Small agricultural holdings constitute the vast majority of farms in many developing countries. As per Economic Survey 2017-18, with growing rural-to-urban migration by men, there is feminization of agriculture sector, with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs and laborers.
As for horticultural crops, India is the second largest producer of vegetables in the world. Productivity comes into play as the demand for vegetables is growing day by day. The engagement of small and marginal farmers thereby becomes very important.
Of the total operational land holdings, 27.9% cultivated by women are marginal and small ones, as per Economic Survey 2018-19. It becomes imperative to facilitate women farmers enhance the returns from their endeavors. Multi-tier farming is one solution which has helped women farmers increase productivity and earn more from their land.
Insufficient farm income
Magni Bai (48), a resident of Dhanet Kala village, lives with her husband and son. The family owns a tea stall which is the chief source of their income. The family also grows fodder in 0.6 acre of land that they own. They grow wheat and maize for self-consumption. Magni Bai works as a daily wage worker to augment the income.
The family of Tara Dhaker (28) of Panch Devla village in Chittorgarh district, owns 30 decimal of landholding. Her husband is a construction worker who contributes some amount to the total earnings of the family. Dhaker grows several horticultural crops, especially vegetables.
Like other farmers, price fluctuations are of concern to Dhaker, besides the loss caused by diseases and uncertain weather conditions. Being a marginal farmer, she wanted her risks to be minimal. She decided to adopt the multi-layer farming approach.
Empowering women farmers
Second Chance Education and Vocational Learning Program (SCE) is an initiative that aims to empower marginalized women to come out of poverty and vulnerability. Manjari Foundation, with support from UN Women and Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) is implementing the program in three districts of Rajasthan.
After identifying the traditional livelihood mechanisms, alternatives such as goat rearing and dairy farming that can enhance the earning of women are being introduced. As part of increasing agricultural income through SCE, Manjari Foundation introduced multi-layer farming.
About 700 women farmers with average landholding of one acre were identified. The women were informed about the benefits of multi-tier farming and trained in various aspects of the same. The idea was to enhance their income compared to traditional farming methods in the same plot of land.
More crop per land
Climate change and growing cases of pest infestation put an additional stress on the farming community. Enhancement of productivity from the same land is the need of the hour and machan farming or multi-tier cropping is a workable strategy.
It is a method of intercropping where a farmer grows compatible crops of different heights on the same field at the same time. To make up for the limitations of a small landholding, the farmer thus gets to use the vertical space more effectively.
A farmer can grow three or more vegetables in a single cropping season. The method includes crops such as cabbage and beetroot that grow on or below the bed, leafy vegetables and climbers such as bitter gourd and bottle gourd that grow on trellises. The sowing is adjusted so that the farmer gets a staggered harvest, one crop after the other.
Multi-tier farming benefits
Machan enhances the productivity through increased efficiency of natural as well as manual inputs. The multi-cropping system enhances the efficient use of resources such as sunlight, water and nutrients, resulting in higher yield per unit of area and thereby increasing the agricultural production.
The multi-tier cropping system not only enhances the productivity but also safeguards the interests of farming community with several benefits. Short duration cropping pattern gives the farmer quick and reasonable income. Diversity in crops reduces climate and market risks.
The varying harvesting period of crops helps the farmer earn throughout the year. The possibility of the attack by soil-borne pathogens and insects is relatively less in machan system as the plant bears fruits at a height about five feet from the ground.
Gains for women farmers
Tara Dhaker took a loan of Rs 12,000 to create a structure to practice multi-layer farming, after she learnt about its benefits. She used the structure to grow several crops such as okra, cluster bean, bitter gourd, green onion and cabbage in the 30 decimals of land. In six months she earned Rs 46,000.
Magni Bai decided to adopt this practice, but her husband was not for it. She used all the knowledge she had gained at the training to convince him. With a loan of Rs 8,000 she built a trellis and grew horticultural crops namely brinjal, chilly, cabbage and bottle gourd. Within four months, she earned Rs 38,000 and as of now, she contributes more to the household than her husband.
Kamala Devi (27) of Sukhwada village owns a biga of land. She used to work as a daily wage worker. After her SCE training, she started multi-layer farming and has earned an amount of Rs 38,000 in four months. Anshi Bai (32) of Panch Devla village has earned Rs 52,000 in six months by cultivating several horticultural crops.
Their examples are a motivation for other women farmers to go for multi-layer farming and maximize their earnings from the same piece of land. This opportunity is being used to train women farmers in organic cultivation so that they can grow more crops in a cost effective and sustainable manner.
Naresh Nain has been associated with the development sector, after completing development studies in Wageningen University, Netherlands. Jawan Singh holds degrees in agriculture and agribusiness management. Mayank Mundra has degrees in food technology and agribusiness management. All the authors work with Manjari Foundation. Views are personal.