Strengthen bridges: How can KVKs enable sustainable transitions
Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) set up in India since 1974 are a crucial source of knowledge for farmers and have promoted the extension of Green Revolution technologies. The KVK Gandhinagar of the Gujarat Vidyapith shows how they could contribute significantly to the spread of new knowledge on agroecology too.
Bridging labs and farms: A brief history of KVKs
Until the 1960s, the agricultural extension and agricultural education were separated by departmental structures. While, Agriculture education came under the larger department of education, extension was the mandate of the Department of Agriculture (DoA). A new paradigm of agricultural education emerged with the green revolution. The role of scientists expanded beyond scientific innovations to disseminating scientific knowledge. Therefore, the newly formed central agency in the early 60s, - Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) assumed both the functions of agricultural research, as well as extension. KVKs were formed as the extension agencies of ICAR, first in 1974, and soon became a crucial interface between the agricultural research community and the farmers. Now there are 731 KVKs across India, which promote scientific agricultural practices.
The KVKs adopted the Training and Visit (T&V) method, propagated by the World Bank programs at the time since the 1990s. The T&V system was later criticized for standardizing the training modules across all agro-climatic regions and unsuitable for spreading agroecology. The lack of dedicated field staff often meant that KVK structure became more of Train and Vanish! Despite criticism, the strength of KVKs is the presence of multi-disciplinary scientific and trained manpower who are closer to farmers, unlike university or ICAR researchers and administrators. Farmers are able to access the in-house demo farms of KVKs with ease, and it helps them experiment on their own field sites. The KVKs provide basic services like soil testing, plant disease prevention and other forms of support to farmers.
Inside Gandhinagar KVK: Glimpse of a successful intermediary
Generally, ICAR institutions are involved in promoting Green revolution technologies like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Diverging from this norm, KVK-Gandhinagar has been involved in organic agricultural practices since the last 12 years according to Dr. Garg. They not only have their 38 acre demonstration farm fully under organic agriculture, they also have started various initiatives to support organic farming among the local agrarian communities, like producing vermi-compost and distributing compost samples to farmers. These set ups are also used for training farmers.
The KVK has also built a high value oil extraction unit. The unit is mainly used for 1500 ppm, neem oil concentrates. Initially, the farmers were expected to bring the raw material to the unit and take the finished products. However, since the farmers did not require so much neem oil at a time, and were unable to dry and crush the neem fruits before bringing it to the KVK, the process was changed. Now KVK personnel source the raw material and produce neem oil inhouse, and distribute it to the farmers. Garg said, such initiatives can address one of the biggest barriers to natural farming-- quality of organic farming inputs. Apart from this, they also help farmers with marketing, by connecting them with different government as well as civil society initiatives for sustained livelihoods.
Promoters of Natural Farming are talking about “Atmanirbhar Bharat", Gandhi’s idea of Gram Swaraj talked about autonomy to the villages. Gujarat Vidyapeeth (GV) is the host organization for the KVK. GV is a teaching university, formed through the direct initiative of M.K. Gandhi. The university had been involved in creating more independent and empowered rural communities according to Dr. Garg. It is this influence of the host organization which sets the Gandhinagar KVK apart from other KVKs, mostly hosted within traditional State Agricultural Universities.
However, the potential and reach of their work is constrained by limited staff. According to Garg, farmers often visit the KVK from far-flung places in Gujarat or even neighboring states, and there is a lot of demand for practical know-how at the field level. Yet, reaching out to the farmers in a pro-active and sustained fashion is difficult without systematic and formal collaboration with ATMAs and other KVKs. Such partnerships have been limited or sporadic in nature till date.
Knowledge transfer will require institutional mechanisms
Like the KVK-Gandhinagar, other KVKs have been hosted by NGOs, and educational institutions which have over the years created knowledge on sustainable agricultural practices. On the other hand, the ATMAs and government line departments, which have a large field workforce, might often lack access to information on cutting-edge scientific knowledge. So, what prevents these institutions to collaborate and share resources for wider reach?
The National Agricultural Research System (NARS) is a one-way information transfer system. And KVKs are meant as the extreme node at the end of the system, knowledge transfer upwards is prevented within the hierarchical structure. Therefore, for the knowledge on sustainable agricultural practices to be shared within various agencies, alternate platforms need to be created.
The informal alliances and civil society actors cannot alone take it forward, multi-stakeholder discussions. Scientists like Garg, as well as other similar institutions within the state system, as well as premier educational institutes like Gujarat Vidyapeeth, can take a lead. It will be more conducive to the veteran scientists, as clearly for them the rhetoric driven campaign for “natural faming” has been disenchanting. As increased awareness and circumstances are nudging farmers to adopt agroecological practices for financial and socio-ecological reasons, multiple actors are themselves exploring options to come together. Hopefully, the situation can lead to better convergence and collaboration between extension offices, CSOs and state agencies to work towards the common goal of farmer’s welfare and the planet’s wellbeing.
Arnab Chakraborty is a Research Associate, Deborah Dutta is a Senior Research Fellow and Chintan Patel is a Programme Assistant in the Living Farm Incomes project, IRMA.