Snapshot: A summary description of Yamuna farmers

The starting point for this project was simply to find out what is going on in terms of urban agriculture in Delhi on the ground and literally in the field.  As a brief description of what we found regarding basic characteristics, here is our summary:

Our research was conducted with 35 farming families across eight sites between June 19th and June 30th, 2011 (check out ‘Map of Field Sites’ below).  The typical farm family size is six to ten people, with both men and women actively participating.  Farm sizes vary somewhat; however, in general, the typical total land farmed is 11 bigha, which is slightly less than two acres (one bigha is approximately 1/6 acre and is the commonly used unit of land measurement).  Most families live on the land they farm, although some own a house or property elsewhere.  Houses on the farms range from temporary reed structures to sturdy mud houses.

We reported on types of vegetable crops grown in an earlier posting; however, this a little broader summary since Delhi farmers produce a wide variety of goods.  Vegetable crops are most common, but two sites produced primarily roses, and one site had landscape nurseries.  Commonly grown crops include gourds (e.g. bottle and bitter gourd), eggplant, okra, corn, pumpkins, cucumber, chilies, lobia (a pulse), spinach, cauliflower, mustard, wheat, rice, other leafy vegetables, tomatoes, melons, watermelon, carrots, and radishes.  A few farmers also have fruit trees, such as jamun (local fruit) or guava, although these were not reported as a primary crop.  In addition to food crops, many farmers grow some type of flower, either roses or marigolds.  These flowers are important for many Hindu religious practices and are thus in high demand.  Some farms supported animals such as a cow and calf or a few goats for personal milk consumption.

Delhi farmers are able to grow nearly year-round.  In October and November they plant hardy winter crops including cauliflower and dark leafy greens.  Summer crops, such as gourds, eggplant, okra, and chilies, are planted around March.  Some farmers also choose to plant rice in June, right before the monsoon months of July, August, and September.  The general attitude is that if it survives, then it is additional income.  Crop productivity is high enough to support most farmers and their families year round, even during the monsoon season, and few farmers look for other means of employment in between growing seasons.

Of the 35 farm families interviewed, only one reported growing crops primarily for personal consumption.  Most indicated that they may consume a little of their produce, but reported that they buy most of their food.  Farm families that grow crops exclusively for personal consumption are likely to have other means of employment and, therefore, spend less time working in the field–which is probably why we didn’t run into more subsistence farmers in the field.  Once crops are harvested, the majority are sold through one or more of the many distribution options available to Delhi farmers.  We identified three primary types of distribution options: direct to consumer, direct to vendor, and market sales.  Direct to consumer and direct to vendor (vendors coming directly to the farm to pick-up crops) were not widely used distribution strategies, and less than a third of farmers mentioned either of these.  The majority of Delhi farmers sell their produce at various markets in the city, the most popular for this group being Chandri Chowk and Azadpur Sabzi (check out ‘Images from Vegetable Wholesale Market’ below).  Farmers who grow roses or marigolds often take their harvest to Chandri Chowk, a market known for selling Hindu ceremonial items.  Many farmers sell their produce themselves at the markets, while others reported selling it to a vendor/distributor who then sells to the consumer.  Most farmers used at least two distribution options, but a few reported using up to three or four.

To aid in farm work, most of the farmers hire temporary laborers at various times throughout the year, and a few farms reported having permanent hired labor.  In general, smaller farms (1-10 bigha; 0.2 to 1.7 acres) hire 2 to 4 laborers, while larger farms (10-25 bigha; 1.7 to 4.2 acres) will hire 7 to 10, although a few larger farms did report hiring only a few laborers.  The largest farm that we interviewed reported having a labor force upwards of 500 throughout the season.  Labor is brought in to assist across all stages of farming, from planting and tilling to weeding and harvesting, but is most sought after during sowing season.  In most cases, labor is hired to assist the farmer with farming activities; however, in a few cases the individuals interviewed reported that they do not do any of the farm-work themselves, but rather act as supervisor to the hired labor.  While data on the amount spent on labor a year is not available for all farms, a few farmers did state that they spend approximately Rs. 4,000-5,000 (at time of research this would have been roughly $90-110) on labor annually.

This snapshot provides a brief description of what urban agriculture looks like on the ground in Delhi based on our interviews.  The next step is to think about what it really means to farm in an urban context—the benefits and opportunities, as well as the challenges and vulnerabilities.

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