Better Life Farming (BLF) alliance, the initiative put together among others by Bayer and International Finance Corporation (IFC) — a member of the World Bank Group — hopes to reach out to small-time farmers to help them with better agronomic practices so that their yield can improve substantially. Nearly 2,000 small-time chilli farmers around Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and tomato cultivators in and around Ranchi in Jharkhand can look forward to a better future soon. A consortium of Indian and global firms specializing in diverse aspects of agriculture value chain is coming up with a novel initiative to help improve their returns from farming.

In 2018, the handholding will be extended to more than 2,000 farmers —1,570 chilli farmers in 122 villages in Varanasi, Mirzapur and Sonbadra districts and 500 tomato farmers in  Jharkhand. The alliance also has plans to support maize farmers in the near future.

Last year, the project was commercially scaled up to include 250 farmers. To help the farmers get better price for their produce, the alliance roped in DeHaat, an agritech start-up specializing in procurement of agricultural produce, and Bigbasket, an e-tailer.

The project was formally launched, even though the consortium has been working with a small band of farmers since 2016 as a small pilot involving 20 chilli farmers from 20 villages around Varanasi.

The farmers received guidance from experts associated with the project on the use of best agricultural practices and the latest technologies to grow green chillies.  As a result, they were able to double their yields and triple their farm incomes, said Srinath Bala, Bayer's Head of Marketing for South Asia Region, during a round table with media persons here.

Unlike chilli farmers in Andhra Pradesh, their counterparts in UP have little access to technology and, as a result, the productivity levels are very low, Bala informed . According to him, the project was part of the global BLF alliance opened in April this year to help smallholder farmers in developing countries. Other partners involved in the initiative are Netafim, a firm specializing in micro-irrigation, and Yara Fertilizers, which deals in speciality nutrients.

The role of Netafim's in the alliance was to exactly address the issues associated with water availability. According to Randhir Chauhan, Managing Director of Netafim India, fertigation technologies, even in regions where wa­ter is abundantly available, reduce vulnerability to weather changes and bring about significant increase in yields, ensuring  better returns. "We want to support smallholders because their empowerment is key to achieving  food security, said Peter R Mueller, Head of Crop Sciences at Bayer South Asia.

According to Shashank Kumar, founder and CEO of DeHaat, as part of the project, DeHaat procured 196 tonnes of green chillies in 2017, a substantial portion of which was exported to West Asia and Bangladesh, fetching the farmers better returns. "This year, we plan to procure 10,000 tonnes of green chillies," Kumar Said.

"Many smallholder farmers reach less than 20 percent of their potential productivity owing to limited access to inputs, credit and markets. The adverse effects of climate change further increases their risks," said Rick Vander Kamp, a senior official with IFC. 



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