About Sustainable Agriculture

Jeevika’s intervention in Sustainable Agriculture began in 2008 when we heard about the System of Rice Intensification. Since our area has a large acreage under paddy production and over 40% of the families of the 10,000 women organized through us into the independent microcredit federation “Swayamsampurna” are involved with agriculture, it made sense for us to take up this activity. Also, in the heavily patriarchal world of agriculture, we insisted on the involvement of women farmers and employed women as trainers. Implements supplied through our intervention are looked after by community farm implement committees with 50% women members. And over 50% farmers registered with us in each season are women farmers. Over the past years the programme has covered around 1200 farmers, and has indirectly influenced around twice that number. The average yield of paddy was and continues to be 3.6 tons per hectare; with SRI we have been able to increase this to 5.4 tons per hectare at slightly lower total cost of production.

The present local scenario

Most farmers in these areas are subsistence farmers who use the paddy crop for consumption. Many have shifted to vegetable farming because of water shortage as well, given that the canals have not been de-silted for several years and release of water is erratic and tide-dependant. Even in vegetables, the yield is quite low. There is even more use here of inorganic agro-chemicals and the non-use of farmyard manure or compost. Agriculture is increasingly non-remunerative, even though this sector can and does absorb the maximum percentage in terms of employment opportunities. The effect of this on women is drastic; they have to cope with less incomes, whether as farmers or as labour, and yet be responsible for feeding the family.

Our response so far

Any intervention to reverse this situation, regenerate the land and make farming viable needs to be designed such that in the course of the regenerative process, the yields remain at least constant. Thus a drastic shift to organic systems which initially causes a yield drop of 40-50% will not be acceptable to farmers. The solution seems to lie in combining SRI practices with the promotion of use of organic manures and bio-fertilisers, which can reduce the use of chemical fertilizers to zero over a tree-year period. This will lead to considerable cost reduction as well.