Hundreds of farmers from across 15 villages have arrived at Kisan Mela (Farmer’s Fest) organized by USAID. As names are called one-by-one, farmers queue to get their bags, each containing five kilograms of high-yielding rice seeds.
Munda collects his bag and rejoins his group, his face beaming with a smile that’s unstoppable. “I have heard so much about these seeds. Farmers in villages near mine have doubled their crop production since they got these. And even the drought last year did not affect them. It is my turn now,” he says.
Munda, like every farmer in Jharkhand, is trapped in a vicious and complex agricultural quagmire. The state has a mountain topography, which means that the land here is rocky, uneven and less fertile. Munda barely produces enough to feed his family beyond six months. Even though Jharkhand receives monsoon rains twice the national average, the state’s sloping geography means that 90 percent of the rainwater quickly washes away, leaving the farmers distressed with severe water shortage and periodic droughts.
To break this cycle of extreme poverty and food insecurity, USAID organized the first Farmer’s Fest in June 2015, selecting farming families from villages to receive high-yielding rice seeds along with training in modern sowing and farming methods.
But seeds alone couldn’t do the magic. “In India, farming is still rain-fed and rain-dependent. To cultivate a good crop, farmers need assured access to water during the months of shortage. That is why we began building dobhas or small ponds,” says a local USAID official. A dobha is a low-cost rainwater harvesting technique where a 10-by-10 foot pit is dug to trap the rain water.
Whereas before a farmer might produce barely 150 to 200 kilograms of rice a year, after utilizing the higher-yielding rice seeds and dobha irrigation technique, production can shoot up to 450 kilograms in only a year.