Improving livelihoods with innovative cropping systems on the East India Plateau

Case Studies
Agriculture, Food Security, Nutrition
​Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) University of Western Sydney (UWS) World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC) Advanced Centre for Water Resource Management (ACWADAM)
South Asia
Resource Publication Date:
December, 2013
Content Format:

This is one of 50 Harvesting Nutrition project case studies. Harvesting Nutrition was a contest held in 2012 and 2013 that showcased active projects working to improve the impact of agriculture and/or food security on nutrition outcomes. Co-sponsors were SecureNutrition, Save the Children UK, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Learn More.

Project Description: ​

The ACIAR project has two Development Objectives;

  1. Support and develop PRADAN’s education and training program,
  2. Scale out PRADAN’s development activity on the East India Plateau,

These development objectives are supported by five Research Objectives;

  1. Analyse variability in water resources and present this analysis to farmers in a manner useful for decision making,
  2. Remediate degraded paddy soils to facilitate growth of following (rabi) crops (pulses, oilseeds, vegetables),
  3. Work with local farmers to develop a wide range of (nutritious) cropping systems,
  4. Improve productivity and sustainability of (nutritious) goat production systems,
  5. Integrated analysis of future farming systems, including impacts on food and nutrition security.

Although presented as separate objectives, in practice project research activity is highly integrated. For example, research on Aerobic Rice (non-transplanted, non-puddled, direct seeded by hand in lines, manual weeding with wheel hoe, early sowing and harvesting, leading to early sowing of a nutritious rabi crop) has benefits in terms of climate resilience, reduced manual labour by women, and a more diverse, intensive, and nutritious range of crops. Research into the process of scaling out means that project research findings can potentially reach the 300,000 families currently engaged with PRADAN, and potentially a much larger number if project processes and innovations are adopted by the Indian government and non-government sectors.


Impact of project: ​

Impact Prior to Project After Project
Household Income Minimal cash income from on-farm activity.  Average annual household income increased by ₹ 10,400 over four years (2008-2011). Some households have earned ₹ 100,000 in one season from vegetables.
Food security 80% households only six months food security.  Nearly all households have 12 months food security. FS enhanced both from consumption of own production, and through purchases using higher income.
Nutrition security Malnutrition severe and widespread, particularly women and children. Nutrition intensive interventions include; pulses (Chickpea, Pigeon Pea, Black Gram, Mung Bean), oilseeds (Mustard), vegetables (Cow Pea, French Bean, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Gourds), forages for small ruminants (goats).
Distressed migration Young adults, particularly males, forced to leave home seeking low-paidemployment in towns and cities. Distressed migration almost absent due to attractive on-farm enterprises.
Participation in local markets Almost no participation in local markets to sell farm produce.  Regular participation in local markets. Some local youths employed as ‘consolidators’, collecting produce from individual farms to sell in markets. 
Climate resilience Traditional rice culture relies ontransplanting. Climate variability results in late transplanting and failed crops.  Rice now established by manual direct seeding into aerobic conditions. Using this method, rice crops can be sown on time withreliable crop yield even in dry years.
Empowering women Tribal women see themselves as labourers, with low self-esteem, and little capacity for improving their lives.  Tribal women begin to see themselves first as farmers, then as researchers and trainers. ‘Sense of agency’ facilitated and women acting as entrepreneurs.

Why this project is a Good Practice example: ​

Firstly, consider the nutritional ‘big picture’. The ‘lived reality’ of local farmers, both men and women, is extremely tough. India is one of a group of south Asian countries that stand out with an over-reliance on cereals (rice) to meet energy requirements, resulting in widespread malnutrition. Within India, the state of Jharkhand is one of the poorest regions (, and poor nutrition is the major contributor to this extreme poverty. There is great need for nutrition interventions, and great opportunity.

Secondly, appreciate key drivers in the target area. Despite (or perhaps because of) widely held views that the area is ‘backward’ and a ‘wasteland’, there are underutilised land and water resources available for agriculture. Medium upland soils are ideal for vegetables, and residual soil water after rice can grow a second (nutritious) crop. Strong market demand for vegetables, resulting in high prices and attractive on-farm enterprises creates an economic setting where a majority of farmers can invest in on-farm enterprises with confidence.

Thirdly, focus on the process of engagement in the project. Project interventions include both technical innovations (e.g. aerobic rice, vegetable cultivation) and process innovations (on-farm research by Self Help Groups). Our process of agricultural research provides a context and setting for women farmers to succeed in public. They experience success, they are partners in research, and they provide learning for other farmers. In short, we are facilitating a ‘sense of agency’ through this process, with lasting benefits for livelihoods, not least in improved nutrition for village families.


Impact Evaluation:

Impact evaluation in progress


Lessons Learned:

The partnership between PRADAN (a development agency) and UWS (in this context an agricultural research agency) has been key to success.  Our focus is on improving livelihoods, and agricultural interventions are considered through this lens, and investigated only after local community endorsement.  The process of community engagement involves a long-term partnership, leading to trust and mutual respect.  Technical interventions (e.g. Aerobic Rice), are evaluated as a research activity and an opportunity for mutual learning, rather than simply extending existing technology.  Changing perceptions through participation in the research, including facilitation of a ‘sense of agency’, leads to changed management practices and behaviour, including enhanced nutritional outcomes.

Having respect for the different knowledge and world views of stakeholders is essential.  This respect has led to an awareness of the potential for local smallholders to be innovative, and a need for researchers and development practitioners to step back, create space, to encourage local innovation to proceed.  In this way capacity for ongoing innovation is fostered, reducing future need for handouts or government assistance.  It is alsoimportant that the key drivers mentioned above; underutilised natural resources, and strong market demand; create the economic conditions whereby on-farm investments provide attractive returns for farmers.

We are actively learning about our process of farmer engagement and on-farm research.  Our approach ensures that research is highly relevant to the needs of local communities, but we also need to maintain rigour in our experimental designs, data collection and analysis.  This is an ongoing and evolving challenge.



Funders: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Primary Contact: Mr Ashok Kumar, Thematic Integrator, project leader in India, PRADAN

Country: India

Project Dates: First project, commence July 2007-June 2012. Second project, commence May 2013, ongoing

Interventions: Assess the context at the local level, Empower women, Facilitate production diversification, Incorporate nutrition promotion and education,

Target Population: Women, Women farmers, Rural households, Rural farmers,

Project Stage: Ongoing activities

Geographic Coverage: State/Province