Development & Application of a Farm Assessment Index for a holistic comparison between organic and chemical farming

THIS IS ABOUT A 3-YEAR RESEARCH PROJECT UNDERTAKEN BY ASHA, ALONG WITH IIT BOMBAY AND OFAI (ORGANIC FARMING ASSOCIATION OF INDIA).The report was released in the recently concluded 4th Kisan Swaraj Sammelan in Ahmedabad, on November 3rd 2018.

You can download the full report here.

A Synopsis is available here.

It was in an internal meeting in ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) in 2011 that a small thought was first articulated – that we need a HDI equivalent (Human Development Index) in agricultural sciences, and what it (HDI) managed to do to expose GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a narrow but much-used indicator of growth and development in our world today. For several working in the domain of ecological agriculture, the narrow focus mainly on yields in the mainstream agricultural development paradigm was disturbing and they wanted an assessment tool that was more holistic, that had the potential to capture overall performance of a particular agricultural paradigm on numerous fronts, beyond yields. This, it was felt, would be useful to farmers and policy makers too, to make decisions that are rooted in sustainability.

ASHA representatives reached out to Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), and also some scientists like (late) Dr Om Prakash Rupela to collaborate with us in this. They also began reaching out to several organisations working with farmers in different states, in promoting organic farming. Some states and locations were shortlisted where we could take up the comparison of organic farms with chemical farms, using a composite index that looks at social and environmental impacts too.  Sitting in Dharamitra’s campus in Wardha in 2012, an initial intense workshop was undertaken, about the scope and methodology of such a research endeavour. It was decided that a one-season or one-year study will not do. That it has to be over several seasons. There was no access to any funds at this point of time but the team decided to plod on with the idea taking shape slowly.

After visiting several places, the collaboration of Chetana Vikas and Dharamitra in Maharashtra, Tribal Health Initiative in Tamil Nadu, Chetna Organic project of Forum For Integrated Development in Odisha and Savayava Krushikara Sangha in Karnataka was enlisted for taking up field based research in four states. The contribution of these organisation to obtaining high quality field data, by extending the time of their senior staff voluntarily, to oversee the work of field enumerators regularly, is sincerely acknowledged. Field enumerators were local staff and their work is gratefully acknowledged.

The cooperation extended by all the farmers who participated in the study, in both the organic farm samples as well as the conventional ones, is noteworthy and sincere thanks are extended to them. Data collection began, using a survey-based methodology, with the questionnaires administered at three different points of an agricultural season, after an orientation to the field enumerators from all the 4 states and after a piloting of the questionnaires evolved.

It was in 2013 that IIT-Bombay’s CTARA came into the picture and this was a great boost to the whole effort. Prof Om Damani of CTARA and his doctoral student Siva Muthuprakash were instrumental in bringing in the theoretical framework to the development of the composite index and a more thorough sorting of indicators to be used. The methodology also shifted to inclusion of a farm diary to be maintained for each farmer by the field enumerators and not just a 3-time survey with questionnaires. It was a unique collaboration between a PhD student supported by an able guide and a set of civil society organisations, that started unfolding thereafter. Dr Srijit Mishra who was with IGIDR in Mumbai and later with NCDS in Bhubaneswar added to the methodological rigor required for a study like this. Within the collaborating organisations were scientific brains of Ashok Bang of Chetna Vikas and Dr Tarak Kate of Dharamitra, who are both ecological agriculture science experts. The insights and inputs of Kapil Shah of Jatan (Baroda) throughout the research project were very useful and valuable. While Siva Muthuprakash focused on the states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra for the purposes of his PhD, ASHA and OFAI focused on Odisha and Karnataka, to continue with the original 4-state effort. The “composite index” was also formally renamed as “Farm Assessment Index” or FAI.

While Dr OP Rupela passed away succumbing to cancer in 2015, his contribution to this study is enormous and significant, starting from discussions on indicators to be included, to framing of questions in the Questionnaire. The study also benefited from the inputs of Dr N Devakumar, who was with the Regional Institute of Organic Farming in University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.

In the entire effort, the support of Swissaid is notable. Starting from the initial pilot phase in 2012-13, they supported the study through their partner organisations like Indian Social Action Forum, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Forum For Integrated Development and Sahaja Samrudha. Joint review workshops on an annual basis and payment of honorarium to field enumerators was done with this support. Association for India’s Development (AID) also pitched in with a small grant at the beginning of this effort. Based on a proposal put in by IIT-B, NABARD extended its support to the research project for two seasons in the state of Maharashtra. This also enabled soil sample analyses to be taken up.

This research report is long over-due, after having completed its formal processes of wrapping up in 2017 and with Siva Muthuprakash submitting his PhD thesis in April 2018. A major part of this work was carried out and submitted by the first author for his partial fulfilment of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to CTARA, IIT Bombay, under the supervision of Prof. Om Damani, IIT Bombay, Mumbai. We advise any citation to this report should accompany the reference to the PhD thesis as per the details below

“Siva Muthuprakash (2018), Development and Field Application of the Farm Assessment Index (FAI) for Evaluation of Farming Systems, PhD Thesis, Centre for Technology Alternative for Rural Areas, IIT Bombay, Mumbai.”

Siva also developed an alternative, more user-friendly online tool for any stakeholder including farmers, to feed in data on their farming system along chosen parameters, obtain a Farm Assessment Index value and monitor progress or compare with other systems themselves. This demonstrated clearly that a simpler version of FAI is possible to evolve, for mass application.

It is hoped that the Farm Assessment Index developed here, on a stock-and-flow based framework, will indeed be adopted by the Indian National Agricultural Research System (NARS) so that research results are appraised holistically before they are disseminated and deployed on a large scale. The collaborators of this study are enthused by some recent announcements to this effect by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and sincerely encourage policy makers to use more comprehensive indices like FAI in their decision-making so that agricultural development is not lopsided, or short-sighted.


–          All Collaborators of this Research Project

November, 2018

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