Capacity Building of Producer Organizations
Source: Flickr, Cristian Croft

The India Food Security Portal recently held a dialogue designed to help agriculture experts and policymakers in Bihar directly interact with farmers and farmer producer organizations (FPOs). The event aimed to both educate farmers regarding agricultural best practices and give policymakers a better understanding of the challenges and constraints faced by smallholder producers in the state.

Participants unanimously agreed that if Bihar wants to successfully and sustainably develop its agriculture, land consolidation will be key; currently, one hectare of land in the state is often fragmented into as many as 8-40 portions. The only solution for this land fragmentation is to provide a viable environment for efficient farmer producer organizations (FPOs). Several recent NABARD meetings have agreed that the most workable size for such self-help groups is 20-25 people.

By creating joint liability, FPOs offer two main advantages – an increase in farmers’ market buying power and an increase in farmers’ market selling power. By acting as a group, farmers can reduce their costs and risks and increase their profits. Standardization of products offers an added advantage.

An FPO leader from Bihar explained that improving farmer’s practical, on-the-ground knowledge can be an important way to impact productivity. For example, some of the farmers engaged with his organization adopted zero tillage agriculture more effectively after they visited Punjab and saw the process working for other smallholders. He also mentioned that the burning of silage could be reduced if such awareness of better agricultural practices continues among farmers.

Another expert explained how complicated group dynamics within FPOs can pose challenges to establishing effective working groups. According to his experience, there are four types of farmers - innovators, early adopters, late adopters, and laggards. Innovators will try and adopt new technology, while laggards will never try to use new technology. The pure number of FPOs in the state can also pose a problem - there are 100,000 FPOs in Bihar according to official records, but there is no clear way to determine which of these are actual working groups.

The expert also discussed several ways in which Bihar lags behind in terms of adopting new technologies. For example, with the help of CIMMYT, Bihar’s government tried to increase farmers’ awareness of the zero tillage process in 1998-1999. Currently 15,000 zero tillage (ZT) machines exist in Bihar, but their use is limited due to the machines’ heavy parts, high repair costs, and limited mobility.  He also emphasized that while there are seed hubs in Hyderabad and Karnataka, Bihar does not currently have a seed industry.

While the digitation of land records was discussed as an important step, most farmers agreed that there remain many challenges to this goal, including poor internet coverage in remote areas.

A representative from a private bank in Bihar explained several government-established bank policies that focus on agricultural development. For example, banks normally are engaged in 40 percent lending loans, out of which they are instructed by the government to give 18 percent of agriculture and related activities. Farmers’ credit history does play an important role in determining access to credit. There are two types of loans available for agricultural activities - term loans that can be spent on machinery such as tractors, combine harvester, sericulture, etc. and farm house loans that can be spent on infrastructure such as cold storage. Term loans are sanctioned on working capital, whereas house loans are based on infrastructure and building capacity. She explained that each bank serves a 16 km area, and farmers should ask which banks come under their jurisdiction. There is also government scheme called “Krishi Mitra” under which a 50,000-Rupee loan is given to farmers without any land. However, agricultural credit remains low in Bihar and, when taken, is often utilized non-agricultural activities such as buying vehicles for family use.

A presentation on soil health cards emphasized the importance of biofertification, vermicomposting crop residue, zero tillage, and the use of micronutrients rather than the excessive use of basic fertilizers such as urea, which cause damage over the long run. In 2017, much emphasis will be placed on the use of soil health cards and the impact of reduced fertilizer use.

MN Singh, Professor and Department Head at the Institute of Dairy Technology, explained the business options available for small-scale dairy farmers in Bihar. India is the number one producer of milk in the world, and Bihar is the seventh largest milk-producing state in India. Singh provided several examples in which farmers have been able to identify a niche market for their unique business and increase their profits; for example, two brothers in Bihar bought leftover milk to make casing for calcium, while another farmer specializes in making unique sweets from cow milk. He emphasized that farmers need to consider agriculture as a business in which they are ready to take calculated risks with less handholding from the government. By doing so, even smallholder farmers will be able to prosper.

By: Jaspreet Aulakh 

Photo credit:Flickr, Cristian Croft