Lalita Bhalla, a grandmother in central India, and her husband Ramesh are small-scale farmers who used to struggle to grow enough food for their family. Since joining a Caritas farming project, they have seen their food situation improve.
They are now part of a Caritas farmer-led program that tests seeds and growing methods to find out what works best for small-scale farmers. Like many families in India, the couple has limited land, water, and money for pesticides and fertilisers. And like all farmers, they are plagued by diseases that can wipe out their source of food.
In the area where Lalita and Ramesh live, the yellow mosaic virus is a significant problem. Last year, it destroyed the whole crop.
The Caritas programme tests seeds and offers a choice of free seeds to farmers. “We give options. The farmer chooses,” says Valentine Pankaj, the Caritas programme coordinator.
Lalita and Ramesh picked the ‘black seed type IPU-94’ because it is resistant to the yellow mosaic virus.
Caritas creates seed banks that have a literal multiplier effect on the community. Instead of spending money, farmers receive seeds from the seed bank for free, and then return twice as much after their harvest.
Ramesh and Lalita returned several kilogrammes of seeds.
The farmer-led programme also holds outdoor sessions to teach farmers about practices such as summer ploughing, which kills off certain insects like grubs that burrow deep in the soil. In addition, Caritas helps some farmers become certified organic, which in certain cases means they receive more money for their produce.
“Before this project, we’d take loans to buy seeds and fertiliser. Now we don’t have to. We have seeds to eat, sell, and use to plant next season,” says Lalita.