M. V. Narasimha Rao, Executive Director, Grama Vikas is not a farmer but he has more than four decades of experience working closely with farmers trying to learn and understand their farming practices. Over the years, he has witnessed a gradual deterioration in groundwater levels, soil health, and farmer appetite to try new things.
“Farmers are forced not to think. They just follow what everyone else in the village is doing. If someone is growing tomatoes then everyone will grow tomatoes. This happens every year.” Although Mr.Rao is upset with farmers not reflecting on their past and learning to adapt to the present, his real issue is with markets not supporting farmers when their crop fails or when there is a glut in production.
Mr Rao says, “Behaviour change is key to bring about some change in farming practices. Farmers don’t like an outsider teaching them how to farm, so we decided to influence them through their children.” As a new initiative, Grama Vikas is working with schools in rural areas to teach children aged 12-15 on soil health, crop diversity for nutritional balance and other farming best practices. Parents are encouraged to donate a small piece of land to their children to grow crops and to practice things they learn within this program at school. However, not all parents are keen to see their kids learn to farm.
As water levels continue to fall in the Kolar region and markets become more open, it remains critical to support farmers with tools and methods that build resilience for these newer conditions, while also integrating community action and traditional knowledge structures that have for centuries supported sustainable agriculture.