Learning By Doing Helps Indian Agriculture Thrive
May 10, 2018
By R. Madhavan: Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India
Farmers must educate each other: That’s the best way we can learn to thrive, adopting the new technologies and sustainable practices that both conserve resources and improve productivity.
The fate of India depends on our success—and I’m trying to do my part to help from my farm in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
I grow three crops per year on about 50 acres near the village of Ulundhai. I use a common method of rotation, starting with cereals (such as corn), followed by vegetables (brinjal and broccoli), and finally by pulses (green, red, and black gram).
Like most of my neighbors, I’m always in the field with something, even though our climate brings the challenges of drenching monsoons as well as periods of drought.
Despite the hard work, Indian farmers operate at only a fraction of the productivity of farmers in industrialized countries. This means that for India’s population of more than 1 billion, food costs are high—and an unacceptable number of people are malnourished.
When people don’t eat enough, they suffer. This is especially true for children, who are in the formative stages of life. The irreversible damage to their physical and mental wellbeing scars them for life.
These impairments hurt us all. They hold back my entire country.
So we have to do better.
It starts with the sharing of information. I spend a portion of my time training fellow farmers and young people in proper agricultural practices. The main theme of my workshops is: Learning by doing.
People come to my farm and participate in the work. Then they take what they’ve learned and apply it to their own fields.
Books and classrooms are excellent sources of education, but nothing is better than the experience of doing something—and that’s how we approach our farming education here. This is doubly important in my region, where many farmers are illiterate. They can’t read books, so we distribute pictorial pamphlets in the local language that transmit knowledge in simple ways that can be understood and followed.
Mostly, however, we demonstrate. We have to move slowly, taking things step-by-step. At my workshops, for example, I like to say that knowing how to operate a tractor doesn’t mean that you can hop into a Ferrari and drive to the city. Without proper awareness and instruction, you’ll hurt yourself and others—and it won’t be the fault of the Ferrari!
A farmer’s tools aren’t as a fancy as a Ferrari, of course. Some are mechanized, like tractors. Others are made for traditional manual labor. All tools, however, require at least some education so that farmers can learn how to handle devices for seeding, weeding, and fertilizing. I believe strongly that tools will enhance our man-power efficiency. This is an absolute need for a productive farming sector.
Modern farming is a science. We have to analyze the soil for nutrients and balance the fertility levels for specific kinds of crops. We must be careful about where fertilizer is placed, making sure it goes into the root zone for efficient uptake. Then there’s the challenge of pest and weed management, which means defeating insects and invasive plants through the appropriate use of crop-protection products.
Most Indian farmers don’t yet enjoy access to GMO technology, except for cotton, which means that we can’t take advantage of this technology for any of our food crops. Personally, I’d love to plant GMO corn and brinjal. A good seed sandwiched with precise crop production techniques will enhance the yield to its optimum. I am confident it would boost my farm’s productivity and help feed my country.
We’d also have to train farmers in the proper use of this technology. This can be done—it would not be too hard—but we would have to commit ourselves to the project, and once again engage in the strategy of learning by doing.
As I conduct workshops for entrepreneurs, my goal is to present agriculture as a profession, lifting it up from being viewed as a lowly occupation to an industrial activity. If we gain better access to tools and technology and perform the education that must go along with it, farmers will produce more food and consumers will have the means to buy more of it.
All of India would be much better off.
R. Madhavan grows three different crops a year on his farm near Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India. He has several patents for farmer-friendly farm tools, conducts workshops that encourage entrepreneurs to take up agriculture as a profession and is a member of the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).
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