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BAIF Development Research Foundation – Sustainable Development To Support Rural Families

Raj Melville

The dry ground, baked hard and crumbling, stretches out all the way to the horizon as we rattle along in a Sumo 4-wheeler a half hour out of Hubli in Karnataka State. A few scrawny bushes, struggling against the wind and heat, dot the landscape. Our host, Dr. Bhat from BAIF, points out some of the geographical features as we pass through several villages, each one smaller than the previous one. Finally we pull over in front of a compound and hop off as Dr. Bhat proudly points out the cluster of buildings that are BAIF’s rural training center.

Founded in 1967 by Manibhai Desai, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, in a backward village outside of Pune, BAIF (Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation) was setup with the intent of creating opportunities for gainful self employment for rural families, particularly in disadvantaged parts of India. BAIF’s unique approach starts with the premise that the rural family is the core development module. By providing solutions that help make the family unit self sustainable, the organization has had significant impact in raising the rural income level.

BAIF has resources in a number of areas ranging from livestock improvement to water resources development and agriculture/horticulture/forestry programs. BAIF takes a holistic approach to addressing a community’s issues. BAIF workers typically bring the target community together to determine the problems specific to their area and tailor solutions based on the economic needs of the groups affected. In addition to community work, BAIF also invests in research and development of appropriate agricultural approaches and technology at its various locations.  BAIF has now been renamed the BAIF Development Research Foundation in keeping with its focus.

The area we visited outside of Hubli provided a before and after glimpse into the impact of BAIF’s interventions. The first place we visited was typical of the farms we had passed along the way. A single farmer tending to an acre or so of dry land, dried up brush marking the boundaries, and with no visible signs of an irrigation source. Lying in the rain shadow of the Sahyadri range, the region gets less than 40 inches of annual rainfall, most of which quickly runs off the bone dry land and is lost to evaporation.

Yet as we walked thru the farm, Dr. Bhat pointed out the subtle changes being introduced. Along one side of the field a regular pattern of shallow ditches had been dug. The excavated mud used to create additional bunds to stem the water flow. During the monsoons, these features would help trap the little rain by slowing its flow, allowing it to percolate into the water table and to accumulate in the pits. Interspersed throughout the field were newly planted mango saplings. The trees served dual purposes. As they grew and sank their roots into the soil they helped prevent further erosion of the topsoil. After a few years of growth they also provided the farmer with a steady stream of income from the mango fruits.

A short distance away, we visited the first farm to come under BAIF’s influence about seven years ago. Here the impact of their agricultural and water management efforts was immediately apparent. A lush green carpet of grass covered the ground. Now fully grown, the avenues of mango trees filled the field providing shade and plentiful fruit. As part of BAIF’s approach, in addition to addressing the need to improve soil and water retention, they also have emphasized using agricultural waste more effectively. Instead of burning their brush and cuttings, BAIF has introduced farmers to vermicomposting, or creating compost by using earthworms as catalysts. The farmers we visited proudly showed us several covered pits filled with their agricultural waste that were being converted into rich, black manure.

As we listened to the farmer describe his experiences the story underlined the impact that BAIF’s has made in this region. Seven years ago, this farmer said, he was making so little on this bare farm, that he had shut it down and gone off to work as a manual laborer. Today the output from his farm, mango crops and compost piles brought in a regular income that was several times more than he had ever made before. In addition, being the ever resourceful entrepreneur, he had started a small manure distribution business by renting a tractor to collect manure from his fellow farmers and transporting it to the market where he could get the best price.

Today, BAIF has grown with operations in 11 states and impacting over 45,000 villages. The examples from the villages outside Hubli provide ample testimony to the concrete impact BAIF has had in uplifting the rural economy.
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Figure 1 BAIF Rural Training facilities, Hubli

Figure 2 Farm at beginning of BAIF intervention

Figure 3 One of the earliest BAIF farm, several years after intervention

Figure 4 Vermicomposting pit

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