Addressing Gaps in Agrarian Scenario: Participatory Communication and Knowledge Dissemination
Farming community - specifically small and marginal farmers have been suffering from the consequences of half-baked policies made with a top down approach. Little attention is given to the needs and socio-economic structure of the rural landscape. To frame an effective strategy for a problem, it is important to assess the current needs and this can be achieved only by establishing an effective communication between the policy makers and beneficiaries.
Soil health is a critical aspect for sustainable agriculture yet a comprehensive policy structure encompassing the various indicators of soil health is yet to evolve. Soil is often measured by its physical and chemical attributes with the biological factors usually ignored. Biological indicators and the physical and chemical factors affecting them have major impact on soil quality. Presence of micro-organisms is an important indicator of healthy soil. The existing policy focuses more on fertilizer efficiency and nutrient management. This has led to depleted soil fertility and land degradation.
Soil Health management (SHM) is a sub-component of National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture but it still misses the importance of maintaining a healthy soil ecosystem. Soil Health Cards measures soil fertility with respect to 12 parameters including macro and micro-nutrient status, pH and electrical conductivity and makes dosage recommendations based on that. The card does not take into account the biological component of the soil and therefore does not provide a holistic idea of the soil.
The government’s efforts in reaching out to farmers and providing soil health cards through print and electronic media have been appreciable however the scheme suffers many drawbacks especially with respect to rain fed agriculture systems. The undulating, variable rain fed lands cover more than 60% of the country yet policy makers focus more on irrigated lands. Apart from failing to measure the biological health of the land, the card also misses out that a rain fed area have more physical, chemical as well as biological variations than irrigated lands.
Soil Health Management needs a more inclusive approach apart from appropriate use of fertilizers. Crop choices made by farmers is an important step in SHM. An example of how wrong crop choices are leading to soil infertility can be seen from the promotion of Mentha cultivation in Bundelkhand. This region faced a series of droughts post 2003 and is primarily dependent on agriculture. Rising demand and high commercial value followed by government support led to Mentha cultivation in the area. The plant is not suitable for the Bundelkhand agro-climatic zone and had a detrimental effect on soil fertility and ground water levels.
Community engagement must be a key requirement for any policy/scheme formulation. Community must be observed closely to understand their agri practices and long-term effects of these practices on the water and soil. Local resource persons can be helpful in understanding these practices.
Case study: Community radio reporters communicating traditional knowledge about sustainable farming to scientists and policy makers
In a pilot rural communication project, the local scientists from the Krishi Vigyaan Kendras (KVKs) in Bundelkhand region learnt about the traditional knowledge and adaptation practices of the farmers through community radios in Bundelkhand. Prakash Kushwaha, a farmer from Rajawar village of Tikamgarh district had been using ‘Amrit Mitti’ (a type of organic compost) on his farm. Seeing positive results of the application of this organic compost, more than 200 villagers from surrounding villages had switched to using ‘amri mitti’ replacing chemical fertilizers. Dr. M.K Bhargav, Chief Scientist, Krishi Vigyaan Kendra, Shivpuri said:
”The techniques of organic farming adopted and demonstrated by Prakash Kushwaha at our centre are extremely effective in improving soil fertility and increasing agricultural productivity. The Krishi Vigyan Kendra will take this initiative forward by demonstrating and promoting the same among farmers in Shivpuri and nearby districts”.
The community radio reporters have been successful in being an effective medium for two way communication between the communities on one hand and the local scientists and government authorities. The radio reporters have also been sharing the success story of Prakash Kushwaha’s efforts to promote organic farming and improving soil health in Tikamgarh district with policy makers during their participation in state and national level workshops on climate change communication. ■
Harsha G Kurup