From its inception, SJI has focussed on strong, ongoing research to ensure that all activities have a sound evidence base, are grounded in local realities, and are carefully monitored and evaluated for effectiveness and success. Research also sends early warning signals of any problems that enable us to identify challenges and enact required changes.
In no area of our work has this research emphasis been greater than in our transition to organic agriculture. Beginning with our initial 2010-12 Profile of SamdrupJongkhar, through several farmer surveys, development of an Organic Resources Database, and most recently a comprehensive research report taking stock of our agriculture work from 2011-15, we have documented both successes and challenges that remain.
We have also frequently adjusted our activities in response to research findings. For example, we found that many farmers were not effectively implementing what they learned in the trainings, in part because most are illiterate and unable to take notes on issues like correct compost mixtures and other details, and in part due to resource and labour shortages.
In response, SJI shifted its training methods to focus on Agriculture Extension Officers, lead farmers, and ‘farmer promoters’ who in turn can train other farmers, lead by example, monitor progress among fellow farmers, and provide hands-on advice to their colleagues in farmer-to-farmer learning exchanges. This strategic shift, in direct response to our research findings, has proved highly successful.
Our research also uncovered significant areas in which we could build on existing local knowledge, and we discovered ways to improve our research methodology based on information gaps discovered.
In sum, our agriculture research is practical and action-oriented rather than just scholarly, and it ensures that our field activities stay on target and respond to actual needs.
SJI agriculture research themes and focus areas include:
- Cropping patterns in Dewathang, Orong, Phuntshothang, and Pemathang Gewogs;
- Key challenges faced by farmers, including labour shortages, wildlife and pest predation, water shortages, nutrient losses due to lack of terracing, marketing and transportation difficulties, and more;
- Sources of agricultural information – from government agriculture extension officers, SJI trainers, parents and family members, fellow farmers, etc.
- Farmer groups and cooperatives;
- Adoption of Jersey and Jersey-cross breed cattle, and advantages and disadvantages compared to local breeds;
- Agricultural livelihoods, including income and revenue sources, costs of farm inputs, and difficulties competing with cheap imported produce from India;
- Transition to organic farming, including productivity levels, availability of manure for compost, training uptake, local seed availability, and more.,
- Influence of religion and traditional knowledge;
- Seed saving and diversity.
A significant change in our research methodology led to our 2014 farmer interviews focusingmore on the views that farmers wanted to share with researchers, The views they shared, including aspects of traditional farming, what influences their agricultural decision making, and their views on modernization and change in the region, covered important issues we had missed in our earlier more pre-determined, quantitative surveys.
Thus our research themes in 2014 produced valuable new information on:
- Household demographics;
- Daily life and division of labouron the farm;
- Reliance on off-farm income;
- Effectiveness and shortfalls in trainings;
- Change in cropping systems since childhood;
- Seed saving;
- Disappearance of crops that were abundant in farmers’ parents’ time;
- Maintaining soil fertility;
- Pests and disease, and methods to overcome these;
- The role of religion in farm decision-making;
- Functioning of farmer and dairyoo-operatives;
- Impacts of modernization; and
- Farmers’ dreams for the future and for their children; and more
For the most recent research paper (139 pages) on agriculture research results for 2011-15, click here.
Following is a very small sample of the many valuable results. But please note that each of these and many other items are not simply reported as bald findings as in this small sample. They are always accompanied in our research reports by analysis that attempts to understand the reasons for the findings.
- Farmers in Dewathang and Orongfocus largely on dairy and vegetable production while rice is the main cash crop in Phuntshothang and Pemathang.
- A significant proportion of interviewed farmers had not adopted what they learned in the organic agriculture trainings for various reasons including labour and resource shortages, illiteracy, and force of habit.
- Due to major differences in altitude, micro-climates, soil and other conditions not only between Gewogs, but also between and within Chiwogs, a single agriculture development or training strategy for SamdrupJongkhar as a whole is not possible or desirable. Different recommendations, trainings, and strategies are required for different districts. At the same time, this intra-dzongkhag diversity holds great promise for greater food self-sufficiency.
- Survey work from 2011-14 uncovered a wide range of traditional organic agriculture practices inherited from previous generations. Trainings can be geared to building on these existing best practices.
- Common problems and challengesin SamdrupJongkhar agricultureinclude crop raiding by wild animals, inadequate seed saving (and increasing reliance on external seed sources), pests and disease, inadequate food storage leading to spoilage and waste, and labourshortages.
- The research findings also identified important opportunities on which SJI can build.Based on farmer interviews, some future strategies that show promise include:
expansion of the farmer promoter network,
information dissemination and sharing among farmers,
reintroducing healthy traditional crops (such as buckwheat, amaranth, different kinds of millet) that are disappearing,
building awareness on the importance of local foods, and
the potential for greater value added and small-scale processing of foods.