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Project Design for Convergence of On-farm and Off-farm Interventions

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) focuses on agriculture and rural development. It targets the poorest, most marginalized and vulnerable rural people and encourages innovation, testing of new approaches and works with governments and other partners to learn from experience, and replicate and scale up successes.

The Government of Maharashtra, with IFAD's support, has proposed a development programme aimed at convergence of agricultural interventions in the six distressed districts of Vidarbha region namely Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Wardha, Washim and Yavatmal.

The goal of the project is to contribute to the development of resilient, sustainable and diversified household on-farm and off-farm livelihoods. Among the different strategies sought to be tested are organic and low input contract farming and involvement of farmer groups in primary processing, quality enhancement and marketing, besides empowerment of women through micro-enterprise and micro-finance.

Implementation of the programme is sought to be through strengthened district level Agricultural Technology Management Agencies (ATMA). The programme would be fully in line with the Union and State Government policies for distressed districts, with focus on BPL population.

One of the design challenges we are facing is that there is a multitude of government programmes for agricultural development - organic farming, diversification, marketing, infrastructure development etc. However convergence is hardly achieved because, (1) each programme is implemented in isolation and (2) there are issues of under-spending and backlogs on account of insufficient capacity for implementation in the line departments. We would like to address these two issues with strong participation from all the key stakeholders including the government, communities, civil society and the private sector.

In the above context, we would like to seek the valuable response of members as under:

  • Experiences and suggestions on designing and implementing convergence models, across the country
  • Experiences with organic farming, contract farming and private sector partnerships
  • We would also like the names and contact details of possible partners to combine the best available skills and knowledge to help us develop new and innovative solutions to alleviate distress in the region and thus contribute to generation of additional employment and income.

    Discussion for Convergence of On-farm and Off-farm

    APMAS works for strengthening the community based organization leading towards sustainable livelihoods. In this context, we are also working for small and marginal farmers with a focus on Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh, which is located close to Vidarbha Region of Maharashtra. We provide Capacity Building support through appropriate professional and technical services to the community to help farmers improve productivity. We are also working towards collective and organic farming, farmers' federations or cooperatives and strengthening them for increased bargaining power for inputs as well as price for the produce. Recently we also initiated some efforts towards develop and establish producer companies around soybean and cotton. We are still in the process of nurturing these institutions for strengthening linkages.

    It is a good initiative to strengthen efforts of, especially, small and marginal farmers' group to come out of their distress situation. As pointed out by you, the integration and togetherness works well for farmers to reap benefits of their hard work. As an extension wing, Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) is supposed to take such pro-active role in delivering required services to the farmers. This could be in terms of increasing access to information, inputs, package practices to be adopted with in view of Low External Input based Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA), for productivity enhancement and value addition through appropriate market linkages either directly or through mediators. As this process involves many stakeholders with different activities for value addition at different levels, it is very essential to bring such convergence to benefit all the farmers and provide with backward as well as forward linkages.

    It is very heartening to note the development. Convergence is the key. Despite having programmes as well as funds, farmer suicides are continuing. What is going wrong? One also needs to look at the cropping pattern in the region and promote a mixed cropping system where not only food grains but also crops for livestock are cultivated. Jowar has given way to commercial cultivation of cotton and soybean in the region in recent years. Production and productivity are also areas, which need attention. Most importantly, the extension system has virtually collapsed creating massive problems on the input availability and technical guidance front. The private seed seller is present at the village level instead of the Government extension official. To compound the problem, there is very little processing happening at the village/block level. Vidarbha reportedly has a huge backlog of unutilized funds so much so that the amount is transferred to Western Maharashtra after mid-term review of the situation.

    There are several NGOs as well as committed individuals doing good work in small pockets - I can say this from my personal experience of working there, especially in Wardha district since 2006, Nevertheless, it is only in pockets and not widespread. Industry groups have expressed interest in supporting initiatives. The ideal solution is Government-Civil Society-Industry-People partnership. Identifying the key stakeholders for developing a joint action plan would perhaps be the best way to move forward.

    Having gained some experience from implementing an IFAD-funded poverty reduction project in the coconut sector in Kerala about a decade ago, I offer the following suggestions on the subject:

  • Convergence of agricultural interventions presently handled by multiple agencies could be achieved through Panchayat bodies at different tiers. Since agriculture is within the functional domain of local self-government institutions (LSGIs), they could take effective steps for integrating and coordinating the project components without causing duplication and resource squandering. The active involvement of LSGIs in implementing the IFAD-funded project at the farm-household and community levels will, apart from ensuring coordination of interventions at local levels, also attract wider public participation which is essential for the success of any externally supported project.

  • As this project is targeting farm-households and local communities, it is desirable to organize groups of households as project participants. Groups of 25-50 households each could be formed in selected villages and the project may be implemented through them. For providing extension education and services to the participating households, village level functional committees headed by the elected ward member of the Panchayat and comprising of the representatives of the line departments and farmers' organizations may be constituted and specific functions assigned.

  • All household groups in a Panchayat may be integrated in to a community-based organization (CBO) for undertaking diverse income generating activities. These may comprise dispensing of marketing outlets for the farm produce of the groups, processing of the produce for value addition etc. Organized marketing of diverse products could be a major functional activity of the CBO.

  • While promoting organic agriculture the emphasis must not be confined to the replacement of inorganics with organics. The concept of organic agriculture is much wider as it embodies diverse cropping models with or without livestock components, agronomic practices to conserve soil and water, creation of green manure sources etc. thereby facilitating on-farm functional diversity, efficient organic recycling, a vibrant soil life and the regeneration of the underlying productive capacity of the soil resource. The farmer participants of the project need to be educated on these lines.
  • Vital Importance

    a) Convergence is most often desired at the top but rarely achieved at the bottom of a politico-bureaucratic system. No matter how good the intentions are of the people at the helm of affairs particularly in government departments, it is at the level of Local Self Governance Institutions (LSGIs) or PRIs, as also mentioned by an earlier contributor, it can be realistically achieved, as convergence is often a case of bottom-up rather than trickle-down approach.

    b) Unless LSGIs/PRIs are sensitized enough for the benefits that can accrue to them by converging funds available under different government schemes, this can't be done. Again sensitization alone is not sufficient unless backed by effective handholding.

    c) There are some schemes like BRGF that are termed as untied funds available in considerable amount at Zilla Panchayats on an annual basis, convergence can be easily achieved provided the implementing agency goes an extra mile to convince the Panchayat functionaries and/or the District Administration by even preparing a bankable project (business plan) with cost-benefit analysis utilizing convergence funds, if the need arises. This is increasingly practiced by implementing agencies who wish to apply for funding under RBH scheme, as grant-in-aid amount is limited for a sizeable impact in this scheme.

    d) An essential prerequisite for accessing any convergence funds is the availability of a quality business plan with built-in sustainability parameters. This requires moving away from a project based approach to the holistic development of a region by incorporating medium/long term requirements of productive infrastructure, working capital, R&D infrastructure and last but not the least marketing support mechanisms (also including branding and labeling exercise).

    e) One has to be innovative in one's approach to access convergence with support agencies like NABARD, Development Commissioner (DC)-Handicrafts, National Horticulture Mission apart from export development agencies like Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), Spice Board and others. Practically all of these agencies these days are encouraging innovation and won't mind doing away with their rigid procedural formalities, if the plan/proposal is presented in a lucid manner backed by effective presentation.