Nature-positive farms on remote hillsides in India show the future of resilient farming

Share this to :

Monsoons are a mixed blessing for rain-dependent farmers in remote mountain villages: the deluges bring fields to life but also exacerbate degraded landscapes hammered by climate change. But implementing nature-positive agriculture, which can begin with overlooked local resources, can transform livelihoods and landscapes. Farmers in a village in western India are setting examples to follow on World Environment Day.

By: Mansi Tripathi, Abhijit Behera, Shweta Yadav, Alok Sikka (International Water Management Institute, NATURE+) and Jai C. Rana (Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, NATURE+). See full affiliations below.

Most farmers in India eagerly await the monsoon season to bring their fields to life. But for Hiraman Chandar Madhe, 56, a farmer from Chichondi village in Kalsubai, Maharashtra, India’s famous rain is not always a blessing. His family of 12 resides in the highest region of Maharashtra, at 1,600m above sea level. High-intensity rainfall on his steeply sloped farm makes it vulnerable to erosion and runoff, aggravating other climate-change challenges like high temperatures and erratic rainfall. But because necessity is the mother of invention, Hiraman implemented several nature-positive farming practices to manage water and use local agrobiodiversity, and found adaptive livelihood-supporting potential across the landscape. Hiraman’s farm is a pilot Nature-Positive Integrated Model Farm, established in collaboration with the CGIAR Nature-Positive Solutions Initiative and partners in India. The farms are part of a crucial transition to sustainable agriculture in the region to promote ecological balance, restore degraded landscapes, adapt to climate change, and mitigate the negative impacts of conventional farming.

Introduction

CGIAR’s Nature-Positive Solutions Initiative aims to ensure that agriculture is a net-positive contributor to nature. It focuses on re-imagining, co-creating and co-implementing nature-positive agrifood systems that equitably support local food systems and livelihoods. The concept of Nature-Positive Integrated Model Farms (N+IMF) is a key aspect of sustainable agriculture, which aims to promote ecological balance and mitigate the negative environmental impacts of conventional farming practices. Based on the concept of Integrated Farming Systems, N+IMF embodies the slogan for World Environment Day 2024 “Our land, Our future.” The idea is for N+IMF to serve as demonstration plots for mapping and showcasing the impacts and evidence of the Initiative with the potential of research, replication, amplification and comparative assessment.

Concept & key features

Nature-positive model farms are designed to work harmoniously with the natural environment, enhancing ecosystem services and biodiversity while maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity. These farms incorporate regenerative practices to create a more sustainable and resilient food system while conserving, managing and restoring landscapes, soil, water and agrobiodiversity. The vision behind N+IMF is to have micro watershed-level interventions where specific activities from NATURE+ work packages (Conserve, Manage, Restore, Recycle and Engage) are implemented in a focused manner. This will ensure an overall interlinkage of the entire watershed system with circular economic activity at its core. The outputs from one work package (WP) contribute to other WPs to create sustainable agri-food systems at the grassroots level. Such model farms have the potential to be replicated and scaled up at different levels and locations depending on the local conditions and resources.

Fig. 1: Spatial location Nature + Integrated Model Farm in Maharashtra, India.

 

 

 

The pilot N+IMF covers a 63-hectare micro-watershed in Chichondi Village of Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra (see fig. 1). The micro-watershed has a cluster of NATURE+ activities that contribute to land and soil conservation and restoration, water conservation, and recycling. The location will include several NATURE+ implementation activities, including area treatment (gully plug, bunding and staggered trenching ), plantations, lined farm ponds, dug wells, farming of azolla (an easy-to-grow livestock feed) and phytoremediation (which is the use of plants to clean contaminated environments). The implementation activities planned in the micro-watershed along with implementation partner BAIF (BAIF Development Research Foundation) include plantation drives (silvopastoral systems, bamboo, agroforestry trials), watershed development activities (gabions, dykes, recharge shaft) and circular bioeconomy practices like setting up of biogas units, which use farm waste, in households. All these practices will be undertaken in close collaboration with the community.

 

 

Fig. 2: NATURE + interventions that form the basis of site selection for N+IMF

 

 

Alongside implementation activities, NATURE+ also partners with ICAR-NIASM (The National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management) and MPKV (Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV)) Rahuri for monitoring and measurement of the impacts created by nature-positive interventions. These measurements are expected to form the basis of future research in improving the efficiency of nature-positive activities and identifying the symbiotic relationships that reap the maximum benefits in specific ecosystems. The results will also provide relevant inputs for developing a “composite nature-positive index” for easily communicating actions and impacts to local stakeholders.

The overall development and co-creation of the N+IMF will be a collective effort of NATURE+, its partners and communities; particularly women and youth. As a collective, the efforts put into the on-ground implementation in this study area are also expected to provide agroecological guidance that can benefit marginalized tribal communities. It will help them visualize avenues for additional livelihood sources and improve water and food security.

Challenges and opportunities

One of the major challenges expected to be encountered is ensuring a smooth transition from current intensive agricultural practices. Another challenge might be convincing the communities to contribute their time and energy to new activities, as time, effort and paradigm-shifting is needed for the success of the initial transition to nature-positive farming. However, focused community engagement and continuous dialogue with youth and women is expected to ease streamline the process and lead to long-term mutual benefits for everyone.

Conclusion

Nature-Positive Integrated Model Farms (N+IMF) are expected to play a key role in increasing water and food security and building more resilient and sustainable agri-food systems. These farms are expected to promote human well-being and ecosystem health complementarily; these are not mutually exclusive. They are also expected to reflect the impact of using regenerative methods, as the pilot will demonstrate the potential of replication and scaling-up of these methods, which have great potential to improve livelihoods, ecosystem services, biodiversity, soil health, energy efficiency, and agricultural outputs.

 

Author information:

Mansi Tripathi, Researcher – Resource Recovery and Reuse, IWMI

Abhijit Behera, Research Officer- Land and Water Management, IWMI

Shweta Yadav, National Researcher- Water Quality and Waste Management, IWMI

Alok Sikka – Principal Researcher & Country Representative (India), IWMI

Jai C. Rana– Senior Scientist & Country Rep. (India), The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Editing by Sean Mattson, NATURE+ and Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Share this to :