Food insecurity is among India’s greatest development challenges. Though India has made rapid strides in improving its rates of undernourishment and malnutrition, it is still home to the highest number of hungry people in the world—194 million people (more than 15 percent of India’s population), according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s 2018 report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World, and shares a quarter of the global hunger burden.
On the 2018 Global Food Security Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, India ranked 76th among 113 countries.
“The government of India has large food security and anti-poverty programs but there are critical gaps in terms of inclusion and exclusion,” says R. Jay Sehgal, executive vice president of the Sehgal Foundation. “Women and girls are affected the most with malnutrition.”
With support from donors and partners, the Sehgal Foundation focuses on helping rural communities create sustainable programs for managing water resources, increasing agricultural productivity, and strengthening rural governance. Sehgal Foundation’s grassroots programs address three of rural India’s most pressing and interrelated issues: Water security, food security, and social justice.
The Krishi Jyoti project’s primary goal is to enhance farm productivity and empower farmers in the community currently living in poverty so they can lead more secure and prosperous lives.
The key mission is to help farmers, most of whom have only a small parcel of land, increase crop yields and improve their livelihoods. This work is done by introducing and promoting more effective farming practices such as the application of balanced fertilizer, the use of better quality seed, and the efficient use and conservation of water. Water augmentation structures are built in the villages and in the schools, where a healthier learning environment is possible with the provision of potable water and decent sanitary facilities. The project extends to the rehabilitation of dilapidated school buildings as well.
The program began in 2008 with two villages in Nuh and, by the end of 2017, it reached sixty villages and over 40,000 farmers in the semiarid villages of Nuh district, Haryana, and Alwar district, Rajasthan. Farmers participating in the project have seen yields increase by 20-30 percent, providing them with increased income. Check dams are capturing and storing rainwater to replenish the underground water table. And more children are receiving an education in a safe and healthy environment.
“For these farmers, agricultural productivity has increased with the use of better farming practices, improved efficiency in water use and, better water conservation techniques such as rainwater harvesting systems, check dams, farm bunding, etc., which effectively augment the groundwater,” says Sehgal.
“In such conditions, they cannot achieve viable livelihoods and improve resource efficiency even if they adopt new technology,” Sehgal explains. “In most agriculture-based economies, smallholder farms also face constraints such as access to inputs, technology, credit, and organized markets.”
Other challenges, he adds, include fragmented land holding, lack of correct information and timely extension services, lack of irrigation, lack of mechanization and increasing labor costs, decreasing soil quality, and inadequate storage facilities, transport, and marketing. In addition to these, the gender-disaggregated society makes smallholders vulnerable to market and climatic risks.
Although agriculture employs about 49 percent of the labor force in India, Sehgal points out, “one-third of the farmers in India do not like farming because it is not a profitable activity or viable occupation. Forty percent are willing to give up farming if they could find a better source of livelihood.”
For onion and cotton, adoption rates were 100 percent and all the farmers covered during the survey were using recommended doses of crop nutrition. The assessment showed improved productivity for those farmers who adopted Krishi Jyoti practices as compared to those who had not. A comparison with control villages during the assessment survey showed a significant difference in productivity levels.
Further improvement in productivity is predicted with greater adoption of improved water management practices and technologies. The adoption of new farming practices is increasing productivity of lead crops. Yields in wheat, mustard, cotton, and millet have increased by 21-to-35 percent. A Krishi Jyoti water harvesting structure created the potential for 13 million gallons per year.
“This benefited 9,300 villagers and the renovation of twenty schools helped 4,000 schoolchildren to access good education,” Sehgal says.
“Good agronomic advice builds farmers’ resilience to mitigate climate change impacts by expanding and improving locally relevant, cost-effective, and diverse agricultural practices with an effective utilization of technology and information,” he explains.
The teams from Sehgal Foundation and Mosaic, he says, “serve as a major source of motivation for boosting farmers’ participation.”
Farmers learn from the project technical guide along with training on and off the farm, and field demonstrations that help to make farming rewarding, Sehgal explains.
This includes knowledge-sharing events such as field days and Kisan Sammelan (farmers’ fair) which provide opportunities for other farmers, especially those who are illiterate and women, who otherwise have difficulty accessing information on various aspects of agricultural development.
This is an essential part of the project, Sehgal adds, because “such groups are otherwise hesitant to accept any advice given by experts as they have experienced failures in the past.”
Given the success of the Villages Project, Mosaic announced in June that it will be extending its partnership with Sehgal Foundation through 2021.
Image: Still from "About Krishi Jyoti -- The Mosaic Villages Project in India" video.
Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.