Profitable and Climate Resilient Smallholder Farmers in Northeast India

I recently visited my aQysta colleagues in Guwahati, in the northeastern region of India, where we started working with small farmers within our Farm Incubator last year. We provide these farmers with renewable irrigation technologies and market linkage services to make them more profitable and climate-resilient.

Guwahati: Birds, cars and dosas

Guwahati is one of India’s fastest-growing cities, located beside the mighty Brahmaputra river in the region of Assam. Assam is known for its lush green landscapes, varied wildlife and bountiful natural resources. It is also one of the world’s largest tea-producing regions. The throe between human development and nature is very present in Guwahati. The sounds I remember the most are the beautiful bird sounds in the quiet spots, and the endless car honking in the more crowded areas. Guwahati’s traffic chaos is a true spectacle in itself, of which I failed to make any sense. As my colleague, Bipasha, told me: “the one rule we have in traffic is that there are no rules”.

I flew to Guwahati in mid-February, just after the most strict COVID-19 regulations were lifted. I was warmly welcomed at the airport by my colleagues, Rahul and Bipasha, who I met face-to-face for the first time. In the back of Rahul’s car, with 30 degrees Celsius outside, I remember thinking how lovely it was to escape the Dutch winter for the first time in 29 years. Rahul and Bipasha helped me find a comfortable place to stay, and I even had the fortune of staying with an Assamese family as their first international guest. I slept in a small cabin in a stunning garden overlooking the Brahmaputra river, where I occasionally enjoyed tea with my hosts, Aunty (grandmother) and Jumoni. I lived in a lovely and safe area close to our office, where I enjoyed many local delicacies, like the paneer curries and doses, which never seemed to bore me

Rural Assam: Farmers, scarfs and TV crews

One of my reasons for my trip to Assam was to meet the farmers we work with and learn more about the farming activities in our Farm Incubator. Many tribal and marginalized farmers in this area remain critically poor and are vulnerable to the consequences of erratic weather patterns and climate change. In our Farm incubator, we partner with small farmers and provide them with knowledge, technology and training to help them grow commercially attractive crops to become more profitable and climate-resilient. We also support farmers in selling their crops on the market to ensure they receive a fair price for their produce.
My colleague, Rahul, took me to meet the farmers we partnered with who live in the remote areas of Assam. In doing so, we met some of our other colleagues, Biplab and Kalpa, who live in the farmer communities and support farmers daily. The farmers welcomed me to their garlic fields, which looked healthy and green. They also demonstrated their irrigation process, which they do with renewable irrigation solutions which use solar power to pump water from a nearby river to their field. As a surprise, a television crew was waiting for us during a site visit, and I had to prepare myself for my first television appearance ever. We ended each visit with a small ceremony, in which the community leader gave me a traditional scarf to wish me good fortune.

It was delightful to meet happy farmers, who appeared very grateful for the opportunity provided to them by our colleagues, Biplab and Kalpa, who have been born and raised in the farmers’ communities. There seemed to be an environment of trust between the farmers and the aQysta staff, which felt like a community working together instead of a transactional relationship. The farmers also explained that this collaboration’s impact reaches beyond raising their productivity and incomes, as they believe they can now inspire future generations by making farming more attractive as a profession.

Meghalaya: Spices, water pumps and long drives

During the last few days of my trip, we visited Meghalaya (‘land of the clouds’), a mountain state in the northeastern region of India famous for its spice crops (like ginger and turmeric), where we also aim to establish a presence soon. We were invited by a local priest interested in showcasing our “Barsha Pump”, a hydro-powered water pump that uses the power of nearby flowing water sources (like rivers and channels) to pump water to farmers’ fields. This renewable solution could support his community with reliable irrigation for growing their crops. After having lunch together, we set out to find a place in the area with a sufficient flow rate for the Barsha Pump to operate to see an example of the pump in action. After a successful site visit, we prepared ourselves for the long drive home.

It was great connecting with my Indian colleagues during the many hours we spent together in the car. My colleague Biplab asked me to name similarities between the Dutch and Indian people, which I found challenging to find at that moment. What we share most, in my opinion, is an entrepreneurial mindset with an eye for making deals and for getting things done together. Many people I met in India, from farmers to investors, seemed to look at the world through opportunities, which always excited me. That feeling also gives me confidence in future partnerships we can establish in India and increase the positive impact we can make on small farmers’ livelihoods.

I look forward to actively being part of that.

Martijn Piek (Fundraising Officer, aQysta)

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