Providing Technical Support in India: A Field Visit
By Lysette Lacambra, EWS-KT Technical Support Hub Manager. Lysette strengthens the capacity of local field teams across East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation and develops technical materials to enhance the skills and knowledge of smallholder farmers. On 7 September 2022, Lysette and EWS-KT Technical Research Lead Piyawan Phuphong arrived in India for a 9-day technical support and monitoring visit.
When we arrived in Odisha state in early September, it had been almost two and a half years since our last field visit and technical backstopping trip to India. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we regularly visited each EWS-KT county at least twice a year to understand and identify the technical support needed by that country’s field staff. When the pandemic started, we shifted to providing virtual support, but there is nothing like being on the ground. It was wonderful to finally have an actual field visit again in India and to meet the new team members in person!
First Stop: The Center of Excellence
Our visit started at the Center of Excellence (CoE) Learning Farm in Keonjhar, Odisha. Established in June, the farm is now fully operational and is under the management of Bhagyadhar Swain, the Deputy Technical Specialist for India.
Unlike other EWS-KT learning centers in India, the Keonjhar CoE is both a research facility and a training center. The CoE’s first action research, which is still ongoing, focuses on the effects of pruning in bitter gourd production. The CoE also serves as a practical training center for new EWS-KT India field staff and other interested stakeholders, like university students and local agricultural extension workers.
During the visit, we worked with the India technical staff to plan the CoE activities, action research, and budget for 2023. Through consultations with the field staff about their technical challenges in the field, we identified at least two action research objectives to focus on per season, including crop protection, seedling production, plant spacing, mulching, and trellising.
Collaborating with Partners
The Odisha team has fostered excellent connections and collaborations with like-minded organizations like CIFA-KVK (Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture – Krishi Vigyan Kendra), ICAR-CIWA (Indian Council of Agricultural Research – Central Institute for Women in Agriculture), and Utkal University. While we were in India, Ramashraya Dubey, the Senior Project Lead for India, organized visits for us with all three of these important partners.
EWS-KT has been supporting CIFA-KVK and ICAR-CIWA in establishing farming demonstration plots, and it was inspiring to visit their demo plots and hear testimonials about EWS-KT India’s projects. ICAR-CIWA, in particular, is focused on interventions for women, such as the establishment of home garden (kitchen garden) learning demos with EWS-KT.
Through these partnerships, farmers in districts that are outside the EWS-KT project areas are exposed to demo plots and receive training in improved agricultural techniques. These organizations can also help continue and sustain our work by training farmers on EWS-KT techniques after our local team moves on to other parts of the district or state.
The visit to Utkal University gave us the opportunity to follow up with their MBA students participating in our General Vegetable Production online certification program. Together with the university staff, we discussed joint action plans such as exposure visits to the CoE or even to our Thailand Knowledge Transfer Farm to supplement the learning of the students in the program.
Identifying Team Needs Through Field Visits
The Technical Support Hub aims to continuously build the capacity of our country-based technical field teams through reflections on their current experiences and challenges. The organized field visits and farmer training event we participated in in Odisha helped us assess the strengths and technical needs of the field staff. We also used the demo field visits as an opportunity to have practical training with field staff and to interact with the farmers. After the farmer training event, we reflected together on what is working well and what could be improved.
From Odisha, we traveled to Madhya Pradesh, where we toured a chili demo field. Together with the Madhya Pradesh team, we also reviewed their existing kitchen garden project protocol and developed a kitchen garden demo plan with a key farmer.
Meeting Team India
While there is a role for virtual platforms, it’s always good to meet the team in person. Face-to-face interaction builds camaraderie and connection, which makes it easier for the team to share their challenges and ask for technical support in the future.