By The Mission Kakatiya Team
The Mission Kakatiya team recently traveled to Ankapur, a village in the Nizamabad District of Telangana. Ankapur is recognized as a self-sufficient model village across India for its use of advanced techniques in agriculture, as well as the effectiveness of its Village Development Committee in managing unique aspects of village life, ranging from seed production to water conservation, marketing to banking.
The Village Development Committee is a local administrative group, formed by residents of the village. The committee is formed of fifteen subcommittees, each pertaining to a different aspect of village life such as education, health, agriculture, banking and other important functions. For over 40 years, the committee has made collective decisions pertaining broadly to the management of village resources. For example, every season, the committee decides on a unified strategy for farmers based on that year’s market and weather predictions. Farmers in Ankapur take pride in their unity, and have attributed much of their success to this cohesion.
The IIC team interviewed the Village Development Committee to obtain insights into how they organize themselves, make collective decisions, and manage village resources. The insights gained from this conversation have helped us further refine our recommendations for the reestablishment of Water User Associations in the state--elected bodies responsible for managing the operations and maintenance of community shared water tanks. We were interested to learn that the Village Development Committee rotates all of its members on a yearly basis. This helps to deepen community participation by allowing more town members the opportunity to serve. The committee consists of 32 members, with two members nominated from each caste to ensure equal representation of all different groups in the community. Compensation is not provided to members of the committee. Furthermore, membership is not voluntary - once a resident is selected they have to be a member of the Village Development Committee for the duration of a year. There was a lack of clarity as to how village members enforce this, though it seems like there is very strong social pressure to be a member of the Committee.
The team also interviewed the District Marketing Officer along with members of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee to understand the postharvest system followed by farmers in Ankapur. Farmers in Ankapur have access to processing, storage and market in the vicinity which leads to minimum wastage. Most of the produce is sold without the absence of middlemen. Unlike other areas, prices for agricultural seeds are determined by farmers collectively rather than private companies.
Our first stop was a local field of Sorghum Sudangrass, which is grown abundantly in Ankapur for its seeds. Sorghum Sudangrass is a forage crop, known for its water efficiency and highly productive yields. Unlike most villages in the state of Telangana, Ankapur managed to move away from growing traditional crops in 1971. The town has since expanded into various commercial crops, and has successfully managed the risk that accompanies the adoption of new growing methods and expansion into unknown markets. Companies from the private sector have played an important role in encouraging this diversification, as they have provided the initial financing and training required to start new agricultural practices.
Crop diversification remains very low among most farmers in India, with a maximum of two crops grown on average per year. However, farmers in Ankapur are able to grow five crops per year on a rotating basis in the following pattern: maize, coriander, groundnut, vegetables, and lastly, fodder. Farmers here are able to see higher returns per acre, not only thanks to their intensive cropping patterns, but also their use of mechanization. There is an extremely high utilization of government subsidies, as well as a strong practice of collectively buying or hiring machines.
Farmers in Ankapur have been at the forefront of adopting new technologies and agricultural practices. Orchestrated by the Village Development Committee, the associated risk of betting on new technologies is shared amongst community members and partly borne by the companies who provide this technology. The Village Development Committee organizes trials of new growing techniques and technologies with one to two volunteer farmers before recommending whether to adopt on a larger scale. Farmers here also make extensive usage of the different subsidies provided by the central and state government, and have greater access to mainstream finance than farmers in the rest of the state.
We also had the opportunity to learn about Ankapur farmers’ successful adoption of water saving measures. As a result of subsidies made available by the horticultural department, farmers here boast near complete adoption of drip irrigation practices. Given the current climate and unpredictability of drought, the adoption of water saving measures remains crucial in the effort to limit groundwater expenditures and better adapt to the possibility of prolonged drought conditions. Statewide, however, nearly 50% of the area under horticulture remains to be covered under micro irrigation. Subsidy policies exist at the state level for all farmers, but unfortunately, due to a list of factors ranging from lack of proper distribution channels and awareness among farmers to extensive wait times and inadequate funding, not many farmers are able to benefit from this available opportunity.
In a discussion about the various factors behind Ankapur’s success, the director of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee attributed much of their success and prosperity to the strong role of women in the community. While visiting the field, we observed that most farmers were women. Based on further inquiry into the role that men and women play in the village, we learned that men are generally responsible for handling markets and stakeholders while women take the lead in making decisions pertaining to agriculture (like sowing, weeding, use of manure, harvesting, etc.)
The APMC Director explained that Ankapur’s red gram is widely known for its quality not only in India but also in other nearby countries. The processing cum storage facility run by APMC in the village, provides farmers one easy stop to unload and process their produce.
Ankapur’s status as a model village is reinforced by its success in providing farmers with access to processing units in the area. Farmers and private entrepreneurs have established an effective partnership, as these processing units are owned and operated by private companies rather than the government itself. The overall effect is mutually beneficial to all parties. Farmers are able to obtain better prices for their crops after processing, and private companies are able to insert themselves into the growing market for processed goods.
In addition, because private companies want to see that farmers in the area are able to meet the demand created by their processing units, they are willing to provide Ankapur farmers with loans, seeds, and newer technologies to increase their outputs. Farmers in Ankapur have found that, with this increased demand, they are also better positioned to strategically negotiate and determine the price of the crops they would trade with these private enterprises to maximize their collective returns.
Ankapur is an exemplary village for many reasons, but its success is often attributed to the uniquely effective way it manages community functions through its various citizen-composed committees. This tradition of strong communal participation dates back over 40 years, and is now wholly engrained in the town’s identity. However, there are a variety of other contributing factors to its success. The village has a very large contingent of former residents who live in the US (numbering in the hundreds), most of whom remit considerable sums of money back to the village. The village has access to mainstream finance (there are no fewer than three bank branches in the main village area) on a scale that is almost unheard of in the vast majority of the country. An area of future enquiry is examining why mainstream finance has penetrated Ankapur so deeply, given its absence in most other rural areas. Ankapur’s utilization of agricultural subsidies was also unlike anything we had seen in any of our previous field visits. It would appear that its success has begotten it more success - given its visibilities political leaders are prone to grant it a whole slew of benefits that aren’t given to other parts of the state (free water, free power, etc.)
As the Mission Kakatiya IIC team enters the second phase of this year’s projects, we intend to incorporate lessons from Ankapur. However, it is important to note that the lessons of Ankapur may not be completely generalizable. A lot of the developments we now see in Ankapur seem to have been instituted at the behest of one highly motivated group of local government officials and village leaders back in the 1970s. This is not always possible, and the challenge for designing sustainable, scalable solutions for the rest of state will depend on creating systems that do not rely on the goodwill of individual actors.
After processing and organizing all of our insights, we will be providing the government with implementable strategies to restructure Water User Associations across the state. Seeing how Ankapur’s Village Development Committee did not experience problems in the transfer of leadership from year to year, we are considering shorter term limits for WUA board members to keep community participation active, inclusive, and continuously evolving.
In addition, the team will also be working with the department to design strategies to improve farmer productivity across Telangana. Ankapur’s operations in the agricultural sector, particularly with respect to crop diversification, drip-irrigation, and public-private partnerships can serve as a model for the rest of the state. The challenge lies in replicating the methods that work so well in Ankapur in villages across Telangana that might not have nearly the same resources, access to financing, and interest from private investors.