Beyond schemes and projects: An ecosystem perspective for Gujarat’s “100% organic district”
Updated: Feb 14
Dang has been declared as Gujarat’s first organic district. However, ground reality shows the institutional capacity to pull off such a huge district wide transformation is still lagging.
Dang: The first organic district
The district of Dang is the first district in Gujarat to be declared 100% organic. This has been seen as a big step in revamping the agricultural system towards sustainable farming. In addition, the government has released many schemes like the Gaay Adharit Kheti Sahay Yojana to promote ‘natural farming’. The state-led agenda for natural farming has been made explicit by the government officials and ministers at many forums like the pre-vibrant Gujarat summit on Food and Agro business in December 2021.
The district of Dang was chosen because farmers, predominantly people from Scheduled Tribes, have had conventionally less access to pesticides and mostly follow organic farming practices by default. The inhabitants reside in secluded settlements in remote undulating terrains. The relative remoteness has kept the farmers in the district beyond the reach of green revolution practices for a longer time. The distance has also impeded access to fertilizer and pesticide markets according to the locals.
The ATMA exhibit showing major agencies (from top: Gujarat agro Industries Corporation limited, ATMA, Guj. Organic Products Certification Agency, Department of Horticulture, Guj. State Seed Nigam Ltd. Deprtment and Animal Husbandry, Registrar of Cooperative Societies.) at Pre-vibrant Gujarat summit at Anand Agriculture University
In Dang as well as in other regions of Gujarat, the pivotal agency responsible for promotion of natural farming has been the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA). The ATMAs are located at the district level, but they are accountable to a state level nodal cell. Many schemes of the government are being rolled out through the ATMAs to promote “cow-based natural farming”. It is however important to understand, if this single agency, with a state average staff size of 6 at the district level and 2 at the block levels, may not be adequately equipped to bring about a full-fledged transformation of the agricultural system.
Can farmers hope for an organic growth in livelihood?
The ATMA also conducts periodic training sessions on natural farming practices across the district by recruiting hundreds of master farmers. A group of farmers in Dang, however, told us that there are only minimal changes in the overall agricultural processes in their field.
The village of Chirapada is located 30 kms of spiraling roads away from the administrative headquarters. The main settlement is about 4 kms from the highway. All the households in the village seem to be involved in poultry rearing. We were accompanied by Haresh Rangpara and Badal Dabhi, two students from Lokbharti University, Bhavnagar, who have been engaged in conducting a pilot survey in the village to understand farming practices as part of Verghese Kurien Rural Internship. The survey indicated that of the 20 households visited, most own two cattle on an average. These are not all desi-cow breeds. Of these households, only 3 households are receiving the 900 rupees monthly support for rearing Desi cows as per a government scheme to encourage rearing desi varieties.
In our conversation with the farmers, they explained that their biggest problems include lack of irrigational facilities because of which they are able to grow food only once a year. And as a result, despite the difficulty and expense in sourcing pesticides and fertilizers, these inputs are heavily used during the cultivation season; They simply can’t afford any yield penalties during the only available window of cultivation. Farmers procure the inputs from Nashik, Maharashtra as no chemical fertilizers and pesticides are available in the markets at Dang.
Given these issues, proper training in agroecological practices like agro-forestry, or green manures can go a long way in improving the livelihood security of the farmers. For example, they can use their poultry waste to produce organic manure, or mulch the soil to retain moisture. They can also seek alternative livelihoods through horticultural products in the fallow season. However, in the present form of the ATMA schemes, there is limited scope for leveraging local resources or practices.
Nevertheless, it would seem that in more accessible areas, the farmers are able to use natural farming practices as prescribed by ATMA. There are even cases where they are sharing resources like cow urine and dung as the land-holdings are small. The NGOs have also been able to reach out more effectively to farmers closer to the district Headquarters. Therefore, while there is scope for adoption of agroecological practices through different arrangements, it will require upscaling the process of spreading pluralistic ideas of natural farming grounded in local contexts, through concerted efforts of different actors and networks.
How to enable a convergence of actors and schemes?
Apart from the state government agencies like ATMA and line departments, the local KVK under the ICAR system along with several CSOs operate in the Dang. While they often work with the same communities, there still seems to be lack of convergence or collaboration in their program design.
According to the agricultural census of 2015-16 there are at least 12838 operational landholdings in the whole district of Dang with individual ownership. As was indicated by the ATMA staff, this does not account for further fragmentation of land. For this reason, individual farmers, who have been practicing farming on land which is not in their name, are supported with a monetary support of Rs. 50 per Guntha, every season upto 2 hectares under Dang Sampurna Rasayanmukt kheti yojana. So far, this scheme covers 13, 478 farmers. As the online portal has become functional, they expect the number of registrations to go up.
The Government has also started an organic market in Gandhinagar, which aims to provide forward linkage for organic products from organic districts like Dang and Valsad. The NGOs on the other hand are trying to create marketing opportunities by establishing an organic farmer producer company (FPC), independent of the government initiative. Similarly, the NGOs are also collaborating to create a Bio-input resource center at the state level. While, they can improve from the wide network of farmer friends associated with ATMA, there is no formal provision for such engagement. Similarly, the forest department, a major stakeholder in the socio-ecological system in the area is also absent from the schemes around natural farming.
Given the common goal of improving the livelihoods of the local farmers in a sustainable manner, there are several opportunities for synergy among different stakeholders at the regional level. The welcome push by the state government can gain mileage through initiatives and platforms to create convergence amongst key agencies, and through recognizing the farmer as a crucial knowledge partner rather than a passive beneficiary.
Acknowledgement: We are thankful to AKRSPI and NCNF for facilitating the field visits in Dang. We are also grateful to ATMA, Dang and KVK, Waghai for sharing their perspectives.
Arnab Chakraborty is a Research Associate and Chintan Patel is a Programme Assistant with the Living Farm Incomes project at IRMA.