27 December 2012
Last updated at 00:25
More than 40% of children in India are malnourished and, paradoxically, families of farmers who produce the bulk of the food are the worst affected. But now, the Karnataka government is trying to change this and has asked the research institute, Icrisat, to help make small farms more productive, diverse and resilient to drought. (Photos and text: Alina Paul Bossuet, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics)
For the last four years, the Bhoo Chetana (land rejuvenation) project has been working on improving the livelihoods of farmers. Despite poor rains in 2011, three million farmers saw their yields increase by up to 66%, bringing in extra profits of $130 million.
Many traditional farming methods are being revived to boost soil fertility, nutrition and resilience. Farmers are encouraged to grow a variety of crops such as finger millet, which is rich in calcium, iron and protein, and pigeon pea, which is high in protein and good for the soil.
Traditional systems of collecting rainwater, such as gullies, farm ponds and wells, are also being restored. Ancient temples often had channels that fed into a tank where rainwater was conserved and groundwater was constantly being recharged. The Belur temple in Hassan district, where 90% of the region is currently suffering from drought, always has water.
Under Bhoo Chetana, Icrisat scientists trained farmers like Guruswami and Shanta and the local agricultural centre to conduct "health check-ups" for their land. By adding vermicompost and missing micronutrients such as zinc to their soil, the husband and wife team has seen better harvests.
Diversity is central to the land rejuvenation project. Guruswami and Shanta grow turmeric, millet, potatoes, maize and pulses on their land, using water and soil conservation methods.
They also rear sheep for wool and meat and have four cattle. Given the current drought in the region, their livestock have been essential for bringing in some extra income for the family.
Guruswami and Shanta started growing azolla fern in small ponds to use as soil fertiliser as well as to enrich the feed for their livestock. "Our cows have been giving us half a litre more milk since we started adding this to their feed and their milk has more fat," they say.
The couple's main teacher was the farm facilitator, who makes sure that the farmers know about and use the Bhoo Chetana methods. More than 10,000 farm facilitators have been trained by the local government and scientists to teach other farmers.
The farm facilitators use creative methods to spread the word. Some replace the lyrics of famous songs with agricultural terms to teach the Bhoo Chetana techniques. Others use street plays as a way to communicate with the villagers.
These women make a short video to share the "tried-and-tested methods" with other farmers. Here, they are explaining how they built bunds (embankments) on the border of their farm to preserve rainwater. On these embankments, they grow plants which are used as cattle fodder. The plants also improve soil fertility.
In this picture, farmers transport a statue of the elephant god Ganesha, who the devout worship to help them overcome obstacles. Despite the region having been in the grip of a drought for two years in a row, farmers say Bhoo Chetana campaign has helped them get nutritious crop yields and generate income from livestock.