Organic farming at Dantewada: A silver-lining in the rich land of poor people

Dantewada, the land of the regional deity Maa Danteshawari, is a perfect example of rich land, poor people. The district contains iron ores that are of the best quality in the continent generating large revenue yet the number of people below the poverty is much higher than the National average and the number of malnourished and anemic populations is above the national average. Alongside that, Dantewada is highly affected by Left-wing extremist activities as well.

In the district with such a binary, the silver lining is the collaborated push by the administration, the farming community, and the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to obtain the status of the organic district. Keeping the land chemical free is culturally significant for the community at Dantewada. Yet, considerable use of chemicals for farming was reported. The challenge was to provide a sustainable farming solution with a business orientation to the community. The initiative to popularize organic farming began in 2016.
With 70% rural and 76% tribal population (Census 2011), Dantewada is one of the aspirational districts. Having 57% of families below the poverty line (as per RBI’s estimations of 2019), ~60% of women (aged 15-49) being anemic (NFHS-V), and ~50% of kids (0-5 years) being malnourished (NFHS-V), the accreditation push for the organic district is a factor of motivation.

The district administration, Dantewada is assisting 10264 farmers in 110 villages with Large Area Certification (LAC). The objective of large-area certification is to preserve and promote traditional organic farming as well as generate dignified livelihood options. Scientific cultivation methods in traditional crops will ensure food and nutrition security. Simultaneously reducing the dependence on the standardized food cycle of the Public Distribution System. Reviving the nutrient-rich farming practices of indigenous rice, and millets and introducing cultivation of vegetables as well as pulses, has been the prompt solution to the challenge.

Large contiguous traditional organic area certification and individual farmers as well as small farmer group certification under PKVY has been a core area of focus for district administration in Dantewada. A total land area of 65279.29 hectares for 10,264 farmers is under consideration for the purpose across the district. The selected area of 65279.29 hectares under consideration for large-area certification will by far be the largest to be deliberated for certification by a third party.

An expert committee was formed on the order of the General Administrative Department, Chhattisgarh under the chairmanship of the Director of Agriculture on 12th November 2021. In the first meeting of the expert committee on 6th January 2022, it was emphasized that the cultivated area in the deliberated region is to be associated with best practices of collection, grading, processing, storage, and other value-addition activities such as packaging, branding as well as market linkage. The requirement for interdepartmental convergence in totality was stressed.

In the review meeting by the expert committee held on 12th October 2022, it was suggested that a movie to popularize the organic Dantewada be prepared. Village management for peer appraisal was also concurred upon to support the work done for making Dantewada an organic district.
On the recommendations of the expert committee, numerous actions are taken to achieve the status of the organic district. Through the agriculture department, farmers are being mentored about efficient agriculture practices, scientific methods to increase yield, organic certifications, and connecting with government welfare schemes.

2300 bore-wells and tube-wells have been distributed that irrigate 2490 hectares of land. In the Financial Year 2023-24 so far, a total of 489 bore wells have been distributed. An aggregate of 2773 farmers have benefitted from the chain-link fencing to protect their crops from cattle. A total of 8800 hectares of land area is under double irrigation in the district. In the year 2023-24, 1240 hectares of land have been brought under double irrigation.

District collector took a meeting of government workers who comes from an agricultural background to counsel and warn them against the use of the chemical inputs. Farmers are also provided with organic traditional seeds. These seeds are locally procured from expert farmers. Village-level committees called Nigrani samiti are formed to restrict the use of chemical inputs. Village-level camps are conducted to counsel farmers. A bio-input resource center and a farmer help center are put up at weekly markets. Regular inspection of agriculture input shops is done for restricting the sale of chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides.

The initiative of promoting traditional organic farming and organic district certification has proved to be a scalable work for environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
With an ecosystem supporting farmers, the impacts of organic farming have become evident. Assistance in certifications needs to be provided. The required equipment, such as Bore wells, that can increase productivity needs to be provided to the farmers. Rigorous monitoring of sales of chemical inputs, community participation in restricting the use as well as counseling and capacity building of the farmers is required. The supporting infrastructure to provide bio-inputs, industrial processing, and market linkages needs to develop simultaneously.

With the above-mentioned inputs and activities, the Dantewada administration has successfully assisted 13215 farmers in 120 villages within the period of six years to register under Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). With the Large area certification in process, Dantewada is moving gradually toward becoming an organic district.

Farmers in Dantewada would have a comprehensible market outreach with organic certification. This will simultaneously help to improve the economic health of farmers and mitigate environmental challenges. The possibility of neighboring districts receiving support for organic farming, certification, and setting up farmer-producer companies is also being sought.

The initiative has consolidated Dantewada farmers’ identity as organic producers with a business orientation. The initiative created opportunities for social and economic well-being in the community. The mobilization has intensified in a Left-Wing Extremist district at an unprecedented pace and has the potential to impact at scale in similar geographies and demographics.

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