BAIF’s Wadi Model bears fruit for small farmers

This integrated farming technique increases farmers’ food and income security and protects them from the devastating effects of climate change.


Fringed by tall trees, Shankar Gouda’s farm in Shiggaon taluk of Haveri stands out among the rolling low-lying fields of paddy. On stepping inside, I find his maize crop dry, with no signs of a harvest. But, interspersed among the maize, are about 100 healthy mango trees that have survived this year’s drought. With his forestry and mango plants as assurance, Gouda is safe from the unpredictable rains that make most of the region’s farmers vulnerable.

Acacia trees on the periphery of a wadi and mango saplings interspersed among the crops.

Acacia trees on the periphery of a wadi and mango saplings interspersed among the crops.

Sustainable agriculture and livelihoods with tree based farming

Also called the wadi model (wadi means orchard in Gujarati), this method of integrated farming was initiated by Manibhai Desai as a tool for enhanced income generation opportunities among poor tribals of Gujarat, many of whom farmed on degraded land in semi-arid regions. Wadis help increase farm productivity with sustainable cultivation techniques. BAIF’s wadi programme combines agri-forestry, horticulture, and fodder and is designed to help small and marginal farmers with between 1 and 3 acres of land move towards better income security.

In this method of agriculture, 300-400 drought resistant forest species like eucalyptus, acacia, teak, and silver oak are planted along the periphery of farms and fruit trees like mango and sapota are planted at regular intervals in the interspace between the main food crop. This allows the farmer to continue practise regular farming. Rainfed species are chosen which do not require any irrigation other than partial watering during the summer months in the first year of sowing. Small and marginal farmers are encouraged to dedicate only an acre of land to the wadi since returns accrue only 3-4 years after sowing.

Says M.N. Kulkarni (Programme Coordinator for Dharwad region), “The wadi model, by being a source of food, fodder, fuel, medicine, and timber helps to improve the overall quality of life of farmers besides being an assured and continued source of additional revenue.” The indirect benefits of tree-based farming include prevention of crop damage by soil erosion and strong winds. The leaf litter from the trees also serves as raw material for the preparation of green manure.

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A farmer prunes the low-lying branches of his silver oak to keep shade away and increase the value of the timber.

A unique wadi model for the Sandbox

The wadi model was already well established in Gujarat and Maharashtra when it was brought to Karnataka’s Haveri district by BAIF in 1992 to empower the region’s farmers. BAIF, with funding from a number of international agencies, provided farmers the saplings and other pre and post planting support for free. The gradual decrease in funds hampered growth and scale until Deshpande Foundation stepped in with financial support and technical know-how in 2008. With guidance from the Foundation, BAIF was able to tailor the model to suit the specific requirements of Haveri’s farming community and optimize its operating cost per acre from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 7,000 with a view to moving towards sustainability.

In order to increase local ownership of different development efforts, BAIF established the Sarvodaya Mahasangha (SAMAS) at Surshettikoppa, Dharwad in 1997 as a federation of representatives from over 80 village level Self Help Groups. The main function of SAMAS is ensuring that development programmes are congruous with people’s needs and that they are effectively implemented. It is also responsible for developing backward and forward linkages that enable faster adoption among farmers of new technology.

Since 2008, BAIF has helped build 1,754 acres of wadis in Shiggaon of which 580 were built in 2015. Compared to the 131 farmers who enrolled in the programme in 2014, the 367 farmers adopting wadis in 2015 is an indicator of the project’s potential for scale. From the horticultural crops, farmers can earn between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 15,000 in the first 3-4 years after which yield per acre increases significantly with annual revenue rising to about Rs, 30,000 per acre. Forestry trees begin to yield after 6-8 years of sowing.

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This father and son lost their maize crop to the drought in 2015 but their wadi kept them out of debt.

In Hirebendigeri village where BAIF has built close to 250 wadis, I visit the farm of Dayanand Kalihal who built a wadi 2 years ago on his 2 acre farm where he also grows soyabean and millets. “It was the best decision of my life”, he says, adding,

“The rains failed us this year and I lost my maize crop, but I can fall back on the 80 mango trees which will bring me an income of Rs. 40,000 next year. The surrounding trees have given me timber to build agricultural implements and a cattle shed.”

He points out that the wadi has reduced water usage and that the yield from the fruit trees serve as additional food. His confidence in commercial tree-based farming is evident when he says, “I wish to dedicate another acre of my land to cashew and jackfruit which earn assured income for 10-15 years.”

Others testify to the increased income wadis bring. Says the recipient of Deshpande Foundation’s Progressive Farmer Award for 2014, “I have been practising tree based farming on three acres of land for 3 years. I also grow millets and maize which earn me about Rs. 30,000 a year so the extra income from mango is a bonus.” He looks forward to his first harvest of alphonso next year, expecting an earning of Rs. 1 lakh from the 120 trees with marketing support from SAMAS.

I meet farmers who have leased out their wadis to procurement companies on yearly contracts as a means of guaranteed income. “I leased out 3 acres of wadi last year for Rs. 60,000. It protects me against the unpredictable rainfall and brings me an income irrespective of whether there is a harvest or not”, Hemanna Masur tells me. Since the leasing company also handles activities like crop care, pest management, and watch and ward, the wadi is an additional income source requiring little effort by the farmer who can dedicate his labour to cultivating food crops.

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Mangoes grow alongside horsegram

From beneficiaries to owners and decision makers

With the Foundation’s help, BAIF identified a need for wadis among Shiggaon’s small farmers. “A great deal of entry point activity is involved before enrolling farmers into the wadi programme including Panchayat and village level awareness meetings. Interested farmers are taken on exposure visits to successful wadis in other parts of Karnataka”, says Dr. S.M. Hiremath of BAIF.

Once enrolled, farmers receive BAIF support from the pre-plantation phase of farm preparation to after-care assistance and monitoring. Per acre, BAIF supplies farmers 200 forestry saplings, 40 fruit trees, and seeds for fodder crops to be planted along the bunds.

Up until 2014, internal funds and Deshpande Foundation completely supported the model. In 2015, in a first-of-its kind initiative for BAIF, a cost-sharing model was introduced where farmers contribute towards building of the wadi. The amount per acre is Rs. 500 (arrived at after multiple village level farmer meetings) which is collected as a registration fee besides which farmer contribution in the form of labour during pitting, planting, and aftercare is also recognized. This not only creates a sense of ownership among farmers over the wadi but also enables BAIF to expand its coverage within the Sandbox.

Gouda earned Rs. 60,000 from a 3 acre wadi he planted 3 years ago, marketing his alphonso crop through SAMAS. “I have benefited greatly from my wadi and wish to extend its coverage. For BAIF’s guidance, I am willing to pay up to Rs.1000 an acre because it is an investment whose benefits my family can realize for many years”, he says. But, farmers like Gouda are hard to come by. While attempts have been made to raise farmers’ contribution to Rs. 2000 per acre, the move to a commercial wadi model is a slow and challenging one that requires a better understanding among farmers of the long-term benefits accruing from the investment. Further, Dr. Hiremath tells me, a commercial wadi model may not be suited to all regions and will have to be introduced with variations tailored to farmers’ needs and paying capacities.

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Leveraging community networks for scale

A significant learning for BAIF from Deshpande Foundation was to focus on building strong community trust around the wadi model as an instrument for scale. Today, Hiremath attributes BAIF’s growing success to the trust among farmers in the timely and scientific manner in which BAIF operates. “Over the years, farmers have begun to have faith in the quality of our seedlings, our scientific approach, and the regularity which which our team monitors the wadi for up to a year after planting”, says Dr. Hiremath. Setting up of a field office in Dhundasi village, catering to 500 wadis has also facilitated scale by permitting a closer connect with farmers.

Future plans include strengthening SAMAS to assume responsibility for executing the wadi programme in the Sandbox, including assisting farmers with profitable market linkages. “We would like to eventually move to a fully farmer-funded wadi model”, informs Hiremath, “but not before assessing its feasibility among poor farmers in the backward districts.”

With continued Deshpande Foundation support, BAIF looks to take the wadi programme to more than 600 new farmers in Shiggaon 2016, while also entering new parts of the Sandbox like Bijapur and Bagalkot.

Images by the author.

The Social Innovation Sandbox is a series chronicling novel solutions across the country that are seeking to transform life quality for the millions at the base of the pyramid in India.

DF LOGO HIGH RESOLUTIONThe series is supported by the Deshpande Foundation India that is based out of Hubli and is building a nurturing ecosystem for entrepreneurship, innovation, and local, grassroots efforts so that young people can transform this growing country.


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