January 2016 | Philip Chacko

Harvesting hopes, reaping rewards

A Tata Trusts initiative in the interiors of Maharashtra is providing succour to thousands of poor farmers, who have been encouraged to shift away from the traditional and grow more profitable crops

Undulating fields in Nandurbar district in Maharashtra; farmers here have multiplied their income by diversifying their cropping pattern with guidance from CInI experts

Lila Pawra is excited as she welcomes a group of visitors to her home in Chippal village of Dhadgaon in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district. Accompanied by her children, she proudly takes the visitors around the five-acre farm, which she and her husband have transformed over the past few months.

“In the past, we used to grow cotton, but we barely managed to get surplus income,” says Lila. “While we earned about Rs20,000 in a year, most of the money would be used to pay for pesticides and fertilisers, making our net income just a few thousand rupees.”

But about a year ago, members of the Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), an organisation that aims to enhance tribal livelihoods through partnerships, and promoted by the Tata Trusts, identified Chippal, along with a host of other villages in the tribal belt of north Maharashtra, for a pilot project aimed at enhancing farmer income.

Several farmers were taken on visits to vegetable farms in other areas of Nandurbar district and encouraged to diversify their cropping pattern. Lila, who was a member of a self-help group that was part of one such team, came back impressed by what she saw and determined to transform her farm.

Watch how Tata Trusts-supported initiative, CInI, is helping farmers in a remote village in Maharashtra

“Why shouldn’t we be earning more,” says Ms Lila. “My husband and I began by planting a hundred vegetable saplings. Now, we raise tomato, brinjal, onion and fenugreek.” Today, she is confident that this year, their income will range anywhere between Rs100,000 and Rs150,000 — several times more than what they earned until recently.

Kesariya Dongria Pawra, Ms Lila’s husband, says that they are one of the few lucky families in the backward block to have a bore well. “But we had never seen vegetables being cultivated and did not know the potential of increasing our income by diversifying our crops.”

It was CInI’s intervention last year that opened the Pawras’ eyes to the enormous opportunities that are available for even the poorest of farmers in India. Explains Satish Ekhande, an agricultural expert with CInI, who is constantly doing the rounds of the fields in Dhadgaon block, “We not only provide technical knowledge, but also encourage the farmers to buy quality saplings and go in for crop rotation. We also identify pests and alert them about the dangers of excessive use of pesticides.”

Samir Bhattacharjee, CInI’s programme coordinator for the western region that includes the tribal belts in Maharashtra and Gujarat, says the organisation wants to see a perceptible jump in income and improvement in the quality of life of the farmers in the 21 villages in Dhadgaon block and other areas of operation.

During a visit to Kamod, another tribal village in Dhadgaon block, one can see the enthusiasm of the local community for the programme. Tega Bahadur Pawra, who has been associated with the programme since its inception, has gained respect among other villagers for his efforts in transforming his 3.5-acre plot of land.

“Other farmers, my relatives, and even my wife were not confident when I took to vegetable cultivation,” says Tega Bahadur Pawra, “But after I sold the first lot of harvested vegetables at a good price in the local market, many got interested.”

Mr Tega doubles up as a community resource person — interacting with and coordinating between CInI and the villagers; guiding the farmers and encouraging them to take to good practices. He himself is now a budding entrepreneur, selling saplings to other farmers and thereby boosting his income.

The challenges of working in such a backward region are enormous. Mr Bhattacharjee points out that Dhadgaon and the villages around it are located at the foothills of the Satpura range. While it was densely forested some decades ago, today the area is barren. The average annual rainfall here is about 800mm, but 2014 and 2015 have been bad years with barely 500mm of rain.

The shift from grains to vegetables is a healthy move for farmers in Maharashtra

There are other negatives as well. According to Mr Bhattacharjee, Dhadgaon block ranks among the 100 worst in India in terms of the human development index. About 400,000 people — 99 percent being tribals from the Bhil and Pawra communities — live in the 130 villages in the block. The block fares badly on all socio-economic indicators, including literacy and health.

Most of the farmers are eager to boost their income and are hoping that over the next year or two, they will succeed in cultivating a wide range of vegetables. Some have even charted plans to invest the surplus income, says Vandana Pawra, “We might buy cattle with the additional income and use the money to pay for our children’s higher education.”

 “Within CInI, we call our mission Lakhpati Kisan,” says Mr Bhattacharjee, referring to the objective of raising each household’s income from the Rs30,000-35,000 to at least Rs120,000.

Looking at the confidence among the farmers in many of these hamlets and the eagerness with which they are willing to take risks in raising new crops or investing their meagre savings in projects such as nurseries, it does not appear to be a difficult target to achieve.

This article is part of the cover story about the Tata Trusts featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Philanthropy fine-tuned
The Tata Trusts has — through integration, use of technology, advocacy, partnerships and more — set course for a renewal aimed at deepening the impact of its numerous charity endeavours
Read the complete articles, and more, in Tata Review
'The Tata Trusts will have to keep renewing itself'
Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Trusts, talks about the trusts' evolving philanthropic approach, future growth and priority issues facing India
A flavoured solution
A unique public-private partnership involving the Tata Trusts has ensured that thousands of tribal schoolchildren enjoy wholesome meals
Food way forward
Tackling malnutrition in India is a pressing need, and one of the focus areas for the Tata Trusts
Net gains are cooking
The clean cooking and internet awareness programmes that the Tata Trusts runs with its partners in Gujarat are a reflection of the organisation's intent and impact
In search of that creative edge
Innovation in technology and solutions is crucial in the Tata Trusts quest to enhance the reach and execution of its programmes
Schooled for uplift
A spread of education centres in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are enjoying a renaissance thanks to a project undertaken with the support of the Tata Trusts
Equity and excellence
Linking the Tata Trusts' initiatives in the education sector to improving the overall quality of life of the community has worked to the advantage of beneficiaries
Rural riches
The rural livelihoods and communities portfolio of the Tata Trusts targets poverty reduction through a host of measures
Building the future, brick by brick
Backing from the Tata Trusts has enabled thousands of migrant workers, especially in Gujarat, to secure better working conditions, find financial security and transform their lives
An urban variant of a rural malaise
The Tata Trusts trained its spotlight on urban poverty and livelihoods as an issue that required focused intervention at a time when most philanthropic agencies were focusing on rural poverty
Going against the flow
Water is considered an elixir in the high ranges of Uttarakhand, and the help rendered by the Tata Trusts and its partners in delivering it has changed lives and fortunes
Mission maximum
The Tata Water Mission has been calibrated to make the most of the social development capabilities residing in the Tata Trusts
Rhythm reloaded
A project in Kutch in Gujarat is, with a push from the Tata Trusts, working to revitalise the folk music tradition of the region by creating new opportunities for musicians practicing the craft
A canvas widened
The media, arts and culture theme of the Tata Trusts concentrates attention of conserving India's civilizational heritage and those who embody it