‘Improve soil fertility & earn higher income’
Atula is a woman farmer in India’s north-eastern state of Nagaland, who has been able to grow more crops like ginger and peas, and increase her income
Q: Tell us about your background.
A High school drop-out, I am Atula, a woman farmer from India’s northeastern state of Nagaland, who is today an expert on improving crop cultivation and soil fertility. For generations my family and fellow villagers have practiced a form of subsistence, slash and burn farming called jhum. But jhum is no longer sustainable in the face of rapid land degradation and population pressures in India. So we all decided to understand horticulture, agro-forestry plantations and soil and water conservation measures to improve vegetation cover by over 2,000 hectares of land in project areas. Farmers in 70 villages from the region have benefited from the introduction of new agriculture practices and 5,008 households participating in the project have witnessed a 15 to 20 percent increase in average income annually. Soil erosion rate has decreased from 50 m/ha per year to 26 m/ha per year.
Q: Exactly how did you switch over to the new practice?
A joint programme between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Nagaland’s government introducing subsistence farmers to new kinds of sustainable land management practices have helped me in growing healthier crops and earn a steady income to better support my three children. Since 2009, UNDP has been partnering with Nagaland’s Department of Soil and Water Conservation to bring these new techniques to farmers in 70 villages across three districts in Nagaland, including me and my neighbours. Traditionally, farmers practicing jhum would be allotted a small piece of forest area from their village council or they would lease it from the land’s owner. Farmers then slash and burn the forest and farm it for about two years – producing just enough food to feed their family – until the soil loses its fertility and then move on to the next piece of land. Up until about a decade ago, the entire jhum cycle took about 20 years; today, in the face of overpopulation and the ongoing effects of climate change on the land, that cycle has shrunk to only seven to nine years. Today, thanks to training from the UNDP and Nagaland government, farmers like me are building critical earthen embankments on the hills where they farm, slowing rates of erosion and keeping the soil fertile for much longer as a result. We thought we would have to leave the land after two years, but now we are continuing to cultivate the same land for a third year.
Q: Do you take extra measures to augment income?
I also plant additional crops like ginger and peas. My household has witnessed a 15 to 20 percent increase in average income. I have also started to raise pigs, feeding them recycled crop fodder and using the manure in turn to fertilize my crops. Earlier the land gave us barely enough to live on. Now I make good money selling vegetables in the local market.