AMS research by volunteer Oliver Shasha

In August 2018, Shivia volunteer Oliver Shasha travelled to West Bengal to report on the impact of Agri-management Services.  Here is his account of his field visit:

I spent a period of four weeks working with Shivia in West Bengal this August, focussing on the AMS programme. Whilst I had expanded my knowledge of the development sector, and specifically the role of agriculture in improving livelihoods, during my university degree, the opportunity to see Shivia’s work on the ground was invaluable. During the course of my work I researched the various government schemes on offer to the farmers; how their incomes have been impacted following Shivia’s intervention and also looked at viable e-commerce partners for the produce.

A typical day would consist of either carrying out desk-based research at the office in Kolkata or heading out to the farms in the villages where Shivia operates (Sundia and Familia locations in this case). I was able to speak to farmers who were new to Shivia; those who had been with Shivia since the start of the AMS programme and everything in-between – with the help of Nirdhan’s General Manager Joe to translate of course! Despite the farmers not keeping accounts or being able to provide accurate answers to fuel data-driven research, what stuck with me was the obvious social impact made through the intervention. Those who have been working with Shivia for over three years had evidently healthier looking crops when compared to their neighbours, thanks to better inputs particularly through bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides which farmers are trained to produce themselves free of cost. Given the small margins the farmers have, these changes meant they were able to rent more land, pay for better education and healthcare for their children and make small improvement to their homes.

My experience also highlighted the uncertainty and hardships many farmers face. Government initiatives such as training programmes, crop insurance and the provision of free inputs (e.g. seeds) are inconsistent and are capped in each area making planning difficult for farmers. Furthermore, political issues have made partnerships with the fledgling e-commerce sector particularly difficult, adding to existing infrastructure issues. Whilst the introduction of bio-pesticides has helped reduce the number of crops lost to pests and disease, severe weather conditions and the issue of over-supply in the market further added to the frustration of farmers. My interviews made me value and understand how the relationships between the Shivia/Nirdhan Livelihood Service Providers (LSPs) and farmers is key to their overall success. The skills training and organisational help they offer the farmers makes a big impact but it is also the trust they have in the Nirdhan field team which encourages them to continue to pursue farming as a viable livelihood enterprise.

Overall, the opportunity to conduct research into the AMS programme and see the work Shivia is undertaking first hand was incredibly insightful and has encouraged me to undertake further work in this impactful sector. Thank you to Olly and everyone at Shivia in the UK and Nirdhan in India!


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