Farmer Innovations through Land to Lab – a Bottom-up Approach Towards Sustainable FarmingNovember 22, 2021
Author: Dr. Thomas Jacob
Peermade Development Society (PDS), an NGO based in Idukki, Kerala, India, was established during 1980. Its mission was set seeing the marginalization and exclusion of small farmers, women and tribals of the remote district of Idukki in Kerala, which has been totally agrarian, and their only livelihood is farming.
With the industrialization of agriculture in India since late sixties, large and medium farmers were reaping the benefit of commercial agriculture, the phase known as “Green revolution” in India. Evidently, the weaker sections of the society, which include small and marginal farmers, women and tribals were left behind from this development due to their lack of resources, lack of skill and knowledge to adapt to the changing science and technology and market inaccessibility. When rest of the country was leaping through the phase of Globalization, even the livelihood of small and marginal farmers became a challenge. The unsustainability of “Green Revolution” was foreseen by PDS.
To address the sustainability of these vulnerable section of the society, one of the “out of the box” thinking was the “Land to Lab” approach, reversing the trend of introducing unaffordable, locally unsuitable technology from outside, to a phase of localization, where, the solutions for the relevant local issues are to be evolved locally. Farmers’ abilities and capabilities in developing location-specific innovations and agricultural practices for maximizing their local limited resources are an unnoticed reality. This initiated an approach for the participatory technology development of farmers’ innovations and unique traditional knowledge practices. Documentation, development, and dissemination of farmers’ innovations are the major activities envisaged under this approach. In a span of eight years, we have been able to mobilize around 10,000 local practices and innovations from the region and more than 40 innovations received national awards from the National Innovation Foundations.
PDS organizes a competition specifically for women self-help groups (SHGs) for pooling women-based best innovative practices and outstanding women’s traditional knowledge and practices. PDS has recorded more than 8000 practices from a single block of the district. These included innovation/ traditional knowledge in agriculture, food, fish or agricultural processing, weaning foods, childcare, cultivation, non-chemical pest control, harvesting, storing, preservation, livestock, recipes, heath, nutrition, mechanical technologies, housing, soil and water management, toys, herbal dyes and cosmetics, etc. Many of the innovations were developed as women enterprises so as to improve and sustain family income. The gap between formal and informal research, documentation, validation, value addition, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection and dissemination of local innovations and unique traditional knowledge practices are the activities undertaken in the ‘Land to Lab’ programme.
Intensive search was undertaken among rural communities to identify their farming problems and also documented several innovations, traditional practices and low-cost technologies from the farmers. Instead of building on local creativity and innovation, Government and Private Research and Extension institutions tried to impose technologies from outside, which many times failed to solve the location-specific problems.
Concept of Land to Lab approach for promoting farmers innovations
The need for a paradigm shift for technology development by putting farmer’s innovation as a corner stone was adopted under “Land to Lab” programme. It was also realized that some of the local innovations, with further refinements and improvements, would result in viable low-cost technologies for rural agriculture.
Validation of Farmer Innovations
Farmer innovations are validated at the R&D Institute of PDS and also at other regional and national research Institutes.
At the same time, the status of data on diffusion of the practice /innovation, feedback of other farmers and opinion of local experts are also collected. Subject experts undertake detailed technical documentation of the Farm Innovators.
This collected data is cross-checked with the available scientific literature. Scientific testing with all parameters is done in collaboration with these R & D institutes. Intellectual property rights (IPR) have been protected and patents have been filed with the help of institutions like National Innovation Foundation on the behalf of the innovators.
Dissemination and Sustainability
Value-added knowledge practices and innovations are disseminated through various commercial and non-commercial sectors. Non-commercial channels include various training programmes, workshops, publications, newsletters etc. Development of Agri-preneurship of selected unique replicable enterprise models for disseminating local innovations and knowledge practices with people’s participation. Enterprise models helped to sustain the activities of the farmer as well as helped to support the local sustainability of farming. Selected farmer Innovations and impact of regional farming sustainability
1. Farmer Varieties.
Many climate resilient, locally adapted farmer varieties have been documented and farmers are encouraged to develop their own nurseries and increase their income through sale of these farmer
varieties. Many of the farmer varieties are performing better that other high yielding varieties and also helped to maintain biodiversity within the cultivated crop.
2. Machines and tools
Farmer innovations like cardamom washing machine, cardamom polishers, cardamom dryers are used by all cardamom farmers and no other equipment have been developed by Research Institutions to tackle the local issues. So is the case with pepper threshers, Pepper dryers, nutmeg decorticator, arrowroot extractor, soil pit makers, water pumps etc.
3. Farming Practices
a. Rooting hormones –using Moringa leaf paste by Mrs. Simi
b. Multi rootstock grafting in nutmeg, rubber by Mr. Gopi
· The ‘Land to lab approach’ facilitates and calls for a collective approach from various stakeholders such as research institutes, innovative farmers, NGOs, women’s groups for promoting local innovations in sustainable and scientific way.
· The analysis of documentation of local and farmer’s innovations has brought out the tremendous potential of local innovation for developing location specific solutions.
· Lack of formal training helped the local innovators to break the rules of conventional research.
· Though traditional practices are community based, further improvement has been noticed by the individuals.
· Close association between formal and informal experts will improve both formal and informal research and will supplement each other.
· Development of localized Agri-preneurship.
· Increase in self-esteem and confidence of the farmers to tackle localized problems without external support.
· Increase in sustainability of farmer innovators through promotion and sale of their innovations.