Kidney Beans Improve Income and Nutrition in Kailash Sacred Landscape

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KSL-CHEA facilitator Jagadish Kandpal (in red) helps a Vanraji farmer sow kidney beans on his plot.

ICIMOD’s Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI), in partnership with the Central Himalayan Environment Association (CHEA), has identified kidney bean production as an income generating option to improve the livelihoods of the Vanrajis, an ethnic minority group indigenous to the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand in India and western Nepal.  The area is famous for producing high quality kidney beans – a cash crop which sells at a very high price in the markets within Pithoragarh district and beyond. KSLCDI introduced kidney beans production to Vanrajis to help them earn cash income. 

Originally nomadic hunter-gatherers, Vanrajis were given scheduled tribe status in 1967 and put into settlements by the government in the 1980s. They are the smallest Himalayan ethnic group, and among the poorest, most vulnerable tribes in the country. In India, there are only 158 Vanraji families with a total population of 620, presently inhabiting nine villages in Pithoragarh district located at altitudes ranging between 789 to 1,700 meters above sea level. These include Aultari, Kulekh, Jamtari (Kanalichhina Development Block), Chifaltara, Bhagtirwa, Gainagaon, Kimkhola (Dharchula Development Block), Madanpuri, and Kuta-Chaurani (in Didihaat Development Block). 

According to a study conducted by ICIMOD and CHEA, in 2013, the entire Vanraji population fell below the poverty line, with an estimated average annual family income of INR 20,242 and extremely low literacy (men: 46.8 percent; women: 3.9 percent). Their main sources of income ranged from wage labour to household poultry and livestock. Once landless, they were recently given marginally fertile land by the government. Families owned less than half a hectare of land, and around 51 percent owned less than 0.1 hectare. 

Vanraji families in all villages grow subsistence food crops such as wheat, maize, finger millets, soybeans and black grams. However, this is sufficient only for two to three months a year. Vegetable cultivation was recently introduced by community based organisations to improve nutrition and cash income. 

A mobile vermicomposting unit is provided to Vanraji farmer.

Key interventions include: organising Vanrajis into participatory groups; facilitating access to high quality seeds and other inputs; training in methods of cultivation and technical support; field trips to farmers cultivating kidney beans in Munshyari, a nationally famous area for kidney beans production; promotion of organic farming technologies such as vermicomposting and integrated pest management (IPM); support in packaging and branding; and facilitating marketing of produce.

In 2013, its first year of intervention, 40 households in five villages were engaged in kidney beans production on 50 nalis (one hectare) of land producing 226 kg (5 - 9 kg/household) of the crop. Initial production was less than expected due to heavy rains and floods and it being the first year of cultivation. However, farmers were excited and interested in continuing the following year. Encouraged by their positive response and interest the kidney beans, cultivation was expanded to all villages increasing the number of farmers and the area producing 1,500 kg in 2014. In 2015, cultivation was expanded further by engaging all 158 households, increasing the total area under cultivation to four hectares. The expected production is 2,000 kg. 

Success story of Kaman Singh: a Vanraji farmer engaged in kidney beans production 

A progressive member of the Vanraji community with substantial land, Kaman Singh of Kulekh Jamtadi village was one of the first few farmers who agreed to take part in the pilot study. Unfortunately, the heavy rains and flooding in 2013 rendered his crop useless in the first year. In 2014 Singh planted two kilograms of kidney bean seeds in an area of two nalis (i.e. 0.04 ha) and harvested 35-40 kg of crop. He kept some seeds for the following year, used a part for subsistence and sold the rest through participating in trade fairs earning a cash income of INR 3,000. Having seen the benefits, Singh further increased the area under kidney beans this year, and is expecting even higher production.

Kaman Singh with his kidney bean plants.Authors:
Uma Partap, Tashi Dorji and Rajan Kotru from ICIMOD

Jagadish Kandpal, Girish Joshi, Pankaj Tewari and Pushkin Phartiyal from CHEA