Using larvae to help India’s farmers

Have you missed me? I’ve been out at the sticks checking out farms and they don’t tend to have much tinterweb access there. Or electricity, for that matter…

I know I’m pretty lucky to be seeing parts of India that your general tourist wouldn’t have a chance to see, but I wish visiting these places didn’t involve staying in ‘hotels’ with doors that weirdly only bolt from the outside and open onto a street like this…

shack

Or eating by yourself in dodgy restaurants who seem angry about having to serve outsiders and give you an extra bit of protein baked into your naan:

Tasty

I’d travelled just over 300 miles east of Mumbai to a place called Baramati, in Maharashta state. Maharashta is a key agricutural region, with farmers here taking advantage of the warm, tropical conditions to grow things like mangoes, bananas and sugar cane

The six-hour journey through the mountainous, jungle area and then on through grassland was much smoother than the drive in Delhi. Traffic seemed calmer and the roads were pretty decent – there were men quarrying (by hand) at various intervals, with the stone being mixed with tar and poured into the potholes caused by the monsoon rains.

The mammoth drive was in aid of visiting somewhere called Krishi Vigyan Kendra – a government-supported but otherwise independent farm science centre which offers help, training and advice to farmers in the region.

The idea is the centre takes all the latest crop science, technological advances and scientific research from universities and research institutes and passes it on to farmers through workshops and training days.

Experts in the centre all also involved in something called the aAqua scheme – a portal providing information and advice to farmers who post questions online. Through the scheme and the work at centre, KVK helps out about 60,000 farmers every year.

The centre has various faculties looking at different areas of production such as soya, pomegranate and figs. The idea is the 30 or so researchers here test out the latest science and work out how producers can quickly apply it to their farms and help boost production.

On Thursday I stopped off at the sericulture unit to look at the work being done there. For those of you who aren’t big on your larvae cultivation, sericulture is the rearing of silkworms for the production of silk. Farmers have between 0.5 acres and 5 acre sheds with wooden bars where they let the little moths hang out and pupate before they are picked, boiled and unravelled to be spun into silk thread. Each cocoon produces about 700m of silk thread, which is spun on a loom and then sent off to be dyed.

Silk production
KVK has it’s own little silk production unit (it’s one of the ways it helps raise money to pay for the centre), taking cocoons from 1000 farmers in the area and producing 16m of silk a day. All the silk is sold at the centre, mainly to the farmers who come here for training or to buy the fertiliser, seed and pesticide the centre also produces. Any profits go back to the government, who in turn (supposedly) pump it back into the centre.

It’s a nifty idea and one that – set within the entire KVK structure –  really seems to be making a real difference to farmers in the region.

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