Improving Livelihoods through Innovative Cropping Systems

It takes great patience and courage to stick at a crop when others have tried and failed and particularly when it takes much longer than other crops to produce a return. Mrs. Upasi Devi from Bhubhui village in Gola of Ramgarh district in Jharkhand had that patience and is now reaping big rewards for her whole village and the neighbouring district.

It all started when five nominees came forward as research farmers under the project “Improving livelihoods through innovative cropping systems on East India Plateau” (ACIAREIP) in 2013. The farmers had been selected by their villages to help introduce new cropping ideas, and the project introduced them to pointed gourd – a long term crop grown on trellises. Despite being experienced vegetable farmers they’d never cultivated this strange crop or tasted it.

Practical training on pointed gourd production was provided by AVRDC and PRADAN, the project’s NGO partner. The economics of pointed gourd cultivation was new for them but they were excited to see what would happen when they took up the challenge of planting the cuttings they’d been given.

Days passed, neighbors crops were flourishing, but the pointed gourd wasn’t growing due to low temperatures. Early hopes of getting more income than other farmers were quickly fading. Four out of the five farmers gave up saying that the land and climate were just not suited to the crop.

Seeing the other four farmers’ disappointment, Mrs. Upasi Devi was also demotivated, and also thought of pulling out the pointed gourd in her 260 m2 field. But her younger daughter Ms. Savita Devi encouraged her mother to keep it going for just a few more days. Patience is often truly rewarded many times over.

After a couple of weeks, the weather warmed up and the pointed gourd began to sprout. Mrs.Upasi, once about to remove the crop, now was starting to smile.

But she still had to be patient before fruits would come. During the village research farmers meeting, they decided to cultivate another other crops in the field as an intercrop to better utilize the land, and to get some additional income.

So she planted red amaranthus between the trellised rows of pointed gourd. Her family, friends and relatives consumed most of it and the surplus was sold in the market. It added nutrition to their diet but it didn’t make much money.

When the vines of pointed gourd grew bigger and it was difficult to grow another crop under the trellis, the group of research farmers came up with a new idea – shade loving ginger. So she planted it and harvested about 90 kg, earning an additional income of 3575 INR. She kept 20 kg for seed and the 5 kg she kept for home use also reduced her food bills.

At long last her patience was rewarded when she was able to sell 517 kg of pointed gourd, earning an income of 13000 INR from her small field. This income not only made a big difference to her household expenditures but also helped her at a crucial time when her eldest daughter needed medical treatment.

She’s now become a role model for other farmers and the youth of the village. In 2014, seven more farmers began cultivating pointed gourd in her village. Now farmers come from far and wide to visit her field just to see the pointed gourd crop that she made possible with patience and hard work. The cultivation of pointed gourd has now spread to ten nearby villages.

When visitors asked her about the struggle, she says,”Success is only possible when we encounter challenges and difficulties.” As the demand for pointed gourd cuttings grows in Bhubhui and the neighboring villages the youth of Bhubhui are enthusiastically building up a village nursery. So far they have sold almost 1000 seedlings to neighbouring villages at 10 INR each. Mrs. Upasi Devi has not only created a model for her other farmers, she is providing new hope to the next generation.

22 December 2016. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)