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LAND AND WATER RESOURCES
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pulse (typically black gram) with rice. They also
introduced relay cropping in which the women
sow another crop (such as chickpeas) into the rice
crop so that it emerges when the rice is harvested.
The women also independently introduced
new vegetable crops, such as bitter gourd, which
are highly profitable when sold in local markets.
"Whether they inter-crop, relay crop or just plant
a second crop, the women farmers have diversified
production, creating novel nutritional and
marketing opportunities," Professor Bellotti says.
Surplus produce can be sold in local markets
and the farmers also barter, as well as lend and
borrow from each other. There are examples
emerging where sufficient quantities of a particular
vegetable, such as tomato, are produced to allow
consolidators (or middlemen) to accumulate
product to sell in bigger markets in cities.
"The women are also astute observers and are
excellent change agents," Professor Bellotti says.
"They are excellent at disseminating what they
have learnt, communicating DSR to other farmers
so that in the space of one season, the practice
SPREADING THE WORD
At the outset ACIAR worked in three locations,
targeting two or three Self-Help Groups at each
site, resulting in 30 to 40 research plots per village
comparing DSR to transplanted rice, or trialling
new ways to grow vegetables.
Through the women's own initiative---and
making use of PRADAN's network---the research
farmers have reached out to thousands of farmers
to share the benefits of the research.
This flair for extension has, in turn, produced
new income-generating opportunities, including
research farmers being paid to share their
knowledge. In addition to having the costs
of travelling to other villages reimbursed, the
women are paid to provide lessons and field
demonstrations to other farmers through
government sources, such as the National Rural
Livelihoods Mission (NRLM).
"Traditionally that would have been the role of
government extension agents and we are seeing
this role shift directly to research farmers," Professor
Bellotti says. "Government development agencies
like the NRLM are recognising that it is worthwhile
and effective to pay women farmers to share their
knowledge and experience."
In the process of exploring new farming
practices and engaging other villages, the women
are generating new research questions in a cycle
of ongoing self-improvement.
"Researchers often tend to ignore the most
disadvantaged and least-resourced farming
communities because they don't think they have
the physical capacity to invest in new technology,"
Professor Bellotti says. "But what we found working
with these women is that if the technology is
appropriate, subsistence farmers can be extremely
"We had to learn to step back and open up a
space for farmers to innovate."
The key to reaching the farmers, however,
was having trusted local partner PRADAN, which
contextualised agricultural research within a
broader development framework that improves
livelihoods and provides a sense of agency.
"The success of this ACIAR project had less to
do with agricultural technology and more to do
with developing human capacity for independent
innovation," Professor Bellotti says. "This project was
a case of agricultural research activities providing
opportunities for adult learning."
The outcomes are allowing extremely poor
women farmers to increase their income and the
food and nutrition security of their households,
and to become empowered leaders of more
gender-equitable farming communities. n
ACIAR PROJECT: LWR/2010/082 'Improving
livelihoods with innovative cropping systems
on the East India Plateau'
MORE INFORMATION: Professor William Bellotti,
Global Change Institute, University of Queensland,
Self-Help Groups, such as this one in Bhubhui village, Jharkhand, have
been set up by Indian non-government organisation PRADAN to
provide agricultural research assistance to women farmers.
One of the pioneer direct-seeded rice (DSR)
research farmers, Kalpana Hansda, pictured with her
neighbour's daughter, Devi Hansda, in Talaboru.
"WHAT WE FOUND WORKING
WITH THESE WOMEN IS
THAT IF THE TECHNOLOGY IS
FARMERS CAN BE EXTREMELY
-- Professor Bill Bellotti
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