dishes on this.”

The above are the most common remarks one gets to hear in the early transition efforts. The transition becomes a drab and often there are negative memories that get associated with the new devices.

These problem forced us to take a different route for promoting transition to clean cooking devices. Something that was not dull, something that was exciting and resulted in associating positive memories with the transition. Something that excited and motivated users enough to make them find a way to overcome the early adoption challenges.  We launched a cooking competition for rural households: “Dharma Chef”.

Dharma Chef participants making “chapati” on induction stoves.

A multi-stage state level competition in which participants cook traditional and fusion dishes on clean cooking devices (such as induction stove, or advance biomass cookstove). While on surface it was just like any other cooking competition, it was designed to achieve the following:

  • Motivation:  motivate users to adopt, improvise and develop new ways to cook traditional dishes on these new devices.
  • Education: Create awareness about the challenge of household air pollution and need for clean cooking devices.
  • Celebration: Celebrate cooking skills of rural cooks and associate positive memories with these devices.

The campaign is doing very well on all these counts. We have got people to make “Roti” on induction.. Something that many consider quite a challenge.. The event not only gathered the women (who take the responsibility of cooking in rural India) but their whole family participated. They cheered them up while she cooked. The campaign is also making all the winning recipes compiled into a cookbook and the next steps is to make the videos available on dedicated youtube channel.

Dharma Chef campaign is being run by Dharma Life and supported by Tata Trusts. At present the campaign is running in Gujarat but soon it is going to be launched in other states as well.