Building last mile connect to deliver extension services for farmers

This blog briefs about Dr. Reddy’s Foundation’s agriculture initiative MITRA and the Lead Farmer Platform approach to deliver last mile agriculture extension services. (Published in AVPN)

At Present: Critical Agri Extension Services Gap in India

In India, 60% of the households are dependent on agriculture for their primary source of income. However, 70% of 100 million small & marginal farmers don’t have access to critical agri extension services. In spite of the government investing resources in strengthening the public agri extension system, only 9% of the population uses the public-sector extension for information.[1]

One of the most significant short coming of public agricultural extension is its inability to reach small and marginal farmers due to absence of strong and effective last mile connect at the village level.

The Multiplier Effect of a Lead Farmer

Nonetheless, various studies globally and in India have shown that farmers prefer to learn from fellow farmer primarily because of ease of access, social closeness and the trust developed between both. When lead farmers play a key role in sharing the knowledge, they stand a chance of doing better than technicians because they are more familiar with the audience and environment. Indeed, this farmer to farmer extension approach (or, lead farmer approach) can reach a large number of farmers at low cost through multiplier effects.

However, these lead farmers had not been very active in their appointed roles, and monetary incentives to scale this approach are ineffective due to unsustainable financial constraints. Influenced by multiple factors and vested interests, the right fit farmer has to be carefully screened during the selection process.

Training Right Fit Farmers to become village level resource person for fellow farmers 

Through its MITRA program, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation (DRF) is developing a process of selecting and developing right fit lead farmers who deliver extension services to 70-80% of small and marginal farmers. By leveraging on the expertise available in the eco system, we are compounding the impact for the community, ecosystem and partners. By end of two years, every hamlet will have 2-3 lead farmers serving the fellow farmers in accessing know-how of new/ improved agronomy and other important practices.

Without providing any monetary incentives, DRF trains lead farmers with help of KVK/ATMA or Agri University (district level public extension system) to deliver these extension services through informal trainings and demonstration support. In addition, the MITRA program promotes agripreneurs by providing inputs supplies and market linkages, depending on market gaps.  This helps to reduce the cost of cultivation and improve the yield to getter better economic returns.

The program has been in implementation since June 2016 in 14 clusters covering more than 360 villages in 7 states. Till date more than 550 lead farmers have been identified who are practicing the new agriculture practices and helping fellow farmers to implement them. The MITRA program is also working with 4 knowledge partners in the area of off-farm livelihoods, entrepreneurship incubation, water management, financial literacy.

Case Study: Lead farmer, Kanhaiya Yadav, in a small village called Daina

Kanhaiya Yadav’s unwavering commitment to learn from scientists and other experts enabled him to pass knowledge on to his community so that together, they can make Daina, a model entrepreneurial village.

Altogether, Kanhaiya Yadav has:

  • Conducted more than 20 informal learning gatherings for fellow farmers in his village in a span of 6-8 months;
  • Encouraged about 70-80 farmers to learn improved practices from him;
  • Kept himself updated and networked with other progressive farmers from nearby villages through “Forum Meetings” to share experiences and learn from one another.

Moving Forward

The MITRA team aims to nurture the relationship between lead farmers and the block/district level public extension system in 3 years. This will enable the lead farmers’ platform to become institutionalized and sustainable.

Looking forward, we aim to work with other foundations and other CSR programs to scale up the program in coming two years.

[1] As per 2015 NSSO survey, public-sector extension was used for information by only 9 percent of survey respondents.

Suman S | Program Lead – MITRA & ACE

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