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Known as the ‘Rice Bowl of India’, Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of rice in the country. Andhra Pradesh has 13 districts, six agro-climatic zones, and five different soil types. The state has 10.1 million ha of cultivated area, c onstituting 37% of the total geographical area of the state. The irrigated area is 36% of the total cultivated area. Andhra Pradesh has mostly red lateritic and black soil, with low fertility and salinity problems. The important crops sown are rice, cotton, groundnut, pigeon pea, sunflower, black gram, and sorghum.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh turned to farming approaches that are in harmony with nature, as they build on ecological science, rather than input economics. By improving the ecological conditions in each and every site, it is witnessed that Natural Farming reduces the need for synthetic inputs and deliver instead a form of farming that costs less, in financial terms, and is climate resilient.
Natural Farming has a positive impact on farmers’ livelihoods, young farmers’ careers in agriculture, citizens’ food and nutrition security, restoration of the environment and mitigating climate change, among others.
This programme is being implemented by Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS), a not-for-profit company established by the Department of Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh. RySS’s mandate is to plan and implement programmes for the empowerment and all-round welfare of farmers.
The work on alternative forms of agriculture, suitable for small and marginal farmers, commenced in Andhra Pradesh way back in 2004. An initiative called AP Community-Managed Sustainable Agriculture, was taken up by the rural development department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh. This was under implementation from 2004–14. It was a statewide programme and taken up through women SHGs. Initially it focused on non-synthetic chemical pest management, and later, interventions were made on soil health improvement and water conservation.
The Andhra Pradesh Natural Farming Programme follows certain generic principles (Box 1). As far as practices are concerned, there are a lot of variations, depending on the area and farming traditions of communities, as well as their knowledge of alternative practices. Farmers’ practices are also influenced by the agriculture department’s recommendations related to integrated pest management, integrated nematode management and other non-chemical agronomic practices.
APCNF as regenerative agriculture, is redefining the food and agriculture systems in Andhra Pradesh and addressing the core reasons of farmers’ distress which is characterized by high-cost chemical farming that has resulted in losses and high debts for farmers, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity.
While APCNF is a remarkable technology with a potential to address farmer distress, taking it to farmers and ensuring that farmers adopt this technology is the most challenging task. Farmers face if it is implemented on a piecemeal basis. Lack of knowledge, awareness and handholding support are key barriers to adoption. But more important are the obstacles from the entire ecosystem –right from family members, to neighbours, to other farmers in the village, and the village elders, sarpanches. The mainstream system of agriculture research, agriculture scientists, agriculture extension officers, fertilizer and pesticide dealers– all have been promoting chemical farming for over 50 years. It is on account of these obstacles that the adoption of an alternative agriculture paradigm has been so slow in the world. Till date, there are only 0.5% certified organic farmers in the World.
Addressing these issues calls for a paradigm shift, wherein a complete transformation of a village should be focused while trying to convert a single farmer.
In this context, Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, under the aegis of Department of Agriculture, Govt of AP have been firmly believing in three important theories of change in implementing APCNF programme:
1. transformation should happen in a democratic way wherein women collectives (SHGs and their federations), farmers institutions are involved in programme planning, implementation and monitoring;
2. Knowledge dissemination and handholding support is constantly provided through farmer-driven extension architecture led by Community Resource Persons;
3. Saturation of entire village, cluster, Mandal and the state (in that order) involves converting all villages, all farmers, all farms and all practices leading to a total transformation.
Essentially, these key pillars define the contours of the strategy, activities, and the associated costs of implementation of APCNF model.
4. Implementation Plan of APCNF Model
1. The implementation plan calls for a 5-7-year support to the Gram Panchayat. The average number of farm families is estimated to be 465 of which the programme plans to cover 400 farm families (around 85%).
2. Each farmer requires about 3-5 years of handholding support until she/he transits to natural farming and converts her/his entire holding to natural farming.
3. To provide this support, RySS has positioned a spearhead team of 2-3 master farmers, called Community Resource Persons (CRPs) at the Cluster level (a cluster is a group of 5 GPs).
4. CRPs are themselves best practicing farmers. The CRPs stay in the allotted villages and motivate and support farm households in the village to adopt NF and provide them with handholding support to ensure that the transition is smooth.
5. At the end of 2-3 years, a new pool of master farmers from within these GPs is identified and these internal best practitioners are nurtured to become farmer trainers. Creation and positioning of this human resource are critical for sustaining and expanding this process. Once the internal best practitioners are positioned, the intensity of support to the new farmers increases. A fully trained internal best practitioner is called internal community resource person (iCRP). The programme makes one iCRP available for every 100 farmers.
6. While CRPs and iCRPs focus on transfer of technology, there is another important aspect of mobilizing farmers together, making farming plans and monitoring those plans. This is carried out by the women Self-help Groups and their Village federations, called the Village Organizations (VOs). The role of women is at the front end of the programme leading to transformation of the entire community in the village. Their strengths are in social mobilization, collective action, community learning and community marketing which are of great use for APCNF implementation.
One of the major achievements of the Government of Andhra Pradesh has been the rapid scaling up of Natural Farming. The number of farmers who practice Natural Farming has gone up from 40,000 in 2016 to around 7,50,000 farmers and farm workers in 2020-21—an increase of 17 times in the last 4 years. The APCNF programme has been recognized as the world’s largest agroecology programme in terms of the number of farmers enrolled.
APCNF shows that Natural Farming is not only highly beneficial, but also scalable in a reasonable period of time, provided there is a proper strategy.
The real success of the AP programme lies in the scaling-up strategy adopted. The important innovations are listed below:
1. Farmer-to-farmer extension system: Champion farmers are made trainers. There is one farmer trainer per 100 farmers. This is the most critical innovation. This method is knowledge-intensive and not input-intensive.
2. Crucial role of women SHGs: These groups play an important role in knowledge dissemination, supporting each other during transition, financing members to purchase inputs required for Natural Farming, monitoring and managing the programme.
3. Long-term handholding to each farmer: It has been observed that a farmer requires 3 to 5 years to make the transition to Natural Farming. APCNF provides handholding to every farmer through the farmer-to-farmer extension system and the SHG network.
4. Whole village approach: It takes around 5–6 years for all the farmers in a village to practice NF. Through an extensive network of SHGs, the programme is able to reach out to all the small and marginal and tenant farmers in a village.
5. Support of the State Government and agriculture department: The state agricultural department has been extremely supportive and active in this transition process.
6. Science – Research backing for knowledge – The APCNF programme accords highest priority to scientific evidence. Several studies have been commissioned for establishing the science behind natural farming, socio-economic impact of APCNF, etc
7. ICT backed community monitoring and implementing architecture
8. Partnerships – Philanthropies, donors, national and internalal institutions supporting programme in various capacities for technical support, scaling up, science and research, monitoring and learning, communications etc.
Innovations – Farmers’ own experiments are important for the success of the programme. Each farmer is experimenting; in the first year, they take up only a small portion of land under Natural farming, while the rest of the land is under conventional, synthetic chemicals-based agriculture. After seeing the results of the 1st crop, farmers invariably are analyzing the differences in the 2 plots of land in terms of costs, yields, resilience, health impacts, etc. They also discuss with other farmers and then they take a decision to expand the area. These pioneering farmers are also responsible for motivating new farmers to enroll into Natural farming.
Indo-German Global Centre for Agroecology Research and Learning (IGGCARL)
KfW/BMZ are considering a 20 Million Euro Grant to establish a world class Indo-German Global Centre for Agro-ecology Research and Learning in AP with 3 distinct locations (north coastal tribal area, delta, and Rayalaseema). GoAP has agreed to provide land and buildings for the same. Feasibility Study (FS) has been conducted during May-September 2021 followed by BMZ/KfW Appraisal Mission during 20-27 September 2021. The Appraisal concluded with signing of Minutes of Meeting on 27 th September, between KfW and GoAP representatives. IGGCA’s key partners may include GIZ, FAO, ICRAF, UNEP, APPI, Govt. of AP & RySS. Other international and national organizations are expected to partner with IGGCA. Government of AP has to provide land and building and other hard infrastructure in 3 locations while the grant is expected to be available for meeting the costs of the soft infrastructure, core team, initial research knowledge learning projects and partnerships, and related recurring cost.
The expected outcomes (objectives) of the 5-year IGGCA project are: “The Centre for Agroecological Research and Learning (IGGCARL) delivers convincing research results – according to internationally acknowledged scientific standards – that further AE-farming in AP and beyond, and improve rural livelihoods, in terms of incomes, food, nutrition, and health security while enhancing eco system services”.
Its four thematic pillars are – Research and Development; Learning and Education; Training and
Capacity Building; and Upscaling. The key components include –
1. Establishment of the IGGCARL for applied farmers’ centred research of excellence, the
infrastructure and organizational set-up
2. Establish the research grant programme and calls for proposal
3. Accompanying consultancy/ expert services
4. Training and Capacity building of Champion Farmers, Trainers of Farmer Field Schools,
Communities and upscaling (APCNF)