Manju Devi cultivates peas, tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers on 1/5 acre of land in her Musadei village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, India. Through Oxfam India’s “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project, Devi and sixteen other women farmers in the Santoshi Mahila Kisan Samuh collective gather for a monthly “farmers’ field school” to learn sustainable practices for improving soil quality, agricultural productivity, and climate resilience.
Devi and other group members have begun selling organically grown tomatoes at the local market, and they have found that their income has already increased, to an annual income of INR 50,000 on average, exceeding the net per capita income for Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, by learning to use locally available materials to prepare organic insecticide, fungicide, and fertilizer, group members have been able to save money on purchased fertilizers and pesticides.
Supported by a $20,000 grant from Buddhist Global Relief, the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project is working to improve the lives of women farmers in twenty villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. With an emphasis on community-led knowledge-sharing, support, and collective organizing, the project has created 22 new women farmers’ groups offering trainings in organic methods and other climate-resilient agricultural practices to improve productivity and income and lower costs. The project also seeks to improve farmers’ access to government grants by developing connections between village groups and the government agriculture department.
Women comprise more than a third of the agricultural work force in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and it is estimated that 85 percent of working women in rural areas are farmers or farm workers. But with few land titles in their names, women farmers are far less likely than their male counterparts to benefit from government grants and projects: only 4 percent of women in Uttar Pradesh have access to credit, and less than one percent have participated in government training projects. Farming in general in this area of Uttar Pradesh is subject to drought, flood, poor soil quality, poor seed replacement, and general low productivity. An estimated 33 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty, including many farming families.
In the first six months of the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood,” Oxfam India reports, 75 women from 20 villages began cultivating crops in kitchen gardens, and 20 Dalit (scheduled caste) women farmers began mushroom farming. Six villages, representing 102 small-holder farmers, created agriculture development plans, and 376 farmers, including 32 women, were registered under government agricultural projects. Additionally, 255 farmers received seed and 121 farmers received agricultural equipment from the government.
In another women farmers’ group supported by the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project, a mother of two named Rajmati joined 20 other women in her village of Pritampur to learn about climate-resilient agriculture practices, including the preparation and use of organic fertilizer and other methods of crop intensification. With her husband, Rajmati grows vegetables and other crops on 4/5 acre of land, but in past years, the harvest has not been enough to support their family. In her women farmer’s group, Rajmati said: “I learned different techniques in our group and explained everything to my husband. We used cow dung as manure in our field and observed that productivity has increased. Now I can say that through this, we are getting high yield with less input cost.”
Among the techniques Rajmati has implemented is the use of a manure or compost mulch covered by a plastic sheet to increase productivity by supporting moisture retention, regulating temperature, suppressing weed growth, and enriching the soil. She explained: “We applied plastic sheets in vegetable cultivation. This has minimized our investment, as our vegetable crop used less water and was protected from weeds, as well. We also did mixed-cropping: Between the beds we had sown cauliflower, which gave us an extra crop at the same time. We earned INR 12,000 extra by selling cauliflowers.” Rajmati continues to attend regular meetings of her women farmers’ group.
Climate-resilient farming practices support food and livelihood security for farmers and their surrounding communities by increasing output and making crop production less vulnerable to the weather extremes of a changing climate. Over the past decade, farmers in Uttar Pradesh have faced dry spells during the monsoon season, increased flooding, and increased winter temperatures. At the same time these practices, focused on long-term sustainability, lessen agriculture’s contributions to global climate change.
Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area. This article has been adapted from Oxfam India’s report on the project.