Beyond the project cycle, smallholders can sustain better farming practices

Wadi agroforestry has remained and spread in Channapur. Photo courtesy of James Brockington

Wadi agroforestry has remained and spread in Channapur. Photo courtesy of James Brockington

New findings from a village in India fly in the face of the oft-held fear that project interventions on smallholder farms are doomed to whittle away after the project ends.

Presenting at a session at the World Congress on Agroforestry 2014, Bangor University researcher James Brockington said in the village of Channapur in Karnataka, the number of smallholder farmers practicing the Wadi system of agroforestry had not reduced, but grown from 31 households when the project ended in 2005, to 38 households 5 years on.

The 2010 assessment of the spread of the wadi agroforestry system, introduced between 2001 and 2005 in an action-research project funded by DFID in conjunction with BAIF, also indicates that farmers are able to adopt—and adapt—complex agroforestry practices to suit their conditions. This debunks another misconception that smallholders can only embrace simple technologies; Wadi is a complex, multi-component, multi-product agroforestry practice.

Wadi means ‘small orchard’ in Gujirati, and involves intercropping fruit trees and crops inside a boundary of multipurpose trees. The system normally has a farm pond, and is enclosed by a dry fence.

The system was co-developed with tribal communities in south Gujarat, and this might be one of the reasons Wadi has remained and spread in the area.

Another important contributor to the growth and resilience of wadi, said Brockington, was the training, free planting materials and small cash incentives for preparatory groundwork provided to willing farmers during the project. Technical support offered over the 3-year implementation period was also critical, particularly in 2003 when a drought threatened to wipe out gains made over the past year.

“Farmers in Channapur reported higher fruit and timber yields, as well as better harvests of crops, as a result of soil and water conservation practices,” said Brockington. “And crop yields rose even before the benefits from the sale of tree products came through.”

Channapur is in Dharwad District, a semi-arid zone with annual rainfall of less than 850 mm. It is categorised as a ‘less favoured’ area of India, defined by fragile natural resource base and/or limited access to markets and infrastructure.

At the beginning of the project in 2002, only the relatively wealthier households adopted the wadi system (making up 60% of the adopters), with the poorest households recording a mere 3% uptake. At the assessment in 2010, the system was being used by both richer and poorer farmers, and over 90% of the initial adopters continued to practice it.

These preliminary findings are highly encouraging, said Brockington, and point to the need for projects to conduct ex-post analyses some years after project interventions terminate. Furthermore, there is a need to measure impact in terms of farmers’ incomes and livelihoods, rather than simply uptake; this needs well-targeted and robust data at the start of projects.

Another speaker at the same session, Sudhir P. Ahlawat  of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, presented data on the use of bamboo intercropped with chickpea and sesame in semi-arid area of central India. “Bamboo sales compensate any monetary losses of intercrop, through the harvesting of culms. From the sale of bamboo culms, you can get an income of between 12,000 to 35,000 Rupees every year, without any more investment on your part,” said Ahlawat.

Bamboo has another benefit of repairing the soil. “Soil pH, organic carbon and available phosphorous all increased with bamboo.”

Ahlawat recommended that long-term intercrops with bamboo are spaced wider (over 10 x 10 meters apart), to avoid competition for nutrients with crops. Also, “planting of bamboo lines in an east-west direction will reduce the shade effect.”

In his presentation, Prasad V. Jasti said the benefit: cost ratio of certain tree-based interventions in arid and semi-arid areas can be up to 5.5.  “The agroforestry systems also provide stability during years of severe drought,” he added.

Jasti recommended a review of the restrictive regulations around the sale of farm-grown timber, which might discourage farmers from growing trees.

In his presentation, Arun Misra discussed the success of participatory pasture development with trees. By securing a year-round supply of fodder, the system has led farmers to increasingly choose to rear better-quality milking animals instead of keeping large numbers of less productive stock.

“The appropriate combination and management of trees, shrubs, crops, grasses and livestock units will make agriculture a profitable proposal in the face of climate change challenges,” stated Misra in his talk.

Murari M. Roy of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur, said for dry areas, “agroforestry with livestock integration offers a great scope in combating ill effects of climate change.”

Matilda Palm of the Chalmers University of Technology, discussed the opportunities for restoring degraded and vulnerable lands with agroforestry systems, based on a comparative study from Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Like any good deal, when an agroforestry system works for farmers and they have appropriate support, it can spread far and wide, usually driven by farmer-to-farmer sharing of knowledge. In India, an estimated 500,000 farmers are currently practicing the Wadi agroforestry system.

By Daisy Ouya

Related stories:

Trees boost fodder production in dry areas

Are we doing enough to secure livestock fodder for farmers in India’s tough terrains

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10 - 14 February 2014 Delhi, India
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