Green Army in Wadakkanchery, a newly formed Municipality in Thrissur district of Kerala, had its origins in a novel initiative that the Wadakkanchery Block Panchayat took up in 2007-08 to revive the paddy culture in the area. Wadakkanchery was known for its rich paddy cultivation before its paddy fields were fallowed and large stretches were reclaimed for non-agricultural purposes.
What Wadakkanchery Block Panchayat did was to start by exploring the reasons of fallowing and conversion. Farmers pointed out high labour costs and militant unionism that prevented mechanisation as reasons for fallowing; they cited lack of demand for paddy and an absence of marketing channels. Agricultural labourers, however, thought mechanisation and wrong policies of the government led to the decline.
The Block Panchayat first tried to address fallowing and conversion of paddy land by adopting sustainable cultivation practices with technical support from Kerala Agricultural University. Group approach and synchronised farm operations were proposed by the university for limiting the cost of inputs. However, labour shortage emerged as a problem in taking forward the initiative.
"Farmers were happy about the support that they got from the Block Panchayat and the university", says Anup Kishore, the then President of the Block Panchayat who was one of the architects of the programme. "But they said they would still not be able to cultivate unless the problem of labour shortage was not addressed".
This prompted the Block Panchayat to think of mechanisation. Again, with the support of the university, the Block Panchayat moved ahead with an attempt on mechanisation of transplanting, intercultural operations, and harvesting over a large area. "Farmers were already using tractors, which were available for hire. Therefore, we focused on mechanisation of operations beyond tilling of fields. This was important as these were more labour intensive", says Anup Kishore.
Starting with a group of twenty persons trained by the university, the Block Panchayat procured nine transplanters. The Block Panchayat had earlier taken up the initiative to work with the existing farmer organisations, which are locally called Padasekhara Samiti, and had even tried reconstituting some of them. A padasekharam is a contiguous stretch of paddy field which can operate as a natural unit and a Padasekhara Samiti is the forum of owner farmers of this stretch. From the early signals on the introduction of machines for transplanting, the Block Panchayat went ahead expanding their operations: buying more machines, enlarging the skilled labour pool, organising more farmers, and looking for more opportunities for improving the effectiveness of interventions.
They collaborated with the Grama Panchayats and District Panchayats for sourcing more funds. They worked with government programmes and schemes for coordination, inputs, and marketing. They worked with cooperative banks to ensure interest free working capital loans, the repayment of which were linked to the sale of paddy through the State-government-sponsored procurement programme. Noted among the convergence with government programmes has been the one with MGNREGS.
In the process they developed a large pool of skilled labourers, both men and women, who could offer a package of services starting from preparing the seedlings to transplanting, weeding, and harvesting. Availability of trained skilled labour and the package of services on the offer became the unique selling proposition of the programme. The Green Army of Wadakkanchery was taking shape.
"We had an understanding from early on that we would succeed only with a skilled labour bank", says Aravindakshan, the current president of Green Army. Excellent results from the first round of cultivation which marked substantial reduction in input costs including labour charges and a steep jump in productivity convinced the farmers about the potential of the project. This led to more farmers joining the programme and an expansion of activities.
"The results were not without risks", remembers Anup Kishore. During the first round of cultivation, sudden and incessant rains threatened the survival of plants that had just been planted. The very success or failure of the programme, at that point of time depended on whether the rain stopped and the plants survived. The rain indeed stopped and the plants survived, miraculously though.
Green Army became a registered institution in 2010. It has both men and women as members. It is organised into Teams and Groups. Every Team consists of five members which includes a Team Leader and Deputy Leader. Five Teams together make a Group.
- There is no wage difference between men and women.
- Wages are different for Groups Leader, Team Leader, Deputy Leaders, and Helpers
- Among 10 Group Leaders, three are women
- Among 40 Team Leaders, eight are women
- All Helpers are women
- Team size and composition are fixed based on the time taken for completing different tasks.
- Members are eligible for contributory pension
- Members have insurance coverage; they also are covered under a welfare fund scheme
The Green Army leadership has been experimenting with several new ideas to enhance their success in strengthening and extending paddy cultivation. One such initiative has been towards introducing a water audit and irrigation calendar. The Green Army has so far been able to mainly support the Mundakan crop (September to December; the second crop of the year). While Virippu (May-August, the first crop) is not cultivated by many farmers for reasons other than water availability, there is potential for a third crop - Puncha (January-April) if proper irrigation management is used and varieties of the right gestation are used. There is also scope for further expansion of the cultivated area under the first crop.
Based on the experience of Green Army, a project for creating Bio Armies in Palakkad, Malappuram, and Thrissur districts under the Mahila Kissan Sasaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP), for which Kudumbashree is the implementing agency in the State.