Water accessibility is one of the key challenges facing small-scale "marginal" farmers. With good access to water, however, they can grow at least two crops per year and have a sustainable livelihood. Understanding this challenge, Syngenta Foundation India (SFI), in association with local partners, is engaging in irrigation initiatives across Bihar, Maharashtra, Odisha and Jharkhand. As of early 2019, some 400 farmers are benefiting from a range of options. Depending on their local situation, these are lift & drip irrigation, solar energy irrigation, deep bore wells or sprinkler irrigation. Farmers previously unable to cultivate their land in the winter 'Rabi' season are now growing high-value crops and increasing their income.
In the Jawhar area, SFI has so far implemented five successful projects, in collaboration with the local NGO Pragati Pratishthan and Syngenta India Limited. The company Cox & Kings provided some INR 2.5 million ($31K) support from its Corporate Social Responsibility fund. The resulting group farming project with drip irrigation helps farmers cultivate varied crops throughout the year. Thanks to better income, over three dozen villagers from Palgarh District have avoided having to migrate to cities.
At the Borichaghoda Irrigation Project, INR 2.5 million were raised from IDBI Bank to benefit 32 smallholders. Farmer groups organized land-pooling and community cultivation to provide mutual support and compensate for comparatively high local costs.
Four drip irrigation schemes have been established in Wada Block of Palgarh District. About 50 farmers now benefit from year-round vegetable cultivation on 63 acres.
Irrigation projects in Odisha benefit 176 farmers. Community-based solar energy irrigation serves 90 smallholders on a total land pool of 32 acres. Five solar-powered lift irrigation systems have been established across Torpa and Gumla Blocks in Ranchi. These serve 88 farmers across 60 acres.
Smallholders invest strongly in new technology The first project in Ranchi was in Chandrapur. The total budget was INR 500,000. Financing was originally designed on a ‘40/40/20’ basis. SFI was to contribute 40 percent, 40 would be bank loans, and 20 percent come from farmers. However, the farmers decided to raise 60 percent, so there was no need for a loan. This cost division has been replicated across Ranchi. Farmers contribute INR 200,000 - 250,000 at each location. At Adata in Bihar, 15 farmers have jointly put in INR 150,000. That is half the cost of their ten-acre irrigation system.
Solar drip irrigation is an excellent replacement for the old system, run on diesel. As well as being safer and more environmentally friendly, solar power significantly reduces smallholders’ running costs. The switch to solar is completely in line with the national focus on developing renewable energy. With growing awareness of its benefits, farmers have been quick to adopt the new technology.
SFI is currently setting up 30 solar irrigation schemes with over 1000 smallholders in five districts of Jharkhand. Schneider Electric India Foundation and SFI are each contributing 40 percent of the costs, farmers the remaining 20 percent.
To extend the benefits of solar irrigation, SFI will be establishing 15 further systems across Bihar, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. These are intended to serve over 500 farmers.
Due to a shortage of water and electricity problems we had to migrate to Bhiwandi, Thane and Borivali to do sand-mining jobs, leaving our family at home. The job would earn us our bread and butter, but affected our health badly. We suffered from back pain, itching and swelling. Now, we are self-sufficient and our revenue has also increased." Shantaram Doke, 38 years, beneficiary of the Jawhar Irrigation Project.
Doke, along with five other farmers from Ambyachapada in the Akare Gram Panchayat area, has formed the 'Laxmi Farmers Group' which produces bitter gourd, onions, amaranth leaves and jasminum sambac flowers, among other vegetables; they also practice sericulture (silk production) in the 4.4 acre area of three farm plots. In the past, Doke cultivated only rice and used a diesel pump as no electricity connection was available in the community. Diesel would cost him around INR 12,000. But now the group has been provided with solar panels and a solar pump for the supply of electricity and water. A check dam has also been built for them to store water for drip irrigation.