Diversifying small farms to ensure food and nutritional security in Madhya Pradesh

In remote Baigakheda village of Mandla District in Madhya Pradesh, Bhadiya Bai used to struggle everyday to find work so she could feed her two sons. Predominantly, her primary livelihood depends upon agriculture and minor forest produce. Despite having 2.5 acres of land, she could only manage to cultivate half of it.

A large segment of the population in rural India depends on agriculture and associated activities for their food and nutrition. Agriculture inclusive of crops, livestock, forests, aquaculture and fisheries is the world’s biggest source of food and income for the extremely vulnerable sections of the society. India is a typical example with more than 50 per cent of its workforce engaged in agriculture, a large majority belongs to small landholders and the prevalence of high levels of child undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency. (FAO 2018).

The COVID19 pandemic that has gripped in recent months constitutes a major challenge to food and nutrition security of vulnerable populations. Restrictions on transport and movement following the lockdown led to the breakdown of food supply chains, delaying harvest, damaging perishable produce and causing a major loss to smallholder farmers.

Since Mandla is rich in the forest produces, it is considered to be the most suitable alternative for many farmers like Bhadiya as their livelihood income opportunity.

Bhadiya is one of the many farmers that the SAFBIN Project, funded by Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland, is now supporting. In Madhya Pradesh, the project aims to ensure food and nutritional security of smallholder farmers.

“I did not know anything about the integrated farming system (IFS). Neither I had the knowledge or capacity to learn these practices. I was busy searching for work to feed my family during the early days of this year. Since I got oriented once on IFS, it just enabled me to have a greater realisation. For me, it was a motivation to ensure maximum numbers of species in my small piece of homestead garden and get varieties of fresh vegetables and fruits for me and my family”, says Bhadiya Bai

She started rearing small ruminants (Goats) followed by the initiation of backyard poultry rearing along with her Livestock. She managed to modify the cowshed to collect the cow dung and urine to prepare botanicals and bio-pest repellents. With this, she could collect 20Kgs of cow dung and 15liters of urine. Every quarter, she managed to get 4-5 quintals of vermicompost which she used in her crops and homestead.

“I stopped using chemical fertilizer for a year now. Using home-based manure and botanicals helps me to grow economically and in a much healthier way”, expresses Bhadiya. “My children helped me in my work which also brought us together to spend more time within us as compared to before. Earlier it was not possible for us as most of the time we were out in search of work to earn something at least for our daily food,” Bhadiya recalls.

Over the years, she has increased her farm components; Livestock from two cattle to cattle-08, goat-06, poultry-08 and pig-02, Crops: paddy, millet (kodo and kutki), Pulses (black gram and Arhar), Fruit Plants: Papaya-05, Drum stick (moringa) – 02, Mango – 02, Guava – 02, Pomegranate – 02 and 8 to 10 seasonal vegetables in a meaningful way to secure her family’s food and nutrition.

“I could say, SAFBIN model helped me to ensure fresh green nutritious own farm harvest even during the pandemic to keep my family and children safe. The rich food diversity has not only fulfilled the family’s food requirement but also improved nutritional intake”, adds Bhadiya. She expressed her gratitude to SAFBIN team, Caritas India and Jabalpur Social Service Societies (JDSSS), Mandla for extending all possible support through SAFBIN programme.

By supporting smallholder farmers, SAFBIN is sustainably strengthening the food security and nutrition of future generations and helping to achieve Goal 2 of Zero Hunger.