Dr. Parveen Kumar
Given the importance of the agricultural in the Indian economy and the sector being a source of livelihood for more than half of the population in the country, the farm and the farmer needs to be put first. From the community development programme of 1952’s to the Training and Visit of eighties to present day Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) under National Mission on Agricultural Extension Technology (NMAET), the agriculture sector has always been on the forefront. The government of India has from time to time started many programmes for upliftment of the farming community. Earlier innovations have been supply driven providing information on a single commodity and based on a top down approach. The farmers’ participation was also almost negligible in earlier programmes. The farming community is a rich source of Indigenous Technical Knowledge and seldom was their traditional wisdom recognized.
The concept later changed; it was made broad based covering more commodities and also a shift from mere information to facilitation. Programmes like Rapid Rural Appraisal, Participatory Rural Appraisal and many others were started to ensure farmer participation. The research scientists were to play a facilitative role by helping the farming community to identify the problems themselves. As Indian agriculture is dominated by the presence of marginal and small farmers, special focus toward their technological inclusion has been on the top since long. The lab to land programme was started by ICAR in 1979 as a part of its golden jubilee celebration. The objective of the programme was to improve the economic condition of the small and marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers particularly schedule castes and schedule tribes. The programme aimed at transfer of improved technology developed by the agricultural universities and research institutes. The economic condition was to be improved by the introduction of low cost relevant agricultural and allied technologies on their farms and home to increase their employment, production and income. Besides this, it was also aimed to organize training programmes and other extension activities in relation to their adopted practices and prepare them for active participation in agricultural development programmes of the state.
We have achieved a considerable success in agriculture sector in terms of production and productivity, but still there are issues like farmers’ participation, indigenous knowledge, dissemination and adoption of technologies and many more that need to be addressed. Data reveals that marginal farmers having less than 1 ha of land and small ones having 1-2 ha of land constitute more than eighty per cent of the total. Thus more than eighty percent of the holding in the country are less than two hectares. These small holdings are further fragmented posing a great obstacle to farm mechanization process and in achieving resource use efficiency. As a result of this the economic viability of these holdings is under threat. The cost of cultivation of these small and marginal farms often exceeds the returns obtained from these farms. As part of the continuous effort to address all the relevant issues and to make the small farms more remunerative and sustainable, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has come up with another innovation and that is the ‘Farmer FIRST’ programme.
The FIRST in the ‘Farmer FIRST’ infact refers to five basic things that are at the core of development of farm and farming community. The acronym FIRST thus stand as F for farm, I innovation, R for resources, S for Science and T for technology. By this initiative, ICAR intends to focus specially on the small and marginal farmers the diverse risks they face in the farming sector. It puts farmer in a central position while identifying problems, setting priorities, conducting experiments and their management in farmers’ farming conditions. The farmers’ have to actively manage and implement the experimental trials by using labour and other resources to conduct experimental trials. It provides another opportunity to the farmers, the research scientists and the extension professional to work together and devise appropriate strategies to find out solution of the farming community. When farmers are involved in whole of the production and planning process; they are sure to get an opportunity to incorporate their own traditional wisdom to improve their farm situations. By this the farmers also improve their experimental and technology development capacity and they will have better access to extension programmes, services and information about relevant technologies, markets and many more. The extension worker on the other hand learns about new tools which will satisfy farmer needs. He will also get the much needed support of the farmer for better spread of results through farmers to farmers sharing.
The basic objective of the Farmers’ FIRST programme is to enhance farmer-scientist interface, enrich knowledge and facilitate continued feedback, to identify and integrate socially acceptable and economically viable farming models for different agro ecological regions. As females also constitute an important component of the workforce engaged in agriculture, the programme also aims to develop technologies that will help in their drudgery reduction, income enhancement and securing their livelihood. The different modules will be crop based, horticulture based, livestock based, integrated farming system based, different enterprises based, Natural resource management based that also take care of the climate resilient agriculture and many others. The Farmers’ FIRST will also stress to build linkages of the farm families with different institutions like banks, cooperatives, markets and other relevant actors to make them more visible, enhance their accessibility with the ultimate aim of their empowerment.
Although programmes of similar nature have also been started in the past, but the uniqueness of Farmers’ FIRST lies in its application not at the household level but also at village and community level as a part of the community led experimentation. It focuses on new way of doing and bringing in synergy between different stakeholders besides acknowledging the local wisdom as a vital element for development and dissemination of innovations. True to its name, it has all the ingredients of a sustainable collaboration, successful interface, mutually built partnerships, best use of resources, development of farming situation specific innovations with their upscaling as well as out scaling to get more returns per unit area and to retain more of the population in this noble profession.