For centuries, agriculture has been the main occupation for the people of India with about 55% of the population engaged in agriculture and allied activities. However, irregular rainfall, poor soil fertility, low income and debt have made agriculture an unreliable livelihood for farmers. The use of chemical fertilisers and lack of innovative water management have also increased expenses and affected productivity. The result is that marginal farmers, affected by poor agricultural performance, have been forced to take up non-agricultural occupations for their livelihood thereby increasing migration.
CMC’s Rural Unit of Health and Social Affairs (RUHSA) want to make agriculture sustainable and profitable for farmers. Their Marginal Farmers’ Development Project aims to enhance the socio-economic status of farmers in K V Kuppam Block by promoting milch cattle rearing and organic farming methods.
RUHSA staff identify rural villages where employment opportunities are few and far between, and local men are unable to earn an income because they don’t have the capital to invest in a small business. With the support of the Vellore Rural Community Trust (VRCT, part of FOV UK) deserving farmers are provided interest free loans to purchase cows. Unlike other loans, RUHSA’s repayment schemes are affordable and, as the funds come from charitable sources, the repaid funds are re-invested partly back into the farmers’ clubs so more members can earn an income, and partly to the elderly welfare centres, which provide much needed support to elderly, impoverished villagers and are run by local women’s self help groups. This means that one donation from VRCT benefits three needy groups of people in rural India – poor farmers, vulnerable elderly and local women.
Over the last six years, VRCT funds have enabled interest free loans of Rs 30,000 (£350) to selected farmers in six farmers’ clubs to buy cows for milking, which substantially increases their income. Any surplus income can be used to fund other agricultural activities or for purchasing new cows.
Each club consists of 15-20 members. The farmers repay the loan in easy instalments; 20% of the repayment goes to the elderly welfare centres and the remaining amount enables additional farmers in each club to buy cows for milking. The self-help group women who run the elderly centres receiving a valuable income.
The interest free nature and the ease of repayment of the loan have considerably reduced the financial burden on the farmers, who are very poor and many have large families to support. The scheme is recognised by the government which means the farmers are eligible for grants and other support e.g. fodder subsidy, equipment loans, irrigation funding.
The scheme began in 2012 with three farmers’ clubs. There are now seven clubs with a total of 114 members and 49 cows.
In addition to the purchase of cows, RUHSA has provided educational support and training for organic farming methods to maximise use of sustainable resources. Farmers in the clubs have been taught about soil testing, organic manure preparation, mushroom cultivation, coconut and teak plantations and marketing techniques. Farmers have also been able to attend local agricultural exhibitions where seed samples are available and equipment and techniques are demonstrated.
As an outcome of the training on organic farming methods, Mr Anandan from Velambut farmers’ club has prepared organic manure called Panchagavya. Panchagavaya is a traditional Indian method of preparing manure and is very sustainable. It is prepared by combining cow dung, cow urine, clarified butter (ghee), curds, milk and banana. This mixture can be added when the land is irrigated and Mr Anandan plans to use it for his rice cultivation. As well as increasing productivity in organic farming this product also has a ceremonial value.
If you would like to make a donation, the cost of a cow is £350. RUHSA hope to start two new clubs in 2019, each with five cows.