The Convergence of Agricultural Interventions in Maharashtra (CAIM) has succeeded to a large extent in bringing about noticeable and sustainable improvement in the living conditions of the households and villages in distress, especially the ultra-poor households. This is the verdict of a study by the National Council of Applied Agricultural Research, a premier think tank.
CAIM was jointly funded by the state government, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and Sir Ratan Tata Trust. It was implemented in the Vidarbha region from 2012 to end-2018.
The Vidarbha region has been facing an acute agrarian crisis for quite some time, causing distress to a large part of the local population whose primary occupation is agriculture. The crisis has been shaped by a number of factors, including fragmentation of land leading to tiny landholdings, scanty and irregular rainfall, sparse irrigation facilities, and lack of opportunities for non-farm activities.
Six of the 11 constituent districts of Vidarbha—Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Wardha, Washim, and Yavatmal—have been most adversely affected by the crisis, which has tragically led even to a spate of suicides by farmers in the region. Against this backdrop, CAIM was conceptualized to fund a programme to ensure a steady increase in the incomes of the poor farmers and farm workers in the rural hinterland of Vidarbha.
“During the course of this study, NCAER worked on primary and secondary data, extensively scanning the extant literature, policy documents, and review reports from IFAD to arrive at its findings. The NCAER officials interacted with the CAIM implementation team, executives from the funding agencies, and the state government to gather valuable insights about the programme and its objectives,” says the study.
One of the typical features of the CAIM programme was that the beneficiaries were mostly identified during the course of the actual programme implementation. The NCAER also found that in addition to CAIM, 75 different schemes, often overlapping with each other’s domains, were also operating in the identified districts of the region. Consequently, it was difficult to accurately apportion or quantify the gains achieved by each intervention or scheme.
The major crops produced in the selected areas of Maharashtra are cotton, soybean, tur, gram, wheat, vegetables, fruits and fodder. Intercropping is also practised in some of the crops, such as intercropping of cotton with tur, and of soybean with tur.
“The prevalence of black cotton soil and a considerable difference in the day and night temperatures in the area makes it suitable for cotton farming. The area is, in fact, an established cotton tract of the country. Being a cash crop, and raw material for industry, cotton offers farmers an opportunity to earn high returns, though like all agricultural commodities, cotton too faces periodic fluctuations of demand and supply,” the study says.
Various measures like Better Cotton Initiatives (BCI), organic farming, and Low External Inputs for Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) were adopted in the CAIM villages for substantially lowering input costs and achieving higher productivity of cotton and other crops. These initiatives have resulted in a general shift to non-conventional farming.
The change in the net incomes of farmers adopting BCI is quite encouraging. Among those who adopted all aspects of BCI, 74 per cent reported increased net incomes, the study says.
Most of the Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) work in the CAIM villages was carried out through the convergence of various government schemes.
Most households reported positive results for SWC works. The key activity carried out was that of developing rainwater harvesting structures.
The respondents reported improvement in both the water table and the domestic supply of water. This facilitated an increase in the area under irrigated crops, adoption of multiple crops, and increased yield.
About 29 per cent of the respondents reported that they preferred the use of farm gate for selling their produce, whereas 64.8 per cent asserted that they preferred to sell their produce in the market.
Only about 4 per cent reportedly pooled production and the market in a group to get the benefit of collective bargaining.
The CAIM villages also exhibited the ability to take formal loans from banks, followed by self-help groups, which have achieved considerable penetration in the selected districts of Vidarbha. The share of savings bank loans was almost 62 per cent of the total, followed by 32 per cent for loans from SHGs.
Women’s empowerment is also a significant indicator of equal entitlement in an otherwise gender-discriminated society. The CAIM programmes targeted women’s empowerment as an exclusive programme through various initiatives such as debt redemption, drudgery reduction, micro-livelihood plan, ultra-poor support, social enterprise, and joint asset ownership, the study says.
Since the provision of sanitation, water, and electricity is a pre-requisite for improving living conditions, it is obvious that by focusing on these facilities, CAIM ushered in development in the selected villages through its productivity enhancing and income generation activities, the study says.
“After the CAIM intervention, there was evidence of greater awareness and literacy regarding banking transactions among women, the NCAER study says. “All the women in the selected areas were associated with at least one SHG. Most of the members readily revealed that their incomes as well as savings had increased due to the CAIM interventions. They also reported the purchase of assets like motorcycles, color television sets, refrigerators, and fans, among other things, out of the surplus funds accumulated from economic activities started under CAIM.”