Group farming or community farming is one of the best representations of how farming brings people together and creates food security. As the term implies, it denotes a method of farming which:
- Brings together marginal or small farmers
- Helps augment livelihood and
- Creates locally grown produce for the community around
It is also pertinent to note that in most instances of such community farming, the farmers use sustainable methods of growing crops and are doing so on small pieces of land. It is about local food production rather than producing commercial crops.
As per the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers Welfare, farm land sizes are classified from marginal to large as follows:
- Large- 10 hectares and above
- Medium - 4 to 10 hectares
- Semi-medium - 2 to 4 hectares
- Small - 1 to 2 hectares and
- Marginal - below 1 hectare
Small and marginal farms are typically used to grow staples and crops for personal consumption. Recent trends also show that small & marginal farmers are becoming wage labourers to shore up their income levels. According to a report on Agricultural Households, farmers with very small fields (less than 0.01 hectare) earned 55% of their monthly income from wages.
It may be correct to state that small farms, in isolation, are not capable of supporting a family in terms of monetary income but they can support a family with food. But, what happens to a farmer who does not have enough resources to cultivate their own land? Perhaps this is where community farming can play a bigger role.
India and group farming
When small farmers grow crops on small parcels of land, they are faced with numerous challenges such as access to financial support, irrigation networks and even weaker economic viability in the markets. But when a community of farmers decides to come together to unite their lands into a bigger and more feasible size, they get to enjoy more benefits.
Take the example of the work done by the Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD) in Odisha’s Tumajore village. This small village struggled with food insecurity. A group of marginal and small farmers came together under the aegis of the CYSD to take up community farming of the pointed gourd, known locally as parwal. With just 3.5 acres of land, these farmers were able to support 19 households with additional income in just 6 months. This initiative has grown tremendously since its origins in 2001.
Women are being helped in this space of community farming as well. One example of this is in Himachal Pradesh where women farmers are getting support from Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Yojana. Another instance is the Kudumbashree Mission in Kerala that is helping all-women farms by creating and sustaining Joint Liability Groups. This project started in 2000 and has reached over 68,000 farms today.
And as Dr Bina Agarwal, winner of the 2017 Agropolis Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food puts it, “group farms displayed more economic resilience and food security than family farms during the Covid-induced national lockdowns.”
This is one of the best validations for community farming in India.