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  • C Shambu Prasad, Abhishek Saxena, Shubha Khadke

Building the Natural Farming Learning Alliance in Rajasthan

Updated: May 23, 2023


Rajasthan has a rich history of collaboration where the state has been proactive in working and with piloting and scaling innovations from civil society in education, health and natural resource management. The annual meeting of the 32 partners of the Rajasthan Natural Farming Coalition at Ajmer provided a strong base for co-creating a learning alliance that builds on contextual appreciation of the diverse ecologies of the region even as it was open to learn from other states.


Building organic networks


Government statistics indicate that Rajasthan is among the top five states in terms of organic farming area and in utilizing the organic clusters of the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana. In a state with several civil society organisations (CSOs), how can their innovations become integral to the movement towards upscaling natural farming in Rajasthan? The second meeting of the network of partners of the Rajasthan Natural Farming Coalition (RNFC) at the beautiful campus of Disha-RCDSSS in Ajmer provided interesting insights on coalition building and participatory decision making.


As newer organizational forms, networks are characterized by free flow of ideas, an egalitarian work culture, collaboration across organisations and have greater chances of innovation and better outcome for the collaborators. The Living Farm Incomes team had an opportunity to be part of the emerging learning alliance through sharing our blogs on innovations from the field and insights from our ongoing work on Farmer Producer Organisations.


RNFC is the state chapter of the National Coalition for Natural Farming (NCNF) and a coalition of 32 CSOs across 28 districts of Rajasthan, 22 of whom attended with six new partners keen to join. This two-year-old network has a stronger presence in the predominantly tribal regions of Southern Rajasthan. 75% of the arid and semi-arid regions that dominate the landscape are low in soil organic carbon. While the Government of Rajasthan announced a state Organic Farming Policy in 2017, the momentum towards agroecological farming is more recent with the Jaivik Kheti Mission announced in 2022 with a budgetary allocation of Rs 600 crore for 3 years. The coalition supported CEEW in its policy study on sustainable agriculture and constituted five working groups in its first meeting in February 2022. These groups covered capacity building, research and advocacy, conflict resolution, resource mobilisation and communications.


The Coalition also seeks to identify and learn from the experiences of champion farmers and engage in research-based policy advocacy with the government at the state level. RNFC also engages with other stakeholders like academic institutions, publicly funded agricultural universities, research institutes and extension set ups like ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency) and KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra), social enterprises and policy think tanks. The complexity and diversity of actors and the open architecture of the coalition presents both challenges and opportunities for a learning alliance on natural farming.


Deliberative democracy in action


The Ajmer meeting began with brief introductions of the work on natural farming by the partners and reports of the various working groups over the last year. The open and deliberative nature of the conversations was a welcome departure from many multi-stakeholder meetings that are convened where several speakers share their expertise with little dialogue or discussions. In contrast, the Ajmer meeting was not only well planned and facilitated but carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect and learning where members were encouraged to disagree if they had reservations on the reports of the various working groups. The five-day session on Bio-input Resource Centres (BRCs) at Kota and the formal process for onboarding newer members were some of the salient features of the meeting. Another significant outcome, likely to become a unique feature of the coalition is the ongoing engagement with the Panchayati Raj department to closely work with panchayats on integrating natural farming-related activities in the Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP). Thirty-six pilots have been initiated with the 16 organisations in 14 districts of the state.


The Ajmer meeting had online participation and interaction with Rajenderji of the Rajasthan Organic Farming Mission, apart from receiving insights from Vijay Kumar T of APCNF and Archana from MAKAAM. Archana spoke about the role of women farmers and encouraging partners to raise questions on the five Ps of Pehchaan (Identity), Parishram (effort), Pahunch (or access), Pratibhagita (Participation) and Prapti (Attainment) in their work. The sessions on organic farming networks by Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust, state of FPOs in India by our team at IRMA and alternative approaches to organic farming markets by Ananthoo of ReStore were well received and created a demand from the group for detailed engagements to help partners work on faster learning in case they were to expand their work in these directions.


The Young networked non-profit


A key attribute of networks is the complexities of governing and decision making at the Coalition level due to multiple members being part of the network or Coalition as well as the multiple stakeholders that the Coalition, as an entity interacts with. RNFC, since its inception, has evolved as an egalitarian set up where there is no “central” or “core” organisation. All the CBOs regardless of the size, area of operations, fund endowment and HR capacity are treated as equal partners. Within the Coalition, although there are some positions that are identified with a particular person for practical and operational purposes, there are no fixed verticals. Leading the coordination of the coalition as a networked non-profit is Avisha Jain, the young and energetic coordinator of RNCF based at Udaipur and ably supported by Rohit Parakh stationed at the agricultural department cell in Jaipur and the Steering Group Member, Kavitha Kuruganti. There are “working groups” that are relatively flexible in nature and have representations from member CBOs. A member may be in more than one working group and attempts are made to include people with specific interests and specialisations while forming the working group. Some external members, from the broader ecosystem, can also be coopted to the working group for their knowledge, skills or experiences in a particular area.


If natural farming has to represent an alternative paradigm in agriculture, it is critical to have appropriate organizational forms that enable participation, embed diversity and navigate complexity. As RNFC builds its own internal capacities and expands each year with newer partners, it also needs to pro-actively prepare itself for engagement with the state and the agricultural university. A learning alliance where their input and participation are solicited, and small pilots are initiated seems to be the way forward in the coming months. Rooting natural farming in GPDP and involving the agriculture department can help in scaling up, with the initiative bolstered by the search for a few innovation champions within the government and agricultural universities.


 

C Shambu Prasad is a Professor of Strategic Management and Social Sciences at the Institute of Rural Management Anand and coordinates the Living Farm Incomes (LFI) project


Abhishek Saxena is a Research Fellow at the LFI Project and also pursuing his doctoral research at IRMA.


Shubha Khadke is a Programme and Outreach Consultant in the LFI Project


Read the Hindi version of this blog here


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