Vegetable cluster development increases farmer competitiveness

Photo Essay

By Pratap Chandra Panda

Photographs by Chow Parij Borgohain

Vegetable Cluster Development harnesses holistic agronomic practices for sustainable higher agricultural production.

Satyanarayan Panda is a marginal farmer with two acres of land in Biridihi village in Nayagarh district of Odisha. Up until 2015, he and the other the farmers in the villages grew Paddy as the primary crop and Sugarcane as the cash crop. Farmers from more than 200 villages in that cluster sold their produce to the Sugarcane Mill near Biridihi. Due to political reasons, the mill closed in mid-2015.

With no wholesale market for cane, the produce was useful only for family-based jaggery production. Or the cane was procured by a fragmented market of local cane juicers. Neither of which was profitable for the costs that the farmers incurred. With the closing of the mill, the demand for Sugarcane reduced and cultivation decreased by 70%. The farmers had to shift to another crop.

Bitter Gourd grown as part of vegetable cultivation. Photograph by Chow Parij Borgohain.

Vegetables replace Sugarcane

The farmers moved to cultivate vegetables. Farmers used bamboo or tree poles for vertical and horizontal support for growing vining vegetables like bitter gourd, cucumber, pumpkin, ridge gourd, snake gourd, and long beans.

Using bamboo is labour intensive. It requires three man-days to collect bamboo and two man-days to fix the poles in the soil. It is also hard to remove if another crop has to be planted in the same field as part of crop rotation and nutrition management, which is a good practice.

For instance, bushy or herbaceous plants like tomato, ladies finger or brinjal are not climbing vegetables. So, if the land had to be levelled, removing the bamboo poles to prepare the field for other vegetables was difficult.

New farming technique

Earlier, when farmers used bamboo or tree poles to support the growth of the vining crops, the produce did not grow homogeneously and handling was difficult. The structure was built like a hut and sufficient sunlight did not get in.

Gram Vikas introduced fruit net and nylon wire. With this, when the vines grew up, the growth was homogeneous, the farmers found it easy to identify the pest or disease in the fruits, to harvest and it required lesser drudgery.

Though the farmers had been growing vegetables for household consumption, large scale production required a different set of crop selection, cropping pattern, water and soil management.

Vegetable cluster development

Ninety per cent of the vegetables cultivated go to the market for sale. Adopting large scale vegetable production needed a different set of crop selection, cropping pattern, water and soil management. Even the market linkages had to be different.  

As perishables crops, vegetables are nutrient, water and temperature sensitive. They are also prone to disease and pest. The farmers were using synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This increased the input costs while the sale value remained low, earning little profit for the producers.

Gram Vikas, through a project ‘Holistic Rural Development Programme’, supported by HDFC Parivartan, started supporting the farmer producers through Vegetable Cluster Development (VCD). The project aimed to harness holistic agronomic practices for sustainable higher agricultural production.

Value co-creation and increased competitiveness

The VCD works to minimise the input cost and diversify the number of vegetables grown in a unit area. Farmers learn about land utilisation pattern, nutrient and water management, soil health and harvest management.

With the use of new farming techniques, youth in the village has started farming as the use and maintenance of fruit nets and nylon wires are easier. VCD also focuses on establishing good market linkages and facilitating beneficial producer-vendor relationships.

Regular farmer-vendor interface meetings are held where prices of products and their trends are discussed. Traders share market intelligence on vegetables that will fetch higher prices as per seasons. For instance, in one of the meetings the vendor suggested that farmers use the smaller 25kg bags so that even the vegetables at the bottom of the bag are visible. This will result in a higher per kilo price as in a bigger bag, the vendors assume the vegetables below to be poor in quality.

From a seller-buyer relationship, the vendors now advise the farmers on market changes and better practices for storage and sale.

The project supports 250 farmers, cultivating 110 acres in four villages – Biridihi, Kusumitara, Similisahi, Bhatotasahi – in Nayagarh district of Odisha.


Bitter Gourd seeds collected and saved for future use. Photograph by Chow Parij Borgohain.


Thanks to HDFC Parivartan for their support in livelihood development of marginal farmers in Odisha.


Pratap Chandra Panda is a Thematic Manager, on Livelihoods, with Gram Vikas.


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