These interventions enable poor smallholders to sell more, higher quality produce at increased prices therefore helping ensure food security, increase net incomes, help with climate change mitigation and adaptation and reduce risks for farmers. Agriculture/Natural Resource Management (NRM) interventions address a wide range of staple crops (rice, wheat, pulses), cash crops such as cotton, high value horticulture, as well as livestock. In each of these sub-sectors, AKF/AKRSP (I) work to improve input supply through the introduction of new seed varieties/breeds and easy to make organic, low-cost fertilisers and pesticides as well as improving soil and water management.
In Gujarat, AKRSP has been working in drought-prone areas some of which are also prone to coastal salination for over 30 years and today some of AKRSP (I)’s programme areas are extremely water-stressed making water conservation and community-based irrigation approaches key to sustaining agricultural production. AKF/AKRSP (I) also work to set-up farmer producer groups and help them negotiate growing and purchasing agreements with agro-input suppliers and processors.
AKRSP (I) has had significant success with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which increases productivity by improving the management of soil, water, plants and nutrients. Yields have increased by up to 50% with SRI, allowing farmers to allocate more land to valuable cash crops such as cotton. Farmers have replicated SRI principles for other crops such as maize and wheat with significant improvements in productivity. In 2015, as part of its work to improve farmers’ livelihoods, AKF and AKRSP began a better cotton initiative with farmers in Gujarat as well as an organic cotton project in Madhya Pradesh.
In Gujarat, AKF and AKRSP are helping small farmers adopt water use efficiency measure by adopting drip irrigation and as well is working to help farmers access government subsidies for these technologies. In Madhya Pradesh, farmers are being supported as they move towards sustainable organic cotton farming and better markets. Since 2002, some 20,000 households have benefitted from irrigation schemes and 40,000 from soil and water conservation measures in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. 48,301 hectares of land has benefited from watershed development and an additional 15,000 hectares irrigated through development of wells, farm ponds, rehabilitation of canals and associated works. On average, incomes have doubled as a result: farmers now earn US$ 1,000 annually compared to US$ 500 in 2001.
Forestry is another means of improving the livelihoods of farming communities. AKRSP has been helping reignite the traditions of community protection of common lands, which have come under pressure due to lack of entitlements and population growth. Through farm forestry efforts and reforestation efforts in southern Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, AKRSP has helped communities reduce the drudgery for women and children, improve their local ecology and contribute to reforestation efforts.
Livestock is an essential asset for the poorest households with limited access to land or other productive assets and interventions focus on training to improve animal husbandry, improving access to veterinary services, and establishing linkages to local dairies. Goat-rearing in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is helping families earn up to US$ 500 extra per year. A key component has been the promotion of women animal health workers called “pashu sakhis”, who provide affordable animal care in remote villages. Pashu Sakhis are now being trained in Bihar, as part of a wider women’s empowerment programme which is building the capacity of women self-help group (SHG) members to adopt modern veterinary practices with small ruminants as well as become para-vets themselves.
AKF/AKRSP (I) activities in agriculture/NRM reach more than 1m people (28% female) and are increasingly supported by state funding and grants from local corporate trusts and foundations.