How Farmers in India are Resisting Climate Change and Raising Incomes

The guar bean, a little green pod, is paving the way for farmers in northwest India to continue growing crops through fierce droughts. See how one farmer achieved success after joining the Sustainable Guar Initiative.

A TechnoServe SGI member holds guar beans, used to make guar gum. It is a crop that is providing incomes for farmers in arid regions of India. (TechnoServe/ Amitoj Kalsi)

Guar and Guar Gum, a Climate-Resistant Solution

India is in desperate need of rain. With two-thirds of the country already prone to drought, scientists are noting a decrease in precipitation over the last half-century due to climate change. The frequency and severity of droughts in the coming decades is projected to only intensify, posing a serious threat to the livelihoods of the more than 151 million citizens who make their living through agriculture. To survive these worsening conditions, farmers are turning to climate-resilient techniques and crops. 

Guar is a drought-resistant legume that is crucial to the agricultural industry of the arid Bikaner District of Rajasthan. The crop is highly versatile, with the ability to withstand scarce rainfall, making it ideal for water-deprived areas. Guar gum, also called guaran, is extracted from guar beans. It has thickening and stabilizing properties used in foods like ice cream, bread, or sausage and other products like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and paper.  However, the value chain is precarious, and fluctuation in international demand can make farmers’ incomes unpredictable.

Empowering Farmers, Enhancing Incomes

TechnoServe SGI team members give farmers a training session on guar gum seed selection. (TechnoServe / Amitoj Kalsi)

India produces 80% of the world’s guar, and the state of Rajasthan produces the most guar within India–83% of the nation’s crop. 

TechnoServe launched the Sustainable Guar Initiative (SGI) in Rajasthan in April 2015 to improve farmers’ growing techniques and market linkages and to strengthen the value chain. What began with around 1,500 farmers in 13 villages has now grown to involve roughly 12,000 farmers spread across 60 villages. Since beginning to work with the program, farmers have seen significant and sustainable improvements to their incomes.

To achieve this, farmers learn climate-smart agricultural practices to increase their guar yield while being mindful of protecting local groundwater. For example, TechnoServe trains farmers to grow rain-fed guar to irrigate their fields without depleting groundwater levels. This method ensures that the farmers are able to get a good yield by depending on monsoonal rain. They construct “khadins,” a local technique that retains moisture in the land, allowing the farmers to grow an additional crop even after the end of the rainy season. TechnoServe has also helped construct rooftop rainwater harvesting systems on farmers’ houses and has renovated village ponds for their animals.

Farmers also improve their knowledge and bargaining power through groups known as farmer producer companies (FPCs). By selling through the FPC, farmers connect to established markets and ultimately receive better prices. Many farmers are shareholders of these FPCs, and the board of directors works with TechnoServe to improve governance and record keeping.

Jetha Ram’s Success Story

Guar farmer Jetha Ram has increased his income after learning new farming and market strategies. (TechnoServe / Amitoj Kalsi)

Jetha Ram is one such shareholder.  Before starting to work with TechnoServe in 2017, he had never heard of a particular guar variety– the HG-563 seed– that is drought-resistant and higher-yielding than other varieties. Jetha says that if rainfall is good, this seed will yield more than twice the amount of the traditional seed he used before.

I got the seed for the first time from TechnoServe, and now I swear by it. In fact, I’ve given the seed to my neighbors too who have seen increased yields. It’s drought-resistant, and in this extremely unpredictable environment of our village, this seed ensures that even if it doesn’t rain, we’ll be able to get something out of it.”

Through TechnoServe’s SGI program, Jetha also learned about a new marketplace for his crop. Previously, he sold his produce at the mandi, or the government-approved marketplace. “I used to face many problems when I sold my produce at the mandi,” he recalls. “I had to take my produce all the way to [the market] and use labor, which increased my expenses.”

But he now sells to the FPC, which offers better prices and improved his income. “The additional money that I get from selling to the FPC versus the mandi always comes in handy in tough situations,” he says.

“Whenever I have to sell, I just look at my phone for the current price at which the FPC is buying guar, and then tell them that I want to sell it. It’s that simple! Now, more and more people from our village trust the company, and sell their produce to the company.”

Jetha has high hopes for the farmer-led and farmer-run company. 

“I envision our FPC to also become a big company, which will benefit us all,” he says. “And it can also look at other revenue streams in the future.” 

Looking Ahead 

Licchama Devi (left) and Meera Devi (right) are active shareholders of an FPC and recently facilitated guar procurement in their village. (TechnoServe / Amitoj Kalsi)

In a highly patriarchal society, women often face greater challenges earning a living as farmers. TechnoServe’s training has allowed women to be more visible in the farming community and equipped them to become decision-makers. The training has helped men see the value women add by becoming stakeholders of the FPC, which has resulted in more and more women joining the board. In the future, TechnoServe is planning even greater engagement with women by providing them with additional training on entrepreneurship and digital literacy.

Technology is also helping farmers improve their incomes and environmental impact. In 2023, TechnoServe started a pilot intervention program to introduce farmers to regenerative farming practices and increase the soil carbon and tree cover on guar farms. As a part of this initiative, TechnoServe has given approximately 1,325 saplings of local tree species to select farmers. The farmers have now planted the trees on their farms, and we look forward to seeing the results of this innovative new program in the coming years.

TechnoServe also plans to strengthen the usage of blockchain technology to track the guar gum supply chain. TechnoServe has been working with a supply chain management company to implement this technology in 36 villages. This blockchain-based tool will ensure end-to-end traceability of the entire guar gum supply chain, which will make it possible to verify the quality of the end product. 

The farmers of Rajasthan may face daunting challenges. But through their hard work learning new farming techniques and connecting to better markets, they are building more secure, prosperous lives for themselves and their families.

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