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Indian Farmers Usher in Sustainable Farming Practices

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Manvendra owns a very small piece of land in the Chandura village of Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh in India. Until a couple of years ago, he lived on subsistence returns from traditional farming of cereals. Now he cultivates flowers, which have a lucrative market in the neighbouring cities.

Manvendra is just one among thousands of marginal farmers who are experimenting with different and additional crops. With advice from LifeLines Agriculture, farmers in Uttar Pradesh have adopted more sustainable agricultural practices like beekeeping, poplar plantation, cluster plantation and mushroom cultivation. They are also growing flowers like gladioli, rose and sunflower.

Indian farmers live and work in harsh environments with daily challenges -- a crop failure or animal illness away from catastrophe. Many of their problems are well understood with known solutions, but the farmers lack access to timely information. By connecting farmers with experts using voice technology, OneWorld South Asia centre -- a nonprofit affiliate of the OneWorld International Foundation -- created a scalable way to disseminate quality information to farmers when they need it most.

LifeLines Agriculture is a telephonic advisory service set up by OneWorld South Asia with the support of Cisco Systems and British Telecom. The service offers expert advice to farmers to manage their traditional crops better, and to diversify to improve their income levels.

LifeLines Agriculture is now available to more than 150,000 farmers in 1,000 villages. Experts respond to an average of 350 calls per day, most within 24 hours.

Improving the financial condition of marginal farmers has far reaching implications, because the sector employs the highest number of people in India. It prevents the migration of poor people from rural areas to urban areas in search of jobs, and increases their spending capacity, which improves the state of the economy in rural areas.

Farmers are also expanding into economically rewarding practices like piggery, poultry and cultivating medicinal plants like aloe vera, ashwagandha, peppermint, turmeric and tulsi. Cultivation of fruits like papaya, mango, guava, pomegranate, orange and lemon are also picking up as these have a more ready market than traditional cereals.

To top it all, LifeLines also promotes sustainable agriculture practices. For instance, Santosh Kumar from Katra village in Lucknow was reluctant to spend on chemical solutions to get rid of farm pests like insects, mites and weeds. Lifelines experts advised him to use locally available ingredients without spending a penny.

LifeLines also guides farmers to use organic solutions like cow dung, organic composts, NADEP compost, manure made of fodder and dry leaves, vermi compost, as well as other methods such as introducing earthworms in the field, which are locally available for free.

Phyto pesticides like neem oil, neem kernel, neem cake and neem bark, which are usually available in the backyard of every Indian household and are environment friendly measures, are also becoming popular with farmers.

The changing role of small land holding owners makes agriculture more sustainable financially and environmentally. Sustainable practices ensure optimum use of land, a resource which is becoming scarce with growing demands from a steep rise in the population. And these positive developments are triggered by the use of critical ICT solutions like LifeLines Agriculture.