By Prithviraj Gaikwad, Asif Alam Mazumder, Sameer Sayyad, Harshal Khade, Vandana Patekar, Kakasaheb Wadekar and Narendra Tiwatne
In a country where more than half of the work force is dependent on agriculture, the COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on the sector. The majority of population is dependent on agriculture and its informal and migrant labor force. This makes lockdowns and other physical distancing measures hugely disruptive.
WOTRs kitchen garden and multilayer farming initiatives have proved to be beneficial for small and marginalised farmers in rural Maharashtra when supply chains are largely cut off due to the pandemic. The main aim of both activities is to make people resilient during crises, such as drought or even a pandemic. At present, 1,556 families in six districts of Maharashtra are benefiting from their kitchen gardens. Whereas multilayer farming is being promoted in eight districts of Maharashtra, supporting 528 families.
Free distribution of kitchen garden vegetables
50-year-old Roshanbi Yakub Pathan from Georai Marda village in Aurangabad district distributed vegetables from her kitchen garden free of cost. She owns five acres of land of which she uses 1 Gunta for an organic kitchen garden under the guidance of a WOTR Wasundhara Sevika. At the kitchen garden she cultivates 14 different types of vegetables — tomato, eggplant, radish, chili, okra, beans, drum stick, cucumber, white gourd, white pumpkin, bitter gourd, fenugreek leaves (methi), bottle gourd and cluster beans (guar). She has been trained to prepare low-cost organic pesticides (Dashparni ark, jivamrut, nimastra) as well as compost, which she uses in her kitchen garden.
The concept of kitchen gardens emerged taking into account the importance of vegetables, and considering the economy of producing own vegetable requirements in backyards using the available fresh water. Prior to the lockdown Roshnabi used to sell surplus vegetables grown in her kitchen garden. As the nationwide lockdown started on March 24, she realized that people were deprived of their daily needs. She then started donating her vegetables to the needy women in the neighborhood who were not able get any vegetables for their families.
Roshanbi recalls: “Our Wasundhara Sevika used to tell us the importance of green vegetables, to increase immunity and fulfill nutritional needs. This situation made me understand the importance of the kitchen garden. It is not only beneficial for me but also for the entire village.”
Multilayer farming ensures supply of garden-fresh produce and a source of additional income
Multilayer farming involves growing compatible plants of different heights on the same field at the same time. The system also helps in better utilisation of environmental factors, greater yield stability in diverse environmental conditions, as well as conservation of soil and other resources. Currently multilayer farming is being promoted in 13 blocks of eight districts in Maharashtra, directly benefiting 528 households.”
Radhabai Damodar Gadekar is a farmer in Deulgaon Tad village in Bhokardan block of Jalna district in Maharashtra. She has four acres of land. “Market is closed. No one is buying harvested crops such as cotton, toor (pigeon pea), etc. Marriages are postponed. Many social events are canceled,” she says.
Radhabai then goes on to explain how multilayer farming is proving useful to her as well as others now, in sustaining food security during the pandemic: “I began practicing multilayer farming after WOTR introduced us to the concept in September 2019. To understand it better, 25 villagers were taken to the exposure visit to Wadgaon Tanpura village in Ahmednagar district in the same month. There, we could interact with the farmers and understand more about the multilayer farming technique. WOTR conducted one more meeting to further explain multilayer farming and the food and nutrition security it provides.”
During the lockdown, there is no weekly market. Vegetables available in the village are too expensive. Now, multilayer farming has came to her rescue. Spinach, coriander, hemp, onion, radish, beet, ridgegourd, chilli, bittergourd, tomato, okra and eggplant can be seen in Radhabai’s plot.
“All these vegetables are organic. I am growing enough vegetables for my family of four. However, some of my neighbours are not so lucky. I am giving them these vegetables for free. Before the lockdown, in the month of March, I got Rs 1,500 by selling surplus vegetables at the weekly market. However, during the lockdown I started giving away to others as I believe it is my duty to help others when I have enough. I think, multilayer farming is the need of the hour to ensure food security as well as a source of additional income,” she adds.
In the same village, Thagnaji Vikram Gadekar is living with his six family members.
“Currently I am not doing multilayer farming on my land. However, farmers like Radhabai are providing fresh vegetables for my family. Their goodwill gesture is praiseworthy as we have no access to any market during the lockdown. Now, I have realized the importance of multilayer farming. This kharif season, I will also start practicing it,” Thagnaji says.
Be it kitchen gardens or multilayer farming, both raise adaptive capacity of farmers by ensuring food and nutrition security especially during emergencies – whether it is a drought or a lockdown.