How caste interfered with Organic Farming

The Indian government, more precisely the NMSA, is very gung-ho at the moment to ensure that every farmer (well everyone who is willing to listen and experiment at least) takes to organic farming methods. Right now, most smallholder farmers are organic by default (lack of money and/or access to resources). The grand plan is to make them organic by design.  We, the loyal foot soldiers, are leaving no stone un-turned to get all the prescribed techniques across to our target beneficiaries or as the WhyDev guys will like it, people we work with. We are out to enhance food production and every Collector worth his/her salt is after agriculture departments and NGOs working in agricultural development to ensure that line sowing is done in as many fields as possible. Furthermore, the most repelling (not always) and complicated concoctions have been formulated to enhance soil fertility and slay pesky bugs. The way one is supposed to go about preparing them might convince on-lookers that we are out to give the grand old Getafix a run for his money. See Nimastra, Ghanajeevamrutam and Beejamrutam via DigitalGreen. Nonetheless, we are determined to ensure that our agricultural GHG emissions do not help accelerate the drowning of Venice, Tuvalu, Bangladesh and of course save our own bums. Hence our target is that every smallholder farmer in the country is taught the tricks and that he/she starts implementing it in their fields. After all, our land area is not to increase but the productivity can.

Potions for work: Chilli Garlic potion as an insecticide

Potions for work: Chilli Garlic potion as an insecticide

Me being a lover of organic agriculture since the age of 10 (thanks to a certain Mr. Captain Planet and his Planeteers) took to all the prescribed ideas with mucho gusto, thank you very much and decided to go about it in an even more thorough fashion in order to educate farmers about various options for organic manures. I revised my beloved Bible, the Handbook of Agriculture and came to the conclusion that apart from the various seemingly magical potions that we expect our farmers to cook up, there are many other locally available thingamajigs that they ought to be adding to their land but are unfortunately (more like due to the lethargy of agriculture departments?) not aware of the uses. So what are these seemingly in our face but notoriously mysterious crop yield enhancing goodies? Well there are many. I zeroed down on several of them but I chose to concern myself with two soil fertility enhancers keeping in mind my work area – Mahua oil cakes and bone meal. More about mahua and its multiple uses in another post. Farmers, especially elderly farmers (men and women) often express their displeasure with urea (they call it ‘ooria’) and SSP. They report that urea kills the land or that urea brings down the land (quality). The complaint is that if they happen to add 7 bags of urea this year, they are bound to obtain increased yields. However, the following year they need to add almost 14 bags of urea to obtain the same level of yield. Hence, many have stopped using urea, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and single super phosphate (SSP) altogether.

To resolve their problem in a sustainable fashion, this recently graduated enthusiast stuck to a textbook prescribed method. I made it a point to inform every group of farmers I interacted with about the uses of concentrated organic manures like bone meal, hoof meal and horn meal. These are abundantly available, especially near the periphery of the forest (as per the villagers themselves), are very cheap and being slow release fertilizers, provide benefits to the soil for up to 3 years (residual effects included). Bone meal is rich in calcium and phosphorus and has low but decent amounts of nitrogen and potassium.  After having given this lecture about half a dozen times, I became accustomed to the reactions it evoked and learned to be cautious as the last manner in which I would want to die is being lynched. Talk about security concerns in the field. Here is why. Everywhere, people looked offended by the very mention of bone meal and point blank refused to use it. They throw a look that kind of suggests that they were looking at a blasted, little louse that is out to contaminate them with leprosy and in turn make them social outcasts. I risked my neck a little more and probed into the root of the problem. It turned out that our beneficiaries do not care two hoots for Article 17 of the India Constitution that abolishes untouchability and are very positively ‘My Foot!’ about the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. This is the scence. A certain caste whose name I shall not mention since it is possible that my respected readers might happen to know someone by that surname and then tag them as untouchables in their heads (I am such a Miss. Goody-Two-Shoes!). I shall instead call them  the dead body cleaners (DBCs). They are responsible for cleaning up the carcasses of cattle. People simply throw away their dead animals in open fields and the DBCs then come to take away the hide. The animal is allowed to rot and then the DBCs descend upon the plot again to collect the bones. Problem is that DBCs are considered untouchables. The DBCs make their living by selling animal hide and animal bones. Traders send trucks to villages where DBCs have their collected stock. Entire trucks filled to the brim with animal bones leave our area. The bones are later taken to factories where they are crushed and sent for further processing. Now I was of the opinion that people could simple buy these bones by the quintal, crush them themselves and use it in their farms. You see this is optimal utilization of local resources without relying on fertilizers of an industrial origin. Besides providing good amounts of phosphorus, the bone meal will also provide micronutrients (I don’t know which) that Indian soils are notoriously deficient in. I tried to feed all the scientific facts I had mugged up about bone, horn and hoof meal to our farmers and also the economic logic of obtaining it withing the village. But alas! All in vain! They staunchly told  me that if they start handling bones, they will be ostracized and get declared ‘untouchables’ themselves. Tribals, merchant castes, oil extracting castes, fisher folks, Brahmins all in the same boat! Make no bones about that. They are fine with handling bulls***, i.e. cowdung but no bones. Thank you very much. I tried to reason with them that by this logic all doctors (human and vets) can be termed untouchables. No use.

Our soil science professor had very clearly and concisely taught us how to use various concentrated organic manures . What the man forgot was that all that is permissible in science is not permissible in society.  Just because one has their heart and head in the right places does not imply that everyone else does. I learned a lesson again. There is little use picking up a bone with that sacred cow called the Great Indian Caste System.


Hurdles for climate change mitigation in Indian agriculture. Do we know them?

India is a major contributor to climate change and at the same time is highly vulnerable to climate change. To put the latter in the words of Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister, Rural Development, “there is no country more vulnerable to climate change than India, on so many fronts.” (Ramesh, 2011)  More precisely, India’s long coastline, high dependence of agriculture on the monsoons, the Himalayan glaciers and highly natural resource dependent livelihoods of rural people make us very susceptible to the projected consequences of climate change. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was set up in 2008 by the Government of India to meet the expected challenges of climate change. The NAPCC has a total of 8 missions to address this subject in various sectors of the economy. With regards to agriculture, the NAPCC has clearly stated that India needs to devise strategies that will make Indian agriculture more resilient to climate change and especially to increase the productivity of rain fed agriculture. The National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) was created under the NAPCC to address the threats to agricultural sustainability due to climate change by focusing on dry land farming, strategic planning at agro-climatic zone level, customizing interventions to enhance productivity, simplifying access to information and institutional support and creating more lab to land linkages. The NMSA has 17 goals and has decided the deliverables to be achieved by 2017 i.e. by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan. More information on the deliverables can be found here. The NAPCC is keen upon the protection of the poor and vulnerable sections of the society through an inclusive and sustainable development strategy which is sensitive to climate change and to deploy appropriate technologies for both adaptation and mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions extensively and at an accelerated pace. The task is ambitious and we might well say Herculean. The government has already taken numerous steps towards the implementation of the NMSA at the state and national level in the form of many programmes that are currently underway examples of which are the MKSPRKVYNFSM and many others. In order to address the challenges stepping out of the effects of climate change on sustainable agriculture, the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture has defined 10 mission interventions for sustainable agriculture in India. The planned interventions are:

  1. Improved crop seeds, livestock and fish cultures.
6. Agricultural insurance
  1. Water use efficiency
7. Credit Support
  1. Pest management
8. Markets
  1. Improved farm practices
9. Access to information
  1. Nutrient management
10. Livelihood diversification

Convergence with the other national missions is also a key feature of the task undertaken by the NMSA. Convergence has been planned with the National Mission for a “Green India” for the promotion of agroforestry, the National Water Mission for achieving better water pricing and water efficiency, the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency and the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change for knowledge management. The NMSA has also clearly stated that the need of the hour is to synergize modern agricultural research with the indigenous wisdom of the farmers to enhance the resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change. The Mission would also promote preservation of Indian Agricultural Heritage to integrate in-situ conservation of genetic resources based on traditional knowledge for Natural Resources Management. There are and there will be roadblocks – known and unknown – for achieving the climate change mitigation goals laid out in the NMSA. The challenge will be to identify the unknown hurdles, document them and then attack the same. There is a pretty simple way to identify potential problems – ask farmers themselves. A field assessment can be carried out to

a)      Identify hindrances towards implementation of the mission interventions;

b)      Collect data from farmers to understand hitherto unknown agricultural innovations and adaptation strategies devised by them;

c)      Contribute to the documented knowledge of traditional and contemporary Indian agriculture so as to meet the objectives of convergence and;

d)     Obtain gender-differentiated data on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The need for such an assessment stems from the fact that there is almost no study that has been carried out in India to understand the smallholder farmers’ perspectives of perceived changes in weather and climate. We need to understand how they innovate to adapt to changes and how they maximize or waste local resources in a bid to change their agricultural practices and maintain their levels of production if not to increase them. Nearly 700 m Indians are agriculturalists or to describe it better, are dependent on natural resource based livelihoods. 60 to 80% of our farmers are women. Very little is known about how rural farmers view climate change and global warming or whether they are even aware of what is taking place. Most studies concerning agriculture and climate change that are found online are scientific papers concerning field studies related to effects of climate change on specific crops or in specific regions. Besides, a lot of these papers are very expensive for the public to access.  Just feed ‘India climate change agriculture’ on Google Scholar and you shall know. While little is known of what rural farmers know and understand, it is important to mention that it is definitely known what urban India thinks about climate change. The paper ‘Climate Change in the Indian Mind‘ by Anthony Leisorowitz and Jagadish Thaker and the one that follows up on it, ‘Global Warming’s Six Indias: An Audience Segmentation Analysis‘ are precisely the places to start. The respondents were 75% urban and 25% rural.

Keeping in mind the main target group and the objectives of the NAPCC and the NMSA, an assessment needs to be carried out of farmers in varying agro-climatic zones (ACZs) that have been identified as the most vulnerable to climate change. The study can be carried out by using focus group discussions to discover traditional and contemporary agricultural practices of farmers and a set of 10 gender and climate change research tools as prescribed in the FAO –CCFAS training guide – Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for Rural Development. The tools have been categorized as climate analogue tools, weather forecast tools and tools for understanding and catalyzing gender-sensitive climate-smart agriculture initiatives. The questionnaires in these tools can be modified to suit the exact needs of the study so as the assessment to extract precise information w.r.t. to the 17 goals of the NMSA. The results of this study can then help to pinpoint the progress that has already been achieved through past and present initiatives by public and private bodies towards climate change adaptation and mitigation, or more specifically the 17 goals of the NMSA, the roadblocks towards pending progress and how government initiatives can be more fine-tuned to ground realities.

Where the study should be conducted?

India has a total of 15 agro-climatic zones (Planning Commission Khanna , 1989). Under the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) each agro-climatic zone was divided into sub–zones totalling 127 based on rainfall, existing cropping pattern and administrative units. The country has been delineated into 21 agro-ecological regions, using physiography, soils bioclimatic types and growing periods by the NBSS & LUP, Nagpur.  As the NMSA has identified Rajasthan, southern Gujarat, the Indo-Gangetic Plains, Madhya Pradesh, Northern Karnataka, Northern Andhra Pradesh and Southern Bihar as the most vulnerable areas to climate change or as the high-risk areas, it will be a good idea to carry out the study in these regions. The agro-climatic and agro-ecological zones that can covered by the assessment are:

Serial no. Region Agro-climatic zone Agro-ecological zone
1. Rajasthan 14. Western Dry Region 2. Western Plain and Kutch Peninsula
2. Southern Gujarat 13. Gujarat plains and hill region 2. Western Plain and Kutch Peninsula and 5. Central Highlands and Kathiawar peninsula
3. Indo-Gangetic Plains (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal) 3.Upper Gangetic Plain Region4. Middle Gangetic Plain Region5. Lower Gangetic Plain Region 4. Northern Plain and Central Highlands9.Northern Plains
4. Madhya Pradesh 7. Eastern Plateau and Hills Region8. Central Plateau and Hills Region9. Western Plateau and Hills Region 4. Northern Plain and Central Highlands5. Central Highlands and Kathiawar Peninsula10. Central Highlands11. Deccan Plateau and Central Highlands
5. Northern Karnataka Southern Plateau and Hills Region 6. Deccan Plateau
            6. Northern Andhra Pradesh 7. Deccan Plateau and Eastern ghats
            7. Southern Bihar 4.Middle Gangetic Plains 14. Eastern Plain

A total of 11 agro-climatic zones and 8 agro-ecological zones can be covered under this endeavor and surely more can be added.


1. Focus group discussion for traditional agricultural practices.

These focus group discussions can be carried out in a pre-decided number of villages of the selected districts to understand traditional and contemporary agricultural practices of the area. Participants will be asked to give details of cultivation of each crop (agronomic, horticultural and vegetable) that is cultivated by them. The precise information that is to be gathered regarding each crop that is cultivated is as follows:

  1. Seed selection (old and new varieties)
  2. Seed treatment
  3. Seed rate
  4. Sowing time
  5. Sowing methods and machinery used.
  6. Nursery bed preparation (only for paddy and vegetable cultivation)
  7. Land preparation (time of preparation, inputs used, machines used, labour, etc)
  8. Sowing / transplantation
  9. Fertilizer management
  10. Water management(irrigated / rainfed, source of water, machines used, labour, etc)
  11. Pest and disease management(time of action, inputs used, machines used, labour, etc)
  12. Weed control
  13. Harvesting, threshing and yield.
  14. Storage
  15. Grading and marketing

Responses to these questions will provide:

a)      Aggregated data on traditional cultivation and rearing practices.

b)      Find out indigenous adaptation measures or innovations if any.

c)      Understand the reach / lack of reach of governmental extension education services and private agricultural companies.

d)     Understand the varieties (old/new) that are favoured by agriculturalists and why. Would they like some of the old varietiesto be revived? Why? Do they favour newer variants? Why?

e)      Adoption of chemical inputs.

f)       Access to inputs.

g)      Major uses of cultivated crops (domestic use or sale).

h)      Discussions with farmers to introduce them to technologies (for e.g. SRI) and whether they can be implemented in their fields? What are the possible advantages? What are the hindrances? What are the difficulties that they faced earlier when they had been introduced to improved technologies? What kind of assistance is required for better adaptation? – What are the risks that they face?

i)        How much of the produce is used for domestic consumption? Do they have surplus? How long do their food stocks last?

2.       Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for rural development

Gender must be integrated into the discussions so as to find out perceptions regarding climate change, agriculture and socio-economic impacts from the points of men and women. The CGIAR and FAO have developed the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security-FAO Training guide – Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for rural development.  The methods prescribed in the guide can be effectively used to gather information on the climate change and adaptation measures. All the listed tools will be used in group discussions with farmers (men and women) in the selected villages and the responses obtained from these sessions can be aggregated for further research and for analyzing the possible roadblocks towards the achievements of the goals of the NMSA. Listed below are the 10 tools that are to be used and they have been categorized according to their uses. They haven’t been described in detail as the explanations are available in the guide itself.

Climate analogue tools

i)                    Village resources Map – Helps to learn about a community and its resource-base and provides useful information about local perceptions of resources by men and women.

ii)                  Seasonal calendar tool and iii) Daily activities clocks–The calendar is used to understand farmers’ perceptions of typical seasonal conditions as well as key dimensions of food security and livelihoods. The clock is used to illustrate all of the different types of activities carried out by an average individual in one day.

iv)                Farming systems diagram – Helps to clarify how rural household livelihoods are assembled and the flow of resources to and from the household and who is involved, by gender.

v)                  Capacity and vulnerability analysis matrix – It is used to understand the resource and needs of men and women.

Objectives of these sessions:

1)      Extent of farmer mobility – Are farmers mobile or not? Can exposure visits help? What and how do they wish to learn from visiting climate analogue sites.

2)      Better understand how the use of other information and communication technologies may be ways in which to effectively share knowledge about what people are doing now in places with similar future climates for these different groups.

3)      Test the usefulness of gender-differentiated participatory resource maps in helping to enhance understanding of the potential of using the climate analogues tool in potential action research.

4)      Better understand the factors helping and hindering male and female farmers in learning from others about adaptive strategies for dealing with climatic uncertainties.

Weather forecast tool

i)                    Seasonal food security calendar – Documentation of connections between seasonal climate conditions and food security over the course of the year.

Objectives of session:

1)      To better understand how we make weather information more useful and equitable to rural women and men including youths;

2)      To better understand which types of weather information is available to women, men and youths;

3)      To understand how and from where women, men and youths get information on weather.

4)      To better understand men’s, women’s and youth’s abilities to use this information, including the opportunities and constraints in accessing and using both daily and seasonal weather forecasts;

5)      To inform the design of action research to reach women, men and youths with weather and climate-related information that they can use it in making climate-smart agricultural decisions.

Tools for understanding and catalyzing gender-sensitive climate smart agricultural initiatives

i)                    Venn diagrams – Used to document the key local groups and institutions that are utilized by the target population or that are part of providing a specific service.

ii)                  Institutional profiles–Helps to learn about local organizations, including how they function, for what purpose and in clarification of decision-making roles.

iii)                Changing farming practices – Documentation of how a change in farming practices and changes in external inputs, impacts the activities of men and women.

Objectives of session:

1)      To explore how institutional arrangements can be strengthened to improve access to benefits of climate change-related interventions and,

2)      To understand gender difference in access to climate-smart agricultural interventions and opportunities.

Most of the objectives have been stated verbatim here from the CCFAS-FAO training guide itself. Details regarding the tools stated above and how to use them can be found in the training guide itself. It is available online at

Carrying out the study

The assessment can be carried out by NGOs on the field or research bodies. The NGOs can be selected for this work on the basis of their previous work in agriculture, environmental protection and rural development and thanks to the relationships that they have built with farmers in their work areas. Selected NGOS are to be trained in the use of the FAO – CCFAS training guide – Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for Rural Development. For the ease of functioning, partner NGOs may be those who are running women’s self-help groups in the selected areas. It is the mode of functioning of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission to carry out all development work through SHGs and hence it will be interesting to understand the workings on climate change and adaptation and mitigation activities from the perspectives of the SHGs and to compare them with people who are not associated to SHGs. As the NMSA recognizes the gender-differentiated impacts of climate, it will also help to carry out the survey with four groups in the village:

i)                    Women associated to a SHG.

ii)                  Husbands/ fathers of women associated to a SHG.

iii)                Women not affiliated to a SHG.

iv)                Husbands/ fathers of women not associated to a SHG.

Or else, the research body undertaking the survey collaborates with NGOs to carry out the study with the people the NGO is working with.


Outputs of the various tools shall vary in the kind of data and information that they will provide and shall serve different purposes. The major findings can then be put together from all of the above stated exercises and location specific concerns may then be discerned. Recommendations can later be made for research and development interventions that will have to be carried out by the NMSA and partner bodies for effective implementation of the 10 mission interventions. Listed below are the types of outputs that can be expected from each group of tools listed in the methodology and the goals or objectives of the NMSA that they will ultimately serve.

A. Outputs of the Focus Group Discussions for understanding agricultural practices

1. Creation of a traditional knowledge bank of existing and older agricultural practices straight from the field and from so many varying agro-climatic zones.

2. Understanding of the results and responses from the FGDs will help in the deployment of customised technologies and package of practices that are specific to regional requirements.

3. Identification of innovations, adaptation measures and good practices can help in their dissemination in other climatic zones and in further institutional research (Land to Lab transfer).

4. Assistance in customising training and capacity building efforts to suit regional needs.

5. Identification of problems with various systems – old and new.

6. Identify varieties that worked and those that did not. This will help customize hybrid or high-yielding varieties to the ACZ.

NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. The NMSA wants to preserve Indian Agricultural Heritage to integrate in-situ conservation of genetic resources based on traditional knowledge. The results of this activity will help in the documentation of traditional knowledge.
  2. Goal 4: Productivity enhancement in crop sector
  3. Goal 5: Improving seed varieties and efficiency of seed chain.
  4. Goal 7: Improved soil health management.
  5. Goal 8: Increasing level of farm mechanization.
  6. Goal 14: Research and Development.
  7. Goal 15: Capacity building of stakeholders

B. Outputs of the climate analogues tools

1. Development of Village Resource Maps that focus more on tracking farmers’ mobility and noting factors that help and/or hinder mobility and knowledge exchange regarding adaptation strategies.
2. Seasonal calendars will help to understand when mobility is possible.
3. Notes on responses, from the men’s focus group and from the woman’s focus group to a set of guiding questions aimed at the objectives of the use of this tool.
4. Better understanding of who may benefit from farmer to farmer exchanges based upon climate analogues, and why.
5. Recommendations regarding gender-sensitive strategies to incorporate in the design of action research based upon climate-analogue informed farmer to farmer exchanges and other possible approaches (e.g. use of films, cell phones) aimed at making linking climate analogue information with actions that help improve livelihoods of the poor in a sustainable manner.
6. Help in determining if using gender-disaggregated participatory village-level resource maps will help to inform all of the objectives supporting the use of this tool.NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. Goal 13: Easier access to information.
  2. Goal 15: Capacity building of stakeholders

C. Outputs of the weather forecast tool

1. An overview of the kind of weather information women, men and youths have access to, the source of this information and how they use it; and an understanding of the kind of weather information participants would like to receive and how they would like to receive it.

2. A seasonal calendar that demonstrates farming activities based on weather information.

NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. Goal 11: Developing safety net.
  2. Goal 13: Easier access to information.

D. Outputs of the Tools for understanding and catalyzing gender-sensitive climate smart agricultural initiatives

1. Information regarding the kinds of institutions, strategies and approaches that can support shifts to climate-smart agricultural practices by both men and women.

2. Better understanding of the kinds of climate-smart agricultural practices that have been taken up by men and women, how and why these changes have come about, including challenges and opportunities.

NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. Goals 1 to 10 and 13 to 16.


Data collection –  The data will be more qualitative that quantitative. Responses can be summarized and assembled into results for deriving conclusions regarding what is it that needs to be done and how can the findings positively impact the implementation of the interventions of the NMSA.

This ‘idea’ of the assessment definitely needs more refinement. There is a plethora of literature regarding what the scientific community understands about climate change, but what truly matters is whether this knowledge is reaching the people for whom it is meant and whether scientists and policymakers are in tune with the scenario at the grassroots level. Time to get there. What do you think? How can the NMSA be made a success?