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India on the brink of a third agricultural revolution?

Published: 29 October 2018
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Read Ivar Virgin's blog with his impressions from an AgriFoSe2030 programme visit to India. Ivar works in the AgriFoSe2030 Communication and Engagement Theme that aims to bridge the gap between science, policy and practice.

Agriculture is still the backbone of the Indian economy, and more than half of the Indian population, relies on farming as their main source of income. India has indeed transformed its agricultural sector since independence in 1947, with its green revolution raising crop yields dramatically, and its white revolution turning India into the world's largest milk producer.  

Indian farming urgently needs a third agricultural revolution

Yet, with this increase in production, food losses and deterioration of ecosystem services have also increased, and many smallholder farmers remain trapped in the cycle of poverty. To reach its full potential, Indian farming urgently needs a third agricultural revolution that sustainably increases productivity and connects farmers, not least women and youth, to markets, allowing smallholders to develop entrepreneurial agri-businesses serving both the growing urban middle class and a large rural population.

India has made a fantastic journey to food self-sufficiency

Such a transition of the smallholder farmer community is prioritised on the Indian development agenda, both on national policy levels, as well as state and provincial levels. It is also a central task for the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), organising the world’s largest public network of institutions of agricultural research and education.

This includes one of the biggest extension systems in the world, with a large network of local extension stations; around 645 so called Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) demonstrating agricultural technologies and practices, as well as providing advice, planting and livestock breeding materials to farmers all over India.

“India has made a fantastic journey to food self-sufficiency, but there are big variations between different regions of the country, and large pockets of rural poverty still remains. The Indian agricultural system, with all its impressive abilities, is still facing a huge challenge in how to reach out and transform the smallholder community to be more productive, sustainable, resilient to climate change, and profitable. This challenge is closely linked to the overall goal of AgriFoSe2030 supporting a successful transformation and development of smallholder agriculture for improved food and nutrition security in low-income countries”, says Ivar Virgin, SEI.

A visit to ICRAF

With this as a background, four researchers; Johanna Wetterlind, Linda Hansson, Håkan Marstorp and Ivar Virgin from the AgriFoSe2030 programme travelled from Sweden to India and visited ICAR and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) September 17-21, 2018. The main purpose of the visit was to learn more on how ICRAF and ICAR, not least through the KVK centers and institutions, supports Indian smallholder farmers to be more productive, sustainable and profitable. The local host was Dr. Javed Rizvi at ICRAF that together with his team organised a very interesting programme full of meetings and presentations by high-level representatives of the Indian farming and extension support system. The programme also included field visits to two of the KVK stations, and a rural community watershed programme. Below follow key impressions from the visit.

The Indian KVKs, the main agricultural extension arm in India

Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) are agricultural extension centres created by ICAR, but today also partly hosted under federal and state agricultural universities, state governments and NGOs. The KVKs are the main extension agents in India providing technology dissemination, training and advice to famers. They play a vital role in conducting on-farm testing to demonstrate location specific agricultural technologies and practices visualizing the potential of various crops and livestock productions systems to smallholder farmers. They also conduct training programmes for male and female farmers, and the rural youth. The KVKs also provide farmers with critical and quality inputs, like planting materials, bio fertilizers, livestock, piglet and poultry strains produced by a broad range of Indian agricultural R&D institutions. The AgriFoSe2030 team visited one KVK in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh and one in Datia, Madhya Pradesh both located some 450 km south of New Dehli.

 “It was interesting to see the high level of agricultural expertise at the KVKs and better understand the links between agricultural research, knowledge development and small-scale farmers in India“, Johanna Wetterlind, SLU, said.

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At the KVK in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, crop varieties are grown in the garden for on-farm testing and eventually distribution to the farmers.
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The AgriFoSe2030 team gathered at ICRAF’s South Asian headquarter in New Delhi, together with the Director of the South Asia Program, ICRAF, and staff.
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At the KVK in Datia, Madhya Pradesh, a large focus is set on improved poultry breeds. The black hen – Kadaknath – is especially rich on protein with low fat and cholesterol levels.

Connecting Indian farmers to the market – The ASA approach

The AgriFoSe2030 researchers also met with the NGO, Action for Social Advancement (ASA), and they illustrated an interesting model of smallholder support with increasing productivity and better connections to markets. ASA focuses its work on the arid regions of India which often have a degraded natural resource base, high population growth and widespread poverty. ASA has made a remarkable progress supporting smallholders with water harvesting infrastructure, sustainable agricultural practices and improved planting material. Through ASA, hundreds of thousands smallholder farmers have been supported to convert single crop land into multi-crop land, increasing productivity and profitability significantly. By supporting these smallholders to form farmer produce companies, where farmers are shareholders, the farmers get better access to quality seeds and inputs, bigger markets and better prices for their produce. 

The ASA approach of basic farm support and development of farmer produce companies is a very interesting model on how farmers efficiently could be linked to the market, promoting both their sustainability and profitability. This model I feel is highly relevant for Africa as well”, said Håkan Marstorp, SLU.

The Parsai-Sindh water harvesting project – a model for large-scale dry land interventions?

The AgriFoSe2030 team visited the Parsai-Sindh water shed project, located in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, an arid region of Central India. The project was initiated by the Central Agroforestry Research Institute (CAFRI) in Jhansi, and has a long-term multidisciplinary approach. The project has successfully supported farmers in three villages on an area of roughly 1500 hectares through water harvesting infrastructure investments, improvement of farming practices, introducing new crop varieties and inputs, and the introduction of agroforestry. The effects of the interventions, including, agronomic, socioeconomic, and environmental impacts, have been closely monitored by the CAFRI team.

Linda Hansson, from Gothenburg University, who also participated in the visit explained that the success of the Parsai-Sindh agroforestry-based watershed project was one of the highlights. “Although social barriers prevented the opinions of the women farmers to reach the full groupwe were able to talk directly to the women and men in the village on how the interventions by CAFRI and ICRAF team had made improvements for their livelihoods. We were also able see how new agroforestry practices contributed to the overall development in the area”, Linda Hansson said.

Further collaboration ahead?  

The discussion on further collaboration between the AgriFoSe2030 programme and the representatives of the Indian Agricultural research systems, such as ICAR and ICRAF India was an important part of the visit. India’s experiences on connecting famers to the market, scaling up and disseminating agroforestry practices and policies, linking smallholder practices to the advances made in agricultural sciences through effective extension systems, are all very relevant to AgriFoSe2030.

I felt that this visit established a platform for further collaboration between the AgriFoSe2030 programme, ICRAF and ICAR, and we look forward to continued discussion on concrete knowledge sharing at a project level”, Dr Javed Rizvi at ICRAF expressed. He believes that the Indian expertise and experience on transforming the smallholder community to embark on more sustainable, productive and profitable pathways are most relevant for other parts of the world, specifically Africa, and hopes opportunities will arise to collaborate and start sharing knowledge and experiences in the near future.

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