How 1,38,000 Women Farmers In Drought-Prone Marathwada Doubled Their Incomes
Women farmers of Maharashtra’s drought-prone Marathwada are building a better future through an innovative organic farming model that saves water and doubles production
It was a face-off that Santoshi Survase from Maharashtra’s Latur district had to win at any cost. Her opponent was her husband, and the stakes were high. The end result was going to decide if her 10-year farming experience, self-confidence and knowledge were, in fact, a farce.
Santoshi sowed different varieties of seeds on one acre of land and used the new organic farming technique she had learned. Meanwhile, her husband sowed seeds on the remaining four acres, used high-quality chemical fertilisers and enough water to possibly win the challenge.
The challenge was to see whose farming technique gave more yield. If Santoshi lost, she would have to pay back the price of the seeds to her husband. But more importantly, she would have to part with her pride.
Santoshi prepared quality vermicompost, sowed the seeds as per calculations, and irrigated them regularly.
A year later, Santoshi’s land gave jowar, tomatoes, moong and brinjals, despite the drought-like situation. Meanwhile, the soybean that her husband had sown dried. He could barely salvage a small quantity. The following year, Santoshi implemented the technique on all five acres.
Now, three years later, Santoshi is in charge of all farming-related decisions, and the financial situation of her family – husband and two children – have improved considerably. The Survases are earning Rs 3,00,000 annually, which is a 72% jump from what they were earning in 2018.
Inspired by Santoshi, close to 20 women in her village, Mamdapur, have adopted this organic method, known as the ‘One Acre Model’. The model was developed by Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP). It is a Pune-based non-profit that promotes sustainable community development through empowerment of women in entrepreneurship and leadership roles.
Like Mamdapur, several villages across the Marathwada region, which happens to be the worst drought-affected area in India, have seen one-acre models thrive in the last decade.
Marathwada reports nearly 400 suicides in the first six months of the year, as a majority of farmers here heavily depend on rain-fed agriculture. SSP’s model was developed keeping in mind the issues that farmers in this region face the most, including droughts, depleting water tables, pest attacks and rising temperatures.
“Our focus was to empower women farmers by helping them shift to grain, pulses and vegetable farming,” says Tabassum Momin, Program Manager, SSP. “We wanted to make women self-sufficient to meet their food needs. We chose one acre as either these farmers have small holdings, or their families don’t trust them with the land, as was Santoshi’s case. With help of experts, we formulated a multi-cropping pattern that uses less water, more seed, is completely organic and comes with zero investment. The model is a success in the Marathwada region and incomes have doubled.”
So what exactly is a one-acre model, and how does it work?
A multi-cropping system
Since most farmers in the Marathwada region practice a single-cropping system of cash crops such as cotton and soybean, drought or heavy rainfall can destroy the entire field, leaving the farmer with no livelihood. While a multi-cropping system requires more effort, it gives earnings even if some crop is damaged.
“As per the Rabi and Kharif season, we divided the grains, vegetables, pulses and millets and calculated how many crops can be planted on the land. The combination of seeds is selected in a way that they aid each other’s growth. For instance, there are crops that keep pests at bay such as onions, garlic, radish, eggplant and tomatoes. The height of the plants vary as well to provide shade to one another, as well as allow the sunlight to percolate,” says Tabassum.