Like most people his age in a nondescript village in Bihar's Gaya district, he chases dreams and comes across as an average teenager who fancies the looks of a matinee star. But what sets Jayjeet Kumar, a Class VIII student apart is the poise with which he trains people sometimes twice his own age and experience about new and improved farming techniques.

With an award from the State government to his credit, this teen could be the poster boy of an emerging community of farmers who are benefiting from the changes being introduced in agriculture. Jayjeet, who convinced his father and a neighbour about the benefits of switching over to the system of root intensification in rice and wheat, is now a trainer whose expertise is being sought by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

“I was in school and staring out of the window when I saw a field which was full of healthy abundant crop. I asked around and found out what practices the farmer was following, and later I convinced my father and a neighbour to learn about the practice, SRI,” said Jayjeet.

Occasionally breaking into a few words of English, he explained in detail the SRI practice of growing crop, its advantages and why it needs to be emulated. “Even in the drought-hit Sekhwara village, the farmers who use SRI method have had good crop.”

Jayjeet, who was awarded on Bihar Divas with a certificate that proclaims him the “young star”, said he has now been invited to Madhya Pradesh to train farmers on the SRI and SWI (system of rice intensification and system of wheat intensification) method.

Project Jeevika

Like Jayjeet, there are several other success stories of farmers who switched to the SRI method that was introduced in Gaya as part of the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project launched in 2007 with aid from the World Bank.

Christened Jeevika, the project also has contributions from the government of Bihar and the community itself. The project, currently under implementation, is aimed at improving the socio-economic conditions of the rural poor in eight districts of Bihar. The project covers about 4,000 villages across Gaya, Muzzafarpur, Nalanda, Madhubani, Khagaria, Purnea, Madhepura and Surpaul, covering a population of about 5.9 lakh.

Improving the stock of farmers is just one aspect of the project, it also targets women's empowerment through self-help groups, community institutions and improving income of the poor through sustainable livelihoods and increasing access to social protection, including food security. Having managed to win over the scepticism, Jeevika officials said the SRI and SWI system has had a visible impact on the produce as well as the earnings of these otherwise small farmers.

“In villages like Bhusia, Ghantadeeh etc, the farmers have small holdings, on an average the farm is about an acre. When we first started to propagate the use of SRI and SWI, there weren't many takers. People were apprehensive and we had a tough time convincing them. But when the results came and the few farmers who followed the method ended up with produce that was three to four times more than what came from the traditional way of cultivation, we had more people willing to adopt the SRI and SWI,” said Jitender Kumar, District Project Manager, Jeevika, Gaya.

Many advantages

The SRI and SWI have several advantages. The first being it requires less water. In the State where water is an amenity not easily available and droughts not uncommon, the method has been a boon. “The method uses less water, less seeds and increases productivity by several folds,” said Anil Kumar, the Pradhan of Jeevika in Gaya. He said that as against 0.6 to 2 tonnes per hectare from the traditional system, SWI and SRI give a yield of 6 to 8 tonnes per hectare. In the SRI and SWI, the farmers need to plant germinated seeds.

“All they have to do is plant germinated seeds giving ample space between each planting. If they follow the exact procedure laid down, they have nothing to lose, but plenty to gain,” said the Pradhan. In SWI, the average numbers of tillers (shoots that sprout from the base of a grass) are between 45 and 60 as against the 4 to 5 tillers under traditional practices. “It [the method] put the farmers in an advantageous position. They need less seeds for sowing, they need less water, the use of labour is less and the yield is more,” said the Pradhan.

The impressive yield has sure inspired other farmers to switch over to the SWI and SRI, but many say they are daunted by the “labour intensive” aspects of the practice. While Jeevika officials contest this, pointing out that the labour input is less, Ram Sevak, a farmer who has been felicitated for his innovative and best practices in farming, says he opted not to shift to SRI and SWI because of the labour it requires.

“My produce has been equal to what the SWI would have fetched, but the only thing that deterred me was the labour that it required,” says the farmer, who however intends to try out the SWI.

The concerns notwithstanding, propagators of the SRI and the SWI like Jayjeet Kumar are upbeat about the changes that the method will bring about in their villages. “It will take time, but I will keep on learning and teaching. The technique has worked well for vegetables too, so now we will focus on other crops as well,” he said with the confidence of one who has tasted success.