The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) has started an innovative project to build the capacity of local men and women farmers to monitor their crop health in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu.
The project named, Plant Health Monitors for Quality Vegetable Production in Dindigul district Tamil Nadu, is supported by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), an apex regulatory body for rural and cooperative banks in India.
NABARD with its Farm Sector Promotion Fund (FSPF) support incubation and dissemination of innovations and technologies to benefit vulnerable groups of farmers across class and geographies.
Insufficient knowledge and poor skills make majority of the farmers to depend on the local agro-dealers to access plant health advisories as well as for agro-inputs. Farmers are unable to differentiate among insect pests, diseases and nutrients deficiencies of their crops. So, they easily fell prey to local agro-dealers who sell them costly pesticides and unsuitable advisories in the time of pest attacks or spread of diseases.
The project planned to link the scientific knowledge with farmers to help them in early diagnosis of any pest or diseases in their crops and get timely experts advisories to save crops and reduce losses. It will also facilitate eco-friendly and scientific pest management strategy to increase production and reduce investment on pesticides.
This project intends to build Communities of Practice (CoPs), called as Plant Health Monitors (PHM) among small and marginal land holders. CoPs are organized groups of people who have a common interest in a specific technical domain and regularly collaborate to share information, improve their skills and upgrade their knowledge.
The members of CoPs will be trained and facilitated to work collectively to co-create knowledge that are locally relevant in terms of pest and disease management.
The two years project started in March 2021 in four blocks of Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu – i.e. Oddanchatram, Nilakottai, Reddiarchatram and Natham. The district is known for major grower and suppliers of vegetables across the states in India.
A team of three inter-disciplinary team from MSSRF are steering the project – Dr. Selvamukilan B, Dr. Malarvannan S, and Dr. Rengalakshmi R.
The team will help in building equitable and inclusive CoPs, enable CoPs to support farmers in adopting innovative pest management measures, and assess the impact of knowledge sharing practices on the ground in terms of productivity, farm income and environment.
The team will work in partnership with local farmers’ producing organizations (FPOs) and non-profits which help in selecting 100 men and women farmers interested in technological innovation.
The team has partnered with FPO in Reddiarchatram block named Reddiarchatram Sustainable Agriculture Producer Company Limited, Sirumalai Saral Farmers Producer Company in Natham block, and non-profits in Oddanchatram and Nilakottai blocks.
A detailed training curriculum will be prepared including how to reduce the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides, identify emerging new pests and disease management techniques, adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with special focus to bio-inputs, and ecological engineering practices, such as border crops/trap crops etc. Farmers will be trained to use simple tools like magnifying lenses, use of apps like Plantix etc.
The leader among farmers’ team will be further trained on the field issues and linked with other stakeholders. CoPs will be encouraged to facilitate to organize the plant clinic sessions in their villages to other farmers and create awareness about new techniques, to analyze crop diseases, samples, beneficial and harmful insects, management of pests in presence of agriculture experts.
The project is scheduled to end on February 2023. The major outcomes planed under the project is to establish and well-functioning of at least four CoPs, setting up of eight organic input production units, and increasing of income of farmers by 20 percent from the baseline.