Bayer CropScience, one of the leading crop protection sciences and seeds companies operating in India, has launched Better Life Farming, an initiative to empower 2.5 million Indian smallholder farmers by 2025 through 5,000 agri-entrepreneurs in horticulture, corn and paddy crops.
"Over the last few years we have done pilot projects in UP and Jharkhand among chilli and tomato farmers by roping in partners in the agri-value chain such as drip irrigation specialists to large-scale buyers such as Big Basket and DeHaat. Based on the feedback and results, we are now expanding it to a large scale project to empower our farmers," D Narain, vice chairman & managing director of Bayer CropScience told Business Today.
The idea is to promote modern agricultural practices and marketing methods among smallholder farmers to help them become agri-entrepreneurs and running their own Better Life Farming centres to empower their local farming communities. The centres will offer agri-entrepreneurs advice and transfer of advanced technologies including market linkages, access to quality farm inputs and crop advice etc. It will include training programmes and workshops to introduce modern agricultural practices to increase productivity. The initiative will help farmers go for reduction of water usage using drip irrigation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A key aspect of the programme is to rope in youth and promote women agri-entrepreneurship.
In a pilot project held among 8000 green chilli farmers near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh across 350 villages, the yield was about 15 metric tonnes per acre. Their sales revenue tripled from Rs 1,24,200 to Rs 3,42,364. This project was followed up with a project among 2000 tomato farmers across 350 villages in Jharkhand. Their yield was 20 metric tonnes per acre and profits were three times the regional average. Early this year, the project was expanded among 20,000 rice farmers across 765 villages in 11 districts of Chhattisgarh and 60,000 farmers across 700 villages in 15 districts of Jharkhand.
"Cost-effective financing is one of the most critical issues for smallholder farmers and we are looking at roping in partners who can provide viable financing options to smallholders. Our alliance partner, IFC (International Finance Corporation) is helping us conduct cost-benefit assessments for Better Life Farming business model," said Narain, who is also Bayer's Senior Representative for South Asia. The other partners include Yara Fertilisers, Netafim, DeHaat and Big Basket.
Drip irrigation technologies using Netafim technology helped smallholder farmers boost yields by 50 per cent while utilising 70 percent less water. Drip irrigation for rice also diminishes methane emissions and nitrous oxide to almost zero compared with flood irrigation and reduces arsenic uptake by up to 90 per cent, said sources.
India, projected to surpass China as the world's most populous country by 2027, will face food demand to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 and half of India's population will be urban by 2050, say estimates. Further, harvest losses from climate change will reduce by 17 per cent and arable land area per capita will reduce by 20 per cent by 2050 due to pressure on ecosystems. Sustainable and responsible agriculture with better yield is the answer, said Narain.