A new model for bottom up irrigation and land management for marginal women farmers

Dr Fraser Sugden, IWMI Nepal

Collective farming has been often written-off as irrelevant in the 21st century – yet a new model of collective production has the potential to revolutionise smallholder irrigated agriculture and gender empowerment in the Gangetic plains. The project Improving Dry Season Irrigation for Marginal and Tenant Farmers in the Eastern Gangetic Plains was subsequently developed, with financing from Australian Centre for Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

India’s Bihar state has for decades remained one of the most peripheral corners of South Asia, and deeply inequitable landlord-tenant relations have long blocked the technological and irrigation development in agriculture in this densely populated region. In Bhagwatipur of Bihar’s Madhubani district, close to 27% of farmers are tenants, renting all their land from others under sharecropping arrangements, where the landlord retains half of the harvest. A further third of households rent part of their land from others. Investments in irrigation are essential to build resilience to increasingly erratic rainfall and to extend cultivation into the dry months for food security. However, a lack of capital, marginal holdings and tenure insecurity act as a considerable constraint for tenants in accessing water, while for any investments which are made, the landlord retains half of the increase in output. In this context, male out-migration is increasingly an essential component of household livelihoods.

Under the leadership of the University of Southern Queensland and IWMI, and with the support of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (Patna) and Sakhi, the project was initiated in late 2014 and initiated its pilot farms in Bhagwatipur for the winter dry season in November 2015.

This site describes excellent progress by the project team in Madhubani to mobilize existing smallholders and for shared training, irrigation and marketing, and another collective models of farming.


Stakeholders Meeting held in Madhubani 25th January 2016

Sakhi with the support of IWMI, ICAR and local farmers are implementing innovative dry season agriculture pilot farms in two blocks of Madhubani district namely Andhrathari and Babubarhi. During the first Rabi season (2015-16), the team is working with 45 farmers directly. A total of 5 farmer groups have been formed and cultivation was initiated in November. Two farmer groups will be operating as pure collectives, with the sharing of land, labour and capital. The other three groups will retain their individual plots or rented holdings, and will share inputs and cooperate in marketing.

Initial bye laws of the group have been formed, but this is a dynamic process, and rules are being changed regularly as per the requirements and experiences of the group in their monthly meeting. The project is supporting farmers with seed, weedicides, multi-nutrients, irrigation and technical support.

Following recent initiation of the field activity and ongoing capacity development with farmers, a meeting with broader stakeholder groups was initiated by ICAR and hosted by Sakhi with support from IWMI.

The participants included 3 leaders from each farmer group, a landlord who is leasing land to the group and agricultural extension officers from three gram panchayats as well as the PRI representative from the Panchayat, a vegetable trader and media person.

Participants were welcomed by Mrs. Suman Singh secretary of Sakhi, followed by the lighting of lamp by representatives of each group. A brief presentation on the project was given by Mr. Anoj Kumar of IWMI who outlined progress and future plans.

The purpose of the stakeholders meeting was briefly outlined by Ritesh Kumar from Sakhi, who outlined the many players including farmers, government officers, scientists, suppliers and social mobilizes who have the common goal of improving the production and living standard of the farmers. He highlighted the need to plan together in order to set examples which could be replicated elsewhere. Farmers were given the opportunity to voice their views.

From a technical perspective, Dr Santosh Mali from ICAR briefly outlined the different irrigation interventions being planned for implementation in the field like including drip and sprinkler systems, solar pumping, mulching for water conservation and drum kit irrigation. Dr Ajay Kumar briefly gave orientation on water harvesting structures and how they could be used to preserve pond water for dry season irrigation and fish production.

In the open forum discussion Mrs. Vina Devi told the members that during this season all their group members cultivated three crops (lentil, wheat and potato) and they plan to grow more vegetable crops during summer season. Initiating vegetable cultivation will be a significant achievement. Akashwati Devi told the members that they are learning new skills this season and they will plant other crops next season.

Kisan Salahkar told the members that there were several government schemes that could be utilised by the marginal and tenant farmers like diesel subsidy, Vermicompost pit subsidy, seed support, etc. He also informed the participants of the process for getting this support. The meeting agreed it is important for officials to continue to attend future meetings to support farmers in benefiting from these initiatives.

A landlord of Bhagwatipur Mr. Lal highlighted the high cost of seed and the meeting discussed opportunities for local production.

The meeting proved an excellent exercise for raising awareness and linking farmers with broader stakeholder representatives to broaden benefits to community groups in the rural agricultural economy.

1 2
Anoj Kumar inspecting a farmers field
Dr Santosh Mali presenting on irrigation technology
3 4
Participants sharing their views in the meeting


Nursery Raising and Off-Season Vegetable Training in Saptari

Despite ongoing strikes and blockade in the district, nursery raising and off-season vegetable training was successfully conducted in four different sites of our project area in January 2016.

On-farm nursery raising trainings were organized, facilitated by an agriculture technician from our Saptari based local partner “Jilla Krshak Samuha Sangh (JKSS)”. The overall objective of the training was to identify and explain suitable crops, off seasonal vegetables and the right way of nursery raising. The five-hour-long training contained both theoretical and practical sessions. In the theoretical session, a meeting was organized to explain the principles of nursery raising, associated methods and protection from insects and diseases. After this, a full-group discussion session included practical demonstration of plot preparation, seed bed preparation and proper use of fertilizer. Farmers were trained to develop plots for cucurbits, bottle gourd, bitter gourd and chili pepper.

A training session in Koiladi

The training had the following outcomes for participating farmers:

  • Able to prepare seed bed properly
  • Able to select off-season vegetables and improved seed varieties
  • Understand the correct methods of germinating and handling seeds
  • Know how to transplant seedlings
  • Understand the benefits proper nursery raising and off-seasonal vegetable production

Following the training, farmers will grow different varieties of seeds for crops such as chili, cucumbers, bottle gourd, bitter gourd etc. Recommendations for specific seeds have been given according to farmer’s preference, production potential, disease resistance and improved varieties.

The seedlings will be transplanted when they are ready, and at that time, technologies such as drip, small solar pumps (sunflower pumps), mini- row basin piped irrigation and sprinklers coupled with small electric pumps will also be installed to irrigate them. An iDE agricultural engineer will conduct a day training for the farmer groups in each site on the installation, use and management of these technologies.