'Narwa, Garuwa, Ghurwa, and Baadi'

Chhattisgarh’s vision for reviving agriculture is collective action to ensure water conservation, livestock development, compost usage, and cultivation of vegetable and fruit

Issues in Indian agriculture tend to outnumber their solutions. Apart from the ever-present risk factor, the increasing cost of cultivation (CoC) and indebtedness in both formal and informal credit markets made farming an unviable venture, especially for the small and marginal farmers. While the use of certified seeds fell sharply by 3.15 per cent after 2011, yields of cash crops like oilseeds, sugar cane, and cotton are plummeting gradually. Farmers continue to be gripped in the vicious cycle of poverty i.e., low productivity, low income, low investment, and again, low productivity.

69 per cent (833 million) of Indian population is rural, of which 32 per cent (263 million) are agriculture workers. But between 2001 and 2011, a gradual decline in the numbers of cultivators (-0.70 per cent) and a rise in that of agriculture workers (3.06 per cent) was observed, which suggests increasing unemployment and poverty in the primary sector. Paradoxically, though the labour force is growing in the countryside, the real farm labour is on the decline; at a rate of minus 1.09 in 1999-2000 to -2.90 in 2012. As per Census 2011 data, 56 per cent of the net rural to urban migration is purely for employment reasons. Labour mobility is, of course, a sign of economic growth; but nevertheless, it is indicative of a collapsing rural economy which 81 per cent of the country's poor depends on.

Majority of schemes in agriculture were mostly subsidy regimes on inputs like seeds, fertilisers, implements and machinery which seem to have benefitted companies more than the farmers. Focus on production techniques appears to have overshadowed the welfare concerns of kisans and in the race for modernisation, native methods of farming and cattle care were abandoned. A village-centric approach towards a sustainable rural economy, perhaps, hasn't received due importance in the planning process.

Chhattisgarh has come up with an innovative vision to revive the agricultural economy by striking a golden mean between modernity and tradition at the grassroots. "Narwa, Garuwa, Ghurwa, and Baadi: Gaon la bachana sangwari" is the call given by the Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in 'chattisgarhi', a farmer himself, which means collective action to ensure water conservation, livestock development, use of compost and cultivation of vegetable and fruit backyard. The mission, called 'Suraaji Gaon Yojana' (or well-governed village), is purposed to achieve the four objectives through an integrated approach to the primary sector with the best use of native resources along with the benefits of government's modern schemes in agriculture, water resources, energy, forest, and rural development. The logic is simple and clear.

Narwa (rivulets and streams) focuses on low-cost water conservation structures such as check dams, gully controls, underground dykes at strategic locations on water streams in order to ensure harvesting surface water and recharge of subsoil as well as groundwater. National watershed mission and MGNREGA will jointly execute the programme. The direct result will be an increase in arable area with a double crop. This is most needed as only 1.8 million hectares are under Rabi in the state – one-third of Khariff, in spite of enviable rainfall and a vast web of rivulets and streams Chattisgarh is blessed with. Secondly, as 69 per cent of irrigation is dependent on groundwater, the absence of surface water conservation can lead to fast depletion of the precious resource. Hence, Narwa, a scientific initiative. Besides, it's environmental-friendly with zero displacements of either flora or fauna. Moreover, it benefits the humans and wildlife alike in a state that has half of its topography covered with forests and nearly 34 per cent of people – the Scheduled Tribes, making forests their home.

Garuwa (livestock) programme is for protection and improvement of livestock, especially milch cattle through the provision of cattle sheds (Goathan) in each village. Managed by gram sabha, they would function as 'Day care centres' equipped with fodder, water, and AI facilities. Apart from protection to crops from animal grazing – a perpetual menace across the country – bio-fertiliser through manure and energy from Gobar gas will be accrued benefits to villagers. Cultivation of fodder in earmarked wastelands is also part of Garuva. Village Panchayats will accomplish the task with the help of Veterinary and Forest Departments, and MGNREGA.

Ghurwa (compost) is designed to encourage villagers to produce bio- fertiliser with the help of various schemes under agriculture and horticulture. In today's expensive chemical driven farming Ghurwa is seen as an inexpensive traditional alternative which can pave way for increased organic farming. The idea is fertile because hitherto subsidy policies, biased in favour of nutrients alone, have led to a sharp rise in prices of potassium and phosphate, and consequently, a decline in their use has caused an imbalance in soil health. Encouraging use of bio-fertilisers, vermin compost, and native rural compost is essential in order to restore soil fertility.

Baadi is to encourage cultivation of fruits and vegetables in the backyard of village homes not only as a source of additional income for villagers but also as handy nutritional supplement. Departments of Horticulture, Land administration will help in developing the backyard kitchen gardens by providing seedlings, fertilisers, and energised community dug wells. The programme is timely in view of the fact that growth rate of the value of foodgrains has plummeted by 1.83 per cent between 2011 and 2014 in the country, whereas that of fruits and vegetable accelerated by 5.37 per cent. Increase in fruit and vegetable cultivation can offset the risk in food crops.

Evidently, the priority is inclusive agriculture and farmers' welfare. A high power committee headed by the Chief Secretary was constituted at the state level to execute 'Suraaji gaon Yojna', while the Collectors were designated as mission leaders in the districts. The campaign is phased out on priority concerns and 16 per cent of total villages are the target in the first phase. The unique character of the campaign is that unlike regular government schemes it has neither an exclusive budget nor any designated manpower. Various government departments and PRIs will work together at the village level as a focal point, and ensure optimal use of resources towards achieving quantifiable outputs under the 'four' basic indigenous inputs of agriculture.

The mission, in no time, has become popular among rural folks just as the credibility of the new dispensation was established beyond doubt when farming loans of 14.13 lakh farmers to the tune of Rs 5,539 crore were waived off and paddy support price raised to Rs 2500 per quintal, soon after assuming the office. The commitment to farmer's wellbeing is further amplified by the fact that the largest allocation i.e., rupees twenty one thousand crores, a fifth of state budget 2019-20, was made for agriculture and related departments. As they say, well begun is half done, the Suraji Gaon Yojana, a step in continuity, has the potential to emerge as a trendsetter in reviving Indian agriculture.

(The writer is a senior bureaucrat of Chhattisgarh. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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