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A discussion between Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram and Kees Stigter on the situation of poor farmers in India

Last modified May 27, 2010 13:16

The following is a discussion between Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram, FORUM FOR TROPICAL WATER, Hyderabad, India, and Kees Stigter, INSAM, on the need of mobilization of poor farmers presently in a situation with no future, making use of a Viewpoint about the situation in Africa by P. Van der Zaag. 

Dear Kees Stigter

Kindly find the following two paras as extracts from your own mail to me.


"Our largest problems are in the facts that going organic and/or reintroducing trees on an enormous scale will temporarily lower crop yields, even those on a degraded resource base. How do we help farmers to overcome that situation?  How do we get a large scale mobilization of poverty stricken farmers in changing their agricultural modes? How can we induce large scale new experiments with willing but hungry farmers?"


"I would love to have your answers to such questions because I feel that an instrument as Climate Field Schools could help farmers to cope with their problems (even if they only helped each other) but we should be able to change present conditions without undue suffering and I don’t see how. I also do not see how the “water making” goes if not everybody participates!"


My response is as follows.


I make it bold to say we have answers for all the questions raised by you and the farming community will take it in a big way. We step in where the organic school at one side and the GOI (Read World Bank) at the other failed. The failure of organic school is in going oblivion of the water issue. The farming community is hard pressed by the crop water and moisture shortages which the organic school would not address at all as the central issue. The simple lesson to the OS (Organic School) is that it can not endear itself to the farming community so long as it wouldn't address water as the central and foremost issue. Vegetation figures in as part of the water issue. For instance, take the Mist. It  disappeared because vegetation vanished along with groundwater reserves. Its-vegetation's- relevance to the water needs to be shown to the farmers.)  Thus, we need to address the issue of vegetation as part of solving the water issue. Farmers will be very forthcoming for large scale vegetation once they believe that it is part of the game in resolving the water issue. It is not the other way round. 


The WB (World Bank) is acutely aware of water shortages but there is little of what it can do given its own suicidal paradigm of "TERMINAL CONSUMPTION OF RAINWATER". Terminal consumption belies any solutions to the crop water & moisture problems. Our ancestry wittingly or unwittingly went by the RECYCLING OF RAINWATER. The RECYCLING OF RAINWATER helped to maintain optimal and very sustainable crop water and moisture availability.


Hope you will see the hiatus between you and us.


We are based in South India which is notorious for being an HARD ROCK AREA. That indeed is our problem. HARD ROCK AREAs go well with RECYCLING OF RAINWATER. GR sacked the recycling of rainwater and brought in its place the terminal consumption. That explains the chronic water and moisture shortages. HARD ROCK AREAS coupled with TERMINAL CONSUMPTION OF RAINWATER makes in to an explosive combination. THIS INDEED IS OUR PROBLEM. ADDRESS IT OR PERISH? If you address it the farmers are with you. If you do not there is going to be an hiatus between you and the farmers. OS is yet to appreciate it. "Farmers making ones own water" will at the end seeks to reinvigorate the recycling of rainwater which in other words implies rolling back GR.


There are many other pertinent things, which we need to discuss. The most pressing thing is the food shortages surfacing world wide and more so in India. GR led Desertification is at the root of the resurfacing of food shortages in India. Addressing desertification meant addressing crop water & moisture issues.

Let me at the end emphatically hold we have practical solutions from day one to the crop water and moisture issues and therefore the farmers as a whole will be with us. The only problem is some reasonable funding, which is found wanting. At the moment, I am experimenting in my own sizable (4 hectares) farm. I hope the farmers of our village will walk with us from next year.     





Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram

Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram




Dear Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram,


I do hope that with you. If indeed you are able to mobilize the farmers and keep them alive during that period, the future looks good to get away from the present situation that has no future. I agree there fully.


In Africa, the situation is somewhat different but basically needs the same mobilization approach. The following is taken mainly from


Van der Zaag, P., 2010. Viewpoint – Water variability, soil nutrient heterogeneity and market volatility – Why sub-Saharan Africa’s Green Revolution will be location-specific and knowledge-intensive. Water Alternatives 3(1): 154-160.


and much of it is confirmed in


Stigter, Kees (Ed), 2010. Applied agrometeorology. Springer, Heidelberg etc., xxxx + 1098 pp



Grain yields have remained stagnant in Africa because of high temporal rainfall variability, significant spatial soil nutrient heterogeneity, and weak and volatile markets. This combination calls for location-specific interventions that are aimed at enhancing farmers’ capacity to buffer water variations and address nutrient deficits. A massive investment in African agriculture is indeed required, primarily focused on the creation of knowledge that does justice to the local variation in water and nutrient availability. It should aim to empower farmers to experiment and be innovative, and remake agricultural extension and agricultural engineering.


Water uncertainty discourages poor farmers to invest in the soil, and especially in fertilizer ― a bad rainy season will lead to crop loss and thus to loss of the money invested. This is a risk that poor farming households cannot simply afford to take. The solution to this phenomenon is clear: neutralize the stochastic constraint first, even though the lack of nutrients may be the largest constraint, by finding ways to enhance farmers’ control over water, be it rainfall and soil moisture (green water), water in rivers and aquifers (blue water) or combinations thereof.


The focus of such a farmer-centred approach would first be to enhance the capacity of farmers


(i) to observe site-specific biophysical and climatic phenomena,


(ii) to compare these with those in neighbouring fields, and, in processing this information,


(iii) to conclude which technologies and strategies can suitably drought-proof their farming system, and which organic or inorganic materials are needed and available to balance the soil nutrient status for optimal growth.


The second step would be to facilitate farmers to indeed make the required investments, for example, through low-interest credits and crop insurance schemes.


In such an approach, irrigation is not an end but a means; the end being to make farming livelihoods more resilient, and prosperous, in the face of high heterogeneity and high uncertainty. Indeed, means other than irrigation are, in particular contexts, likely to be more appropriate. Such a farmer-centred capacity development approach is currently lacking in most African agricultural extension systems, which have tended to favour simple and blanket recommendations that were based on the science of the 1960s and 1970s. The need for agrometeorological services in the livelihood of farmers in Africa must be seen in this context.


This also has far-reaching implications for the rural educational systems and the curricula that produce agricultural extension workers and their lecturers. It will also have implications for country-specific and locality-specific research into soil fertility, soil and water conservation techniques and practices, and irrigation technologies. Moreover, it requires the development of new modes of on-farm research experimentation with, and by, farmers. In short, the envisaged approach is knowledge-intensive.


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