FEATURE: Multilayer farming -Towards household food and nutrition security in times of climate risks
The IPCC’s latest Special Report stresses food and nutritional security in the context of land and climate change. Here, Prithviraj Gaikwad and Shreya Banerjee of Watershed Organisation Trust’s Centre for Resilience Studies (W-CReS) describe how multi-layer farming has helped to improve food and nutrition security at household level, and they outline women’s and men’s perceptions of how the interventions have impacted their lives.
Why multi-layer farming?
The state of Maharashtra in India has been faced with severe drought conditions in several areas over the last few years. Agricultural productivity, and in turn farmer incomes in the state, have taken a hit. As a consequence, the lives of farmers have been affected to a large extent.
Farmers shifted to cash crops and have resorted to purchasing food grain: this is more expensive. Now their purchases mainly satiate hunger (rather than nourish them), which compromises their family’s nutrition and health.
In order to address the problem of insufficient food for the family and inadequate nutrition in the face of a changing climate, multi-layer farming was introduced.
The process of multi-layer farming
A 36 x 36 square foot plot of land was identified in each household. Crops were selected based on their height and duration of growth to ensure adequate sunlight and different harvesting periods so that households have continued access to different kinds of produce throughout the year. Sowing was also done in a strategic manner so that multiple crops including fruits, vegetables and flower crops could be grown together in the small plot of land. The raingun (micro-irrigation) method, which uses less water, and organic farming practices were adopted.
Apart from these, there is a lot more science that goes behind the practice and activities that are part of multilayer farming. It needs to ensure that the process is sustainable, organic, and productive in the face of climate change and that family nutrition needs are eventually met. The excess produce was sold on a weekly basis, thus some additional profit was also obtained from this process.
The benefits for farmers
The purpose of the initiative was to make farmers more self-reliant, better-equipped and resilient in the face of recurring droughts – and climate change in general.
Multi-layer farming incentivised them to switch to a more sustainable kind of farming and simultaneously meet the food and nutrition requirements of the entire household, while also generating income from cash crop production.
Trainings were conducted for both men and women, in which they were given all the necessary knowledge to implement multi-layer farming. Women’s involvement was essential in this process because the burden of planning and providing food for the household solely rests on their shoulders. They were the ones who were affected to a larger extent by the decrease in agricultural productivity and the reduced number of crops on their farms. It was often the women who had to start making trips to the market to compensate for the decreased production.
Additionally, the women and children are the main victims of malnutrition and low haemoglobin levels. Hence, as part of the training, the women in particular were explained how the uptake of multilayer farming would benefit their health and their family’s nutritional status, without additional expenditure. It was important for women to be convinced of the benefits so they would initiate the process. Besides, the plot required for multi-layer farming is small enough for them to look after, with minimal help from their husbands or other family members.
What the farmers say about it
The farmers were initially apprehensive about it, but since it was a very small plot of land, they took the risk. In little over a month some of the crops planted could be harvested, which gradually convinced them of the beneficial effects.
Sangita Tikonkar from Satara district in Maharashtra says, “Within 30 days, we could see the leafy vegetables growing. Earlier we used to have kitchen gardens which would run until November or December. After that, I would have to go and buy vegetables from the market.” She relates that taking up multilayer farming made her life much easier.
Nandini Bhosale, another woman farmer, says, “I could never have imagined that 25 crops could be grown in this small plot of land and with little water. Because the area is so small, it’s easy for me to manage things in an organic way. Even my children help out.”
Ghanshyam, a farmer who lives in an area affected by drought for the last three years says that the irrigation technology in multi-layer faming is different and very little water is required. Even the time and effort for irrigation is relatively less, as compared to flood irrigation. He goes on to say that pests on their crops have reduced and they make a weekly amount of Rupees 500-600 by selling the excess produce.
Ashok Bhoge relates, “Earlier our land was entirely rain-fed because we had one bore well which could be used for just 15 minutes a day, which was pointless. Now we have started using the bore well because it is sufficient for multilayer farming. My family has 10 members, and all our food and nutrition needs are met now. We even earn Rupees 500 per week.”
Since the productivity was high and less water was required, a lot of the farmers said that they would like to gradually increase the plot size as they are now more comfortable with the techniques and methodology. The entire process was also inclusive and participatory from the beginning, hence we believe it will be sustainable in the long run. Multilayer farming might just have provided farmers in Maharashtra – who had fallen prey to recurring droughts over the last few years – with some respite while improving their food and nutrition security.
Prithviraj Gaikwad and Shreya Banerjee work at the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) – research unit, the WOTR Centre for Resilience Studies (W-CReS)
Image: Studying a future farming plot, credit WOTR