The productivity in agriculture depends largely on the availability of farm power. It can be derived from two sources, one being animate and other mechanical. Through mechanization biological sources of energy is replaced by mechanized source. Mechanization in agriculture in India has taken place through various machines like tractors, harvesters, reapers, water pump sets etc. Emergence of farm mechanization in India dates back to 1930. During that time diesel engines and pumps were manufactured. In the year 1960 manufacture of tractors and power tillers started. Over the last 50 years farm power availability has increased. This is evident from the fact that farm power available in 1951 was about 0.25kW/ha and during 2001 it increased to 1.37 kW/ha. The shift from animate source of power to mechanized source of power is also evident from the fact that its contribution has increased from 2.6% in 1951 to 82% in 2001.[i]The scenario of farm power available in Assam is not that encouraging. Farm power available in Assam is 0.80kW/ha which is quite low as compared to national average of 1.37kW/ha. This is one of the factors for lower productivity within the state, as farm power available is directly proportional to productivity. In Punjab the farm power available is 3.50kW/ha and has food grain productivity of 4032kg/ha whereas in Assam farm power available is .80kW/ha and has productivity of 1443kg/ha[ii]. To enhance farm mechanization Assam government has taken various initiatives in this regard but has not been able to reach out to a major portion of the farming population.
Farm Mechanization In Assam: SeSTA Study
Seven Sisters’ Development Assistance (SeSTA) a Non-Government Organization was incepted in the year 2011. Today SeSTA works with more than 30,000 rural poor families in the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura on improved livelihoods, nutrition, improved livestock breeding practices and Natural Resources Management.
To improve the status quo through understanding and then piloting, SeSTA had conducted a study on the issue of farm mechanization with the community and line departments in Chirang district of Assam. Three of the major issues which came up from the community were: lack of information regarding recent farm mechanization, access to farm implements and low purchasing power.
Basic mechanized farm implements like tractors and pumpsets are available only with relatively well- off individuals and the services are quite exploitative. The prevailing rates of hiring a tractor for plowing during peak season, ranges from 1050 to 1200 rupees per acre (350 to 400 per bigha). Similarly hiring a pump set for irrigation ranges from 100 to 200 rupees per hour. Also accessing these implements during peak season becomes difficult because of the limited or non-availability within the village. Of the 20 villages surveyed (2017) in Chirang there were only three tractors, three power tillers and 43 pump-sets available for approximately 4000 households. This results in farmers being unable to go for second cropping, which in turn adversely affects agriculture intensification.
Chirang has also known for its ethnic clashes between various communities. This also has given rise to mistrust amongst different communities. As a result if a particular community owns a tractor, the services of it may not be available to the other community. Even if the services are available they charge higher rates from what they would charge from their own community. Based on these findings, SeSTA decided to start work on farm mechanization through women collectives in Chirang.
Farm Mechanisation Through Women Collectives
SeSTA’s intervention with women collectives in Sidli block of Chirang was initiated in 2011. Over the years through interaction with different women members SeSTA had learnt that their participation in agriculture is around 60-70%. This corroborates with the larger trend in the country, as reported by Oxfam, with women doing more than 70% work in agriculture (but they own only 13% of land)[iii].
It was also found that of all the activities involved in agriculture, transplantation and weeding involves the highest drudgery. Based on the understanding of the situation the organization was of the opinion that in order to reduce the drudgery introduction of machineries in agriculture would be important. Accordingly since 2014 mechanization started with introduction of simple drudgery reduction tools like manual weeder, manual wheel hoe, maize sheller and pumpsets for irrigation.
However over the years need for sophisticated mechanized tools came from the ground. As a means to reduce drudgery and increase cropping intensity and productivity, SeSTA thought of establishing a one stop solution which will provide mechanized implements on a hired basis. There were multiple discussions and deliberations within the organization as to how to shape the idea into reality. Pertinent questions that needed to be addressed were:
- Ownership of these Agriculture Business Centers
- The structural frame work of the institution
- Importantly, the mode of generation of funds for sustainability
It was decided that under Chirang Rural Women Producer Company Ltd. (a producer company promoted by SeSTA), a separate unit Agro Business Centre (ABC), will be established under whom the ownership of the Business Center would lay. To identify mechanized implements several Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were conducted in the community. The FGDs indicated that tractor, power-tiller and transplanter were demanded by most of the participants.
Agro Business Centre Is Established
In 2017, with the support from Tata Trust, Livolink and Ministry of Rural Development, SeSTA established the Agro Business Centre in Chirang. The management committee of Chirang Rural Women Producer Company Ltd. has selected a service provider who will be responsible to generate business and a driver to carry out the operations. Both of them are paid on task basis i.e. on the amount of work they do. The Service Provider is also responsible to keep all the records and tally with the records of diver and provide monthly update and do the profit handover to the ABC. After this the honorarium of Service Provider and Driver is released by the Mahila Bikash Kendra. A diagrammatic representation of the structure is given below.
The centre started its operations in Bamungaon-Duttapur area in Chirang district. The area comprise of 10 revenue villages, with around 1200 farmers, each on an average had 2 acres of land. But the area had only two tractors. It was calculated that even if a tractor worked 8 hours a day, then to complete ploughing in the entire cluster will take 900 days. In reality, half of land in the cluster was kept fallow during kharif season in the absence of draft animal and poor mechanization.
With this analysis, SeSTA with the help of Chirang Rural Women Producer Company Ltd. started the wing of farm Mechanization in the cluster of Bamungaon-Duttapur. The machines were kept in the village of Jaoliabari which is situated in the middle of the cluster. Most of the population of Jaoliabari belongs to Santhali community, where most of the land kept idle during kharif season. A tractor along with a transplanter has been placed in the village, which supports the people of Jaoliabari, but also the neighboring villages. From 2017 till present the ABC has provided services in over 1500 ha of land in the cluster for services like plowing, transplanting, weeding and threshing with a turnover of around Rs 9,26,000.
The Case of Monoj Murmu And Sinilota Mardi
Monoj Murmu is a young farmer from Jaoliabari. He lives in a joint family comprising of one elder brother, one younger brother, his mother, a sister in law, a nephew and his wife. The elder brother is engaged in agriculture, whereas Monoj gives support to his brother only during Kharif season. During other periods, Monoj spends his time in Bangalore as a migrant worker. His wife, Sinilota Mardi is a member of a SHG. His wife is concerned about her husband work pattern, she doesn’t like that her husband stays in Bangalore for 10 months in a year. She tried to learn improved agriculture practices through her SHG and Village Organization (VO). They have 2.5 acres of low land and 1.5 acres of upland. Of these only 1.5 acre of lowland was under cultivation for paddy and other 0.5 acre of upland for vegetables. They always kept 1 acre of lowland idle along with 1 acre of upland. Earlier Sinilota tried to restrain Monoj from going for labor work in Bangalore, and suggested him to practice agriculture on the fallow land. But due to lack of draft animals Monoj could not bring the fallow land under cultivation. After the implementation of farm mechanization in the village, he has gone for agriculture intensification whereby he has brought the entire fallow low land under cultivation of System of Root Intensification (SRI) paddy. After Monoj was exposed to improved vegetable cultivation, he has decided to do chilly, tomato, and brinjal on fallow uplands. According to Monoj Murmu,
“Who wants to go far from the family to ensure livelihood, I just go there only because to fulfill the needs and liabilities of our family. If such type of intervention can be done in the village, then I won’t go there, I will engage myself in agriculture. It has more dignity than to work under a person, and has the capability to ensure my family’s needs and liabilities”.
Meanwhile Sinilata has set up a nursery through proper shed net structure where she has raised seedling of vegetables, which she sells to the other farmers. These activities were planned by the Mahila Vikash Kendra where they engage with farmers on doing vegetable cultivation and linked the farmers to purchase saplings from one entrepreneur, in this case Sinilata for Jaoliabari village. In the last Kharif season (2019-20) she had an income of Rs 20,000 from the nursery by raising and selling quality saplings of tomato, brinjal and chilly. Monoj has also opened a Xerox and printing center along with Sinilata and further adding poultry rearing to her livelihood basket from the profits earned.
The members of Mahila Vikash Kendra are hopeful and have envisioned to expand the centre. Rupali Ray, the treasurer of the Kendra said, “Looking at the demand and profitability, we want to expand the centre by purchasing new tools and expanding to other clusters as well. We are exploring ways by which we can tie up with government to expand the centre by showing the good works carried out so far. The centre is not only a means to earn profit but also has impacted as a whole in the lives of the women. Today SHG members can access the services at a price which is quite lower than the market price as such the male counterparts appreciate our being at SHG. The youth are also excited on seeing modernized machineries. Hope in the long run it will be effective in pulling their interest towards agriculture.”
Although the journey so far has been successful but there have been occasional hiccups. Once the centre started giving services to the SHG members at a premium price lower than the existing market price, the existing players started questioning the existence of the agro business centre. Due to some influential entrepreneurs, along with some opinion leaders in certain villages the centre was barred from providing services for some time. However, the pro-activeness of the SHG members resolved such incidents. Another challenge was to meet the demand of the famers. During the peak kharif season demands like immediate plowing spikes; it has proven difficult to cover 30 acres to 50 acres in such a short duration using the existing resources.
The experience in the Jaoliabari village shows that farm mechanization has immense potential to enhance the socio-economic condition of the rural pockets. However proper management stands crucial for success of the entire activity. Women collectives, promoted in many villages in Assam, could lead the way in establishing and managing service centers through which farm mechanization tools will be provided. Looking at the potential, SeSTA has already started to establish farm mechanization through women collectives in three other blocks of Assam.
[i] Farm Mechanization and Energy Status. Steps Towards Modernization of Agriculture in NEH Region. (Eds. Verma, N.D. and Bhatt, B.P.). pp. 437–453.
[ii] . Farm Power and their utilization in North Easter Hills Region. ICAR. Shillong; 4. Satapathy. K.K., Sahay. C.S., Ghadge S.V., Agrawal K.N. and Singh R.K.P. (2001)
Debasish Nath is currently working as the Programme Director at SeSTA. Prior to SeSTA he was working with PRADAN at Kalahandi district, Odisha. For more information and interaction reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .