The Wardha Family Farming Project was launched by Naandi in April 2015. Funded by different companies under the umbrella of the Mahindra Farm Equipment Sector, this project is a response to the situation of severe agrarian distress in Vidarbha region in Maharashtra, the farmer suicide capital of India. Through the several study tours made by a senior Naandi team to different villages of Wardha, Amravati and Akola districts of Vidarbha throughout 2014 and early 2015, the complex dynamics between soil productivity, droughts, market conditions and farmer family well being began to become clear to us.
Rapidly growing acreage under cash crops, primarily cotton and soybean, increasing input costs, uncertainty of the two ‘m’s – monsoon and market prices has resulted in huge indebtedness amongst farmers in this region. The declining productivity of soil has further added to the stress. In its first phase of the project, Naandi proposes to demonstrate that a different method of agriculture and the introduction of an entirely new high value crop can start to bring about changes in the farmer’s economics. Naandi through its Wardha Family Farming Project aims to solve the drought issue by implementing drip irrigation which ensures an economic use of water, use of sustainable agriculture techniques which improve soil water retention capacity and ground water levels and use of mounding which acts as a shield against floods.
In this first year of the project, 750 farmer families have volunteered a total of 1000 acres of land to grow pomegranate following a ‘package of practices’ developed by the Naandi Agri-livelihoods team in the kharif season of 2015. The unit economics for pomegranate cultivation shows it to be hugely profitable even with conservative estimates. This is especially so when the method of cultivation is not only entirely sans chemicals but also strengthens soil productivity and gradually reduces the need for irrigation. The first batch of pomegranates from the project which will be ready to compete in the open market not only in India but also outside the country, will be ready in 2017.