Monday, July 5, 2010

Visit to Dindori (Madhya Pradesh)

By Vaibhav Lodha, Driptech, Business Development Fellow - India

My second field visit was to Dindori in the central part of the country. It was a part of the learning exercise with Driptech to understand about Indian agriculture in detail, and to gauge the need for drip Irrigation. We came to know of this place through our friend, Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green (DG). Rikin then introduced us to Mr. Gulzar who heads the operations for DG in Dindori, and also, Pradan which is DG’s local NGO partner in Madhya Pradesh.

Digital Green has a team of 4-5 people in Dindori who work in coordination with Pradan to spread the use of better agricultural practices through videos shown on a pico projector. Digital Green is a three year old nonprofit project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was started as a research project at Microsoft and is now a successful separate organization headed by Rikin.

DG showcasing one of the videos to villagers with pico projector

Representatives of DG and Pradan during concept sitting explaining to farmers how DG can help them

The agricultural setup in that area is not well organized. Small land holders use traditional agricultural practices in the absence of knowledge of any new ones. In addition to groundwater, the community ponds and river channels from Narmada are the primary sources of irrigation water. There is heavy dependence on rains, the absence of which can cause serious impacts to day to day livelihoods. During summers 70% of the land is not planted due to water scarcity and the majority of the farmers are forced to take up work as laborers.

Large land portions underutilized due to water shortage, uneven terrains and rocky beds

Crops grown vary from rice during the monsoon season to oilseeds, pulses (legumes grown for their dry seed), and a few intercropped vegetables during winters. Summers generally see most of the land left barren or planted with millet, barley, and less water intensive crops. The vegetable market has not realized its true potential. Most of the farmers only grow them for their own subsistence. Drip irrigation could change this and allow farmers to grow vegetables for sale during the dry season. Some Digital Green videos show farmers earning up to two hundred thousand rupees in one season by doing this.

Drip Irrigation also perfectly suits the requirements for sericulture, where I believe it could have a long term impact. To promote the growth of silk, the government provides pump sets and seeds. It sets fixed prices at the start of the season, provides interest free loans, and pays for all the expenses incurred for crops during the first four years.

Worms which feed on Mulberry leaves and finally produce silk

Silk balls with worms inside are boiled to extract the silk

Despite certain bad experiences and credit terms in their past that make some farmers cautious about making an investment, the farmers seemed very excited about the potential of drip irrigation. We are looking forward to making our affordable drip irrigation available in the market.

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