The Baiga tribe is a community living in central India. The loss of forest areas – their main resource for centuries – as well as the climate crisis, has made them very vulnerable. In recent years, learning agroecology has allowed them to develop new means of survival in harmony with nature and adapted to climate change.
The project aims to strengthen the adaptive capacity of the farming community to climate change. To achieve these objectives, the application of agroecological methods is encouraged and seed banks are created. The project will also strengthen the capacity of community institutions and their adaptation, strengthen the leadership role of women, and establish sustainable management of natural resources.
The project is financially supported by the SDC.
The project is part of the Sufosec alliance program.
The Baiga are an ethnic group that inhabit the fringes of the Indian forests. In the past, they practised shifting agriculture, living from cattle, hunting and the forest. They were also known for their knowledge of medicinal plants and were considered healers by other communities. Unfortunately, the clearing of land for agriculture has eroded the available forest space. The community members lost their valuable role and their main life resource. They settled down, trying to cultivate small plots of land to supplement the income they got from working in the surrounding farms. But their lack of agricultural knowledge and climate change often made cultivation impractical. The lack of food was often felt. Baghotin Bai, a member of the Baiga community in Kukrapani village, recalls:
Many times we had to make do with pej (a thick soup made by boiling crushed maize in water) and pulses. We used to depend on the local market to buy two or three varieties of vegetables depending on the money available. We used to keep the pulses for year-round consumption, which was not enough.
Bhagotin Bhai invests a lot of time in weeding and removing stones from her fields.
A practice that respects traditions
Tired of not being able to make ends meet, the Baigas became interested in agroecology. This sustainable farming practice was particularly well suited to the specific characteristics of the terrain and the traditions of the community: respect for nature and a holistic philosophy. SWISSAID supported them in this process through the local NGO Prerak, which is specialisez in the conservation of natural resources and ecological agriculture. Together, they developed sustainable livelihoods for 788 Baiga families in the Kabirdham district of India.
Solidarity with India
Experimentation and learning
The families involved were able to start their learning on experimental plots. There they tested various learned practices, such as the use of local seeds, natural fertilisers and pesticides, as well as the introduction of optimal crop spacing, mixed crops and intercropping. These trainings were punctuated by visits to other farmers’ groups to exchange best practices.
More diversity in the backyard
Since the introduction of the techniques in 2019, 91% of households have adopted at least four sustainable agricultural practices. In addition, over 200 hectares of land are now dedicated to agroecology. This practice has resulted in a 20% increase in productivity on this land. Baghotin Bai, who has experienced the transition, is delighted:
Today, we have ten quintals of Kodo millet from our own field to cover the needs of our family of five. We have also grown a vegetable garden in the backyard and can now eat more than 12 varieties of seasonal vegetables twice a day for most of the year. In addition, we eat fruits like papaya, guava, moringa and citrus fruits from our own garden. We used to spend about 300 rupees a week on vegetables. Now we use this money to buy other products like spices, oils, chicken and fish.
Sustainable production even in times of crisis
Kashiram Verma is a social worker who has spent many years developing the Baiga community. He too says he has seen an improvement in the living conditions of the Baiga people. He says the most telling evidence of this improvement is the resilience of families in the face of market closures due to Covid-19. “There were no cases of household hunger during the pandemic. Despite Covid-19 restrictions and the lack of local employment opportunities, families were able to meet their food needs. Vegetable gardens ensured that vegetables were available even when the government closed the markets.”