India Interior

Mutual help turns pain to gain

Preeti Mehra | Updated on August 07, 2020

A farmer using laser land-levelling technology

A farmer deweeds his field; (Inset) laser land-levelling technology helps save water

Farmers in Nuh, Haryana, assisted each other, and tapped technology, to work around Covid-19

Covid-19 has thrown up serious livelihood challenges for people in all walks of life. Small and marginal farmers — among the most pressured — have had to exercise every choice before them to keep their households going. In Nuh, one of the most backward districts of the country and part of the ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ programme of NITI Aayog, small and medium farmers had to turn to the traditional barter system (families helping each other) to harvest their crops and use a government scheme to take the harvest to the marketplace. Their effort was bolstered by the technologies they had imbibed over the years.

‘You help me, I help you’

Nuh, with its predominant Meo (Muslim ethnic community of the Mewat region) population, thrives largely on rain-fed agriculture and agro-based activities. As only a few farms have access to canal irrigation, crop yield by hectare is relatively low here and salinity of the soil is a big challenge. This year, the coronavirus pandemic added another dimension — how was the harvesting and selling to be done during the lockdown? There were fears of an even lower yield than earlier years. “The fear was palpable, but the farmers were quick to react to it and we too tracked every activity,” says Naveen Pratap Singh, Programme Leader, Agriculture Development, at the not-for-profit Sehgal Foundation.

The organisation, which works in eight States of the country, has been hand-holding around 600 farmers in the district to enhance food security and income generation.

So, in April, when the mustard and wheat crops were ready for harvesting but the virus was at its virulent worst and no casual labour was available, the community worked out a barter system. The families decided to come together and follow the simple rule of ‘you help me, and I will help you’.

“Neighbours along with their entire families would come out each day to help each other out with manual harvesting while strictly adhering to social distancing norms. In this manner, farmers were able to cover all the fields,” says Pratap Singh. But then came the next hurdle. The produce had to reach the market at a time when the lockdown brought with it restricted transport, and mobility was virtually at a standstill. The farmers, with help from the Foundation, decided to use the State government scheme, ‘meri fasal mera byora’ and register their crops online. This procured them a minimum support price at the mandi.

Farmer Abhey Singh from Kurthla village, who has a five-acre field on which he grows mustard, barley and cotton, says the scheme was useful in these lockdown times. “I harvested the mustard with the help of four others and we all maintained social distancing. Then they helped me reach it to the market.”

Singh also uses laser land-levelling technology to irrigate his farm and saves as much as 25 per cent water. This technology, introduced by the Sehgal Foundation, helps farmers to even out the surface of their fields, which results in improved germination, crop yield and quality of crop. This is because laser levelling enables the water to reach every nook and corner of the field, and reduces the use of fertilisers, chemicals and groundwater.

Farmers are also aided in building farm bunds and check-dams on their land. These earthen embankments collect rainwater from the upslope catchments. Farmer Islam from Rooda in Nuh recalls how once, when the water levels in their village dipped, the Foundation encouraged them to pool resources to build a check-dam. Initially, the villagers were disappointed when the monsoon failed that year and there was no water in the dam.

However, when it rained generously in subsequent years and water levels improved, it washed their suspicion away. Such small dams act as reservoirs and help small farmers become self-sufficient. They do not have to buy water any longer. Irrigation also enriches the ground water, giving traditional wells and tube wells in the vicinity a new lease of life.

Many of the Foundation’s projects are in tune with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims at achieving zero hunger. They are especially designed to address the needs of traditional agrarian communities who witness low crop productivity. The idea is to help farmers access new but simple agri-technologies and build their capacity to increase output.

The Foundation also runs a Citizen Information and Support Centre with a toll- free number for farmers to call in about the issues they face in the field. And it was these calls that were addressed when the lockdown brought with it distressing times for farmers and an urgent need to think and act out of the box.

Published on August 07, 2020

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