Leading Sustainable Farming with Educating Women in Farmers Field School

In our nation, schools are believed to be a divine place of worship to goddess Saraswati Ma. In Hindi, schools are known as Vidayalaya (Vidya refers to knowledge and Alaya refers to temple). This refers to schools as home of knowledge (learning space). Schools are often known for classroom, grounds, teachers, teaching, hand holding and playing of children. Every phase of life and process of development starts with learning with awareness of possibilities and with the birth of hope. Our mothers are the goddesses that give birth to hopes, turning it into their children with their care and nourishment.

Yet do we ever acknowledge our mothers for the blessings of unconditional love, efforts and nourishment through cooked, tasty food? Also, many women are involved in producing food grains with their daily hard work. These women farmers are responsible for a major part of agricultural activities. But when we imagine farmers, women rarely come into consideration. We are not recognizing women as farmers and often tend to discredit their presence. Srijan Foundation, my AIF Fellowship host organization, works with the purpose to bring efforts to grow women as farmers and to make them self-reliant. This is the story of a school for women farmers who come to learn, to demonstrate, to discuss, to share and to practice organic farming.

Exposure Visit Experience

With great expectations, excitement (since knowing the project) and curiosity, I planned to visit the Farmers Field School (FFS) on Nov 25th, 2020. It was a cold winter day and the way to the FFS was beautifully green, fresh and lovely with coming of forests on either side of the road. I reached FFS by crossing and observing the communities on my way. I met Dayal sir and discussed about FFS, the background stories, my introduction and roles here, and our near future mutual goals.

Thereafter, I toured the various model demonstrations of organic farming, tools and techniques and allied practices with Udit (a team member at this project). Post lunch, we had a few more discussions on the ongoing project and the ways ahead. Then we returned back to our homes. This evening I was satisfied to experience and be part of such an amazing initiative and greener practices to sustainable development. The FFS matched my excitement for it and met my aspirations to motivate me to be part of this journey. Every time I visit FFS, I get to learn many things with moving into green sustainable farming practices. Here with my learnings, I am trying to narrate the story behind the Farmers Field School.

Organic Farming- Introduction

Organic farming is a practice for agriculture production with the reliance on green manure, compost, biological methods for pest control, crop rotation, treatment of seed and bio-fertilisers. This attempts to avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed additives etc). The practice of organic farming supports to add values for good health of soil through the means of organic wastes (crop, animal and farm wastes, aquatic wastes) and other biological materials along with beneficial microbes (biofertilizers) to release nutrients to crops for increased sustainable production in an eco-friendly pollution free environment. The practice aims to ensure higher yield, profitability, greater values & nutrition rich while sustainable production with lower costs.

Components of Organic Farming practice
Components of Organic Farming practice. Graphic Credit: Shashi Kumar and Canva
Farmers Field School- Learning-cum-Training Centre

Farmers Field School (FFS) is an initiative of Srijan Foundation (SF) to promote sustainable agriculture and also women as farmers. FFS is located in Khaira, a village under the Tati Jhariya block in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. The FFS has been operationalized with the support from the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) and ALL WE CAN to promote sustainable farming system in 2016.

Representative Image of Educating Women Farmers for sustainable organic farming practices. Photo Credit: Srijan Foundation
Representative Image of Educating Women Farmers for sustainable organic farming practices. Photo Credit: Srijan Foundation.
The Background Story

Prior to the establishment of the Farmers Field School, women farmers had to be taken to exposure visits of organic farming models and various techniques either within the state or in neighbouring states. This made it very rare to happen given the large costs, low trust (proximity factor), less participation, less awareness, high management tasks, external permission approval, and other hurdles. Facing the need of the situation, Srijan Foundation established the Farmers Field School on an initial land of 2 acres in 2017, with a small room for meetings to happen.

The newly started FFS was successfully motivating women farmers with localized (similar topography) organic farming models, techniques to demonstrate and space for classroom-based trainings. To this process, the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotional Society (JSLPS), All We Can (AWC) and later HCL Foundation contributed as partners for the development process. Today the FFS has expanded to 5 acres and serves a network of more than 3500 women farmers of three blocks of Hazaribag.

Significance of Farmers Field School

Farmers Field School functions on the principle of Non-Formal Education and Adult Learning. It emphasizes on building abilities and capacities of farmers on topics of common interest through observation, discovery and exchange of experiences. It operationalizes Front Line Demonstrations of various organic based multiple cropping practices and allied activities. It acts as a platform for learning, co-creating ideas, sharing experiences, getting expert advises, practical demonstration and establishing women as farmers.

An overview of Farmers Field School in Khaira, Hazaribagh.
An overview look of Farmers Field School campus in Khaira, Hazaribagh. Photo Credit: Shashi Kumar.

In one instance, Gudia Devi, a woman farmer with very little farm area, started to grow vegetables in her terrace through a sack farming model with organic practices. She benefited from vegetables ensuring household food and nutritional values of her household. This happened with Srijan Foundation educating her about the model and offering hand holding support in the farming practice. Now she is educating neighbours about the same and supporting them in farming activities through similar organic approach.

Gudia Devi showing sack farming model in the Terrance of her house.
Gudia Devi showing sack farming model on the terrace of her house. Photo Credit: Shashi Kumar.
Sustainable Organic Farming and Livestock Management

The organic farming models that are being promoted in this Farm Field school include: Agri-Nutri Garden, Nursery, Community nursery, 36*36 model for vegetable cultivation, Annapurna model, Sack farming, Machan, POP of Potato, Pigeon Pea, Mustard, Maize, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), System of Wheat Intensification (SWI), Mulching, Moringa, Papaya, Water Melon, Guava, Banana, Lemon-Grass, Aloe Vera and other medicinal plants. For livestock, animal husbandry, backyard poultry and goatery are encouraged to supplement the organic farming practices.

All these models and practices are with the zero tolerance to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These are aimed to add nutrients to the seeds through a treatment process, line sowing for managing space to get proper growth and water with nutrients from soil, and soil treatment for infusing required nutrients. They are also promoting scientific methods of farming to effectively use farm areas and growing multiple crops (8-10 vegetables) for meeting the nutritional values of households over the year. Based on the farm area, need of crops, climatic conditions, availability of resources and capital costs, farmers choose from a variety of organic farming models. And livestock is an additional livelihood option to complement and enhance family income levels and nutritional values.

Some models of organic farming practice for demonstration in Farmers Field School in Khaira, Hazaribag.
Some models of organic farming practice for demonstration in Farmers Field School in Khaira, Hazaribag. Photo Credit: Shashi Kumar.
Supporting Practices

To support these organic farming models, a few practices of Azolla, Vermin Compost, NADEP, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Integrated Nutrient Management (INM), Vermin wash, Net protection, Community based traditional seed banks, NPM and INM shops are also trained and promoted. Bamboos storage units for potato, onion and a few other vegetable storage and protection units are promoted. So are goatery management with fodder stand, Vaccination, Deworming, herbal medicines for supporting livestock management.

To reduce the drudgery (hard work), a few ideas, tools and machines like Maize Sheller, Cono Weeder, Drum Seeder, Power Tiller, Organic Pesticide Spray machine are introduced and made available to the women farmers.

Few example models for support practices in organic farming.
Few example models for support practices in organic farming. This supplements the efficiency of sustainable farming practices. Photo Credit: Shashi Kumar.
Operations and Services Delivery

The FFS makes its operation with three-fold services. Firstly, FFS offers classroom trainings to Community mobilizers and Community Resource Persons with the purpose of educating about the significance of adopting various models of sustainable agricultural practices and livestock management practices. This is done through verbal trainings, flip charts, video shows, and practical demonstration with an engaging environment.

Secondly, field based practical training of Community mobilizers and Community resource persons on models at FFS, tools and machinery are demonstrated and trained. Thirdly, community level hand holding training and support is given to women farmers on their fields and farms. Based on their needs, training sessions are organized in the community and field support offered in their farms with live demonstrations.

Women Farmers supported through various classroom trainings, practical field demonstrations, field trainings and hand-holding support.
Community mobilizers and Community Resource Persons trained through various classroom learning, practical field- based demonstrations, and supports field trainings and hand-holding to women farmers. Photo Credit: Shashi Kumar and Srijan Foundation.
Designing for Maximizing Outreach

Into discussion with Dayal sir for future endeavors of FFS, we planned for some content (documents and making video tutorials and more), training materials, presentations, exhibition ideas and strategies to share among more women farmers, government stakeholders, partners and visitors. Into the first step, I designed an FFS brochure highlighting its background, overview, model practices, services delivered, important event gallery, achievements and informative covers. Over the coming days, we planned other designed initiatives to maximize our reach and spread awareness about sustainable organic farming practices and women empowerment mutually.

Farmers Field School Brochure snap- Front and Back Cover
Front and Back Cover of Farmers Field School Brochure Snap Photo Credit: Shashi Kumar.
Hope of an Egalitarian Society

Till now, we are struggling to recognize and appreciate the hard labour of our women for cooking food and doing other works. It is a dream-like situation to imagine that we completely recognize women as farmers, knowing their hard efforts in every aspect of the farming process. But I am happy, optimistic and hopeful that the world would soon recognize its women’s contributions for a beautiful and sustainable world to live in. Through engaging with them and being part of their change stories is a bliss to me.

References:

ORGANIC FARMING :: Basic Steps of Organic Farming. https://agritech.tnau.ac.in/org_farm/orgfarm_introduction.html. Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.

Shashi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Srijan Foundation in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. For his fellowship project, he is developing strategic initiatives to inform women farmers about various models and organic farming to increase production and ensure household-level food and nutrition security through better income and livelihood opportunities. Shashi was born in Aurangabad, Bihar, and brought up in Jaduguda, in Jamshedpur, an uranium township of India. He completed his schooling in Computer Science from the Central School. He graduated in Mass Communication in order to connect with rural people. During his studies, he enjoyed learning about photography, documentary making, advertising, public relations, rural development and new media. With this, he started the Garib Samachar initiative with three peers to make social documentaries of communities on varied social issues. He served as a Gandhi Fellow in the Transformation of Aspirational District Programme of NITI Aayog in Begusarai, Bihar. This equipped him with proper professional skills, capacity building, and provided him with a platform to work on quality education. He supported 129 government schools in two block-level education departments through capacitive building of block officers, cluster coordinators, head masters, teachers and community on more than 6 school processes. Later he was selected for a special project to support the Jehanabad district administration in documentation and strategy creation for Jal Shakti Abhjiyan under the guidance of the District Magistrate. After the successful completion, Shashi released a self-made documentary about Jal Shakti Abhiyan Jehanabad by Shri Barun Mitra, Ad. Secretary, Defence Production with Jehanabad DM and district administration. He wants to serve communities in their development (physical, cognitive, social, and spiritual) process and public policy to witness the change. He wants to promote stories of change through the means of storytelling and social documentaries. He believes in the power of stories to transform lives in the context of India.

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