By Patricia Brick
Jay Devi, a farmer in Pritampur village in Uttar Pradesh, India, struggled for years to earn enough from the sale of her crops to pay for the fertilizers and pesticides she needed for her fields. Like many other women farmers in the region, she was entirely dependent upon purchased chemical fertilizers and pesticides for her crops of beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, and pumpkins. But the high cost of these products cut sharply into her earnings. She dreamed of saving enough money to purchase a water pump for her home so that she would no longer have to walk to a communal well for drinking water. But her profits were never enough; some seasons she could not even afford to buy the chemicals she needed, and as a result her crop yields suffered further.
This year, Jay Devi joined a women farmers’ group organized in her village by Oxfam India, through the “Prosperity through Resilient Livelihood” project funded by Buddhist Global Relief. A training in organic farming methods introduced her to vermiculture, and she began to make her own organic fertilizer using earthworm composting. In her first year of replacing the chemical fertilizers on her corn and bean fields with this organic manure, her harvest nearly doubled. “With the increased income, now I have started saving the surplus in my bank account,” she said. “With the savings we have installed a hand pump in our house. Now I do not have to walk 200 meters away to fetch drinking water.” She has begun using solely organic methods on all of her crops and continues to see her crop yields improve.
The Prosperity through Resilient Livelihood project established a women farmers’ collective and forty women farmers’ groups in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. These groups serve as spaces for women to share knowledge and support. The grant provided guidance and trainings in agricultural methods, community building, and financial management to nearly 800 women farmers through these groups, with an emphasis on climate-resilient agriculture practices—ecologically sound methods that have been found to increase crop yields and improve crops’ resilience to the effects of climate change, such as increased or decreased rainfall, periods of extreme heat or cold, and increasingly volatile weather. Women farmers learned about techniques including the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), mulching, rotational cultivation, rainwater harvesting, and the preparation and use of organic fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. The grant also supported the groups in obtaining government aid including assistance for seed banking, farmers’ field schools, and agricultural equipment and supplies.
For many women farmers involved in this project, the transition to climate-resilient agriculture practices has enabled them to achieve a new level of economic independence and security. More than 300 women farmers reported income increases after switching to sustainable methods, and many of these women have opened savings accounts for the first time in their lives.
Rajeshwari, a 38-year-old farmer and mother of four in Musadei village, also was caught in the precarious cycle of dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Recently she too had to choose between purchasing these chemicals and meeting the needs of her family when she found herself unable to afford tuition for her daughter, an eleventh-grader. Her daughter left school and joined the family in supporting the household. In October, the family’s tomato field was infected by a mosaic virus that destroyed the entire crop.
Rajeshwari discussed her experiences in her women farmers’ group. There she learned about matka khaad, an organic fertilizer made of a mixture of cow manure and plant materials (neem seed, fenugreek seed, and garlic). She and several other women farmers in the group used matka khaad on their fields, and all saw their crop yields, and their income, increase. “Because of the training I received from the project, I have become a self-reliant farmer,” Rajeshwari said. “My income increased this year with tomato cultivation using organic manure, and I have re-enrolled my daughter in the eleventh grade in Raja Lonak Inter College. I have used some money and saved some for my kids’ future.”
Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area and a volunteer staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.