This section on Social Innovation is made possible with the support of Deshpande Foundation India.
A year ago, 25-year-old Maktumbi Hongal graduated from the Susandhi Krishi Chetana (SKC) programme run by the Deshpande Foundation in Hubli. Today, as an employee of the Foundation, she is responsible for liaising with farmers from three villages to raise awareness about soil, seeds, cultivation techniques, true market prices and other matters related to better agricultural practice. In order to create a ripple effect with long-term benefits, Maktumbi also visits schools to educate children from farming communities.
Building a trained agricultural workforce at the grassroots
At the SKC campus in Shiggaon, nestled amidst windmills and papaya plantations, the students are attending a session on hydroponics – a cutting-edge cultivation technique that promises higher yields with no soil and very little water inputs. I see them, about 30 in number, listening keenly to one of India’s few experts on hydroponics.
The Susandhi Krishi Chetana (SKC) is a one-of-its-kind programme with a vision for transformation of farming communities beginning at the grassroots. The four-month long residential programme was launched in 2012 with a fourfold aim:
- To empower Class X rural graduates to continue in agriculture rather than migrate to urban centres for employment in unskilled, low-paying jobs.
- To raise rural incomes through agriculture.
- To bridge the gap between agricultural theory and practice, bring new innovations to the grassroots, and enable useful knowledge exchange.
- To fill the gaping void in the availability of trained human capital, essential for the scaling up of innovative agricultural programme aimed at improving farmer incomes.
Mohammed Innus Khan, Programme Manager (Agriculture) minces no words when he says,”Many young people, thinking agriculture is not profitable, move away to the cities in search of the ‘shining India’. The SKC programme, through rigorous training and exposure, aims to change the attitude of youth towards agriculture so that a larger number of them develop an entrepreneurial mindset towards it and go on to transform their local farming communities.”
Says CEO of Deshpande Foundation, Naveen Jha, “Most of our students come from farming backgrounds, yet, they are willing to pay as high as Rs.10000 to gain new agricultural skills.” The programme sees 100% enrolment and often runs multiple parallel batches due to its high demand, a clear indication of the value students attribute to it.
Bridging agricultural theory and practice
The students are taught a mix of agricultural theory and on-ground techniques to improve yields with low-cost, easily available inputs. They learn about sustainable agricultural practices like the preparation and use of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, about water saving techniques like the farm pond, about ancillary income-generation activities like tree based farming, horticulture, and fodder cultivation, and about high-yield, low-cost crops like papaya and bamboo.
While students are taught the latest and most innovative growing technologies like SRI (Systematic Rice Intensification) and hydroponics, they also learn about traditional methods of seed saving, seed treatment, water saving, and cultivation, an indication of the value the programme gives to indigenous knowledge and practices.
To empower these rural youth to liaise equally effectively with farmers as with agricultural companies and the development sector, they are also made computer literate, taught effective communication skills, and given access to broad networks to help widen their knowledge and employment prospects.
The missing link in agri-empowerment programmes
As I wait to meet the students, I visit the 3 polyhouses on the campus where the students are experimenting with growing vegetables in a temperature controlled environment. They are also caring for a papaya and chilli crop using minimal irrigation. The SKC campus is a testbed for ideas that, if successful, will form the basis of Deshpande Foundation’s future agricultural programmes and the students are key to the successful implementation of these pilot projects. “When we began, we had no female applicants. The second batch saw one female student”, says Khan. Today, of the 150 Fellows graduating annually, 40 percent are women, signalling that besides changing the economic and agricultural scenario, the programme is also sparking changes in the socio-cultural context of the region. Maktumbi is a trailblazer in that she was one of the first female students of SKC. Says she of her SKC training, “Through me, the training reached my entire family. Earlier I was the one who required help, but now I have reached a position where I am helping other people and give them helpful advice.”
With a placement rate of 70%, the new graduates have a host of avenues open to them. While some of them return to their family farms to put to use the skills they have learnt and raise productivity and income, there are instances of others turning to entrepreneurship to lead innovation in the areas of sericulture, fodder and, dairy farming. Still others are quickly absorbed as community mobilizers and facilitation officers by the government, development organisations, and agri-companies working with farmers.
The SKC injects an invaluable dose of much-needed knowledge and innovation into a sector plagued by beliefs and practices with poor adaptability to change. The students bring into the programme an on-ground knowledge of agricultural systems and a shared context with farmers that earns their trust. With the addition of good communication skills, training on agri-innovations, and an entrepreneurial temperament, the new SKC graduates form the crucial missing link in the partnerships between farmers, the markets, and other agencies they engage with.
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.
The 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