Transforming Farming through the Freedom to Innovate

September 27, 2017
Clark, Nate
Associate Director of Corporate Citizenship, John Deere and Vice President, John Deere Foundation

Innovating in Trying Conditions

On a small farm in Morra, a village in northwest India, farming is hard. Breaking the soil in this arid land means exactly that. Tilling creates large, jagged chunks of earth that more closely resemble rocks than anything that could support crops.

Finding water is harder. For generations, farmers have dug wells to capture the rain that falls during the year, if it comes at all. Roughly hewn wells must penetrate at least 60 feet of the unyielding stone that’s indigenous to the region. Farmers dig deeper every year in hope of harnessing precious, life-sustaining water. All of this work—and more—is done by hand, day in, and day out.

Yet, in this inhospitable environment, a farmer named Sita thrives through her innovation. She does not have a tractor or modern precision agriculture technology—she moves herself, her family, and her village forward using the agricultural expertise provided to her by JIVA.

More Than Life-Sustaining – Life Changing

JIVA is the Joint Initiative for Village Advancement, a multi-year program created by the John Deere Foundation and PYXERA Global to improve the lives of the nearly 6,000 people living in three adjacent villages in rural India—Morra, Madara, and Sakrawas. JIVA traces its roots to a volunteer project led by John Deere CEO Sam Allen in 2011, when a team of the company’s employees worked for a week side-by-side with Sita and other farmers to learn firsthand the challenges they face.

Inspired by this experience, the John Deere Foundation reached out to PYXERA Global, a non-profit organization with a quarter century of experience enhancing the abilities of people and communities worldwide to solve complex problems. Together, they worked in the three villages to identify the most pressing needs and to help the communities determine for themselves how to best meet those challenges. Improving their primary livelihood—farming—was their unanimous priority. The program’s name, JIVA, honors this primary concern. “Jiva” means “life” and “livelihood” in Mewari, the language spoken in the three villages.

With the guidance of JIVA’s agricultural experts, Sita began growing vegetables as part of a “nutrition garden.” Her garden has become so successful that it not only produces enough to feed her family, but also grows extra quantities that Sita sells to support the needs of her village and beyond. The garden has transformed the lives of Sita and her family. Sita lives in a part of India where the average person earns only 60 rupees, or 1 dollar, a day. Average annual income is close to 22,000 rupees, or $365, per year. Because of the success of Sita’s nutrition garden, her annual income has increased by almost 45,000 rupees, or $750, a year. While Sita is certainly a role model she is not alone. Today, JIVA supports 200 women growing produce in nutrition gardens and small farms.

Unlocking the Freedom to Innovate

For farmers like Sita, there are no easy paths, no silver bullets, and no magic potions that will ensure success. Instead, to be successful, farmers must be prepared to anticipate and appropriately adjust their efforts based on a daunting array of ever-changing environmental and market conditions.

With the reality of farming in mind, JIVA established its founding principle the “freedom to innovate.” With the freedom to innovate, JIVA empowers its staff and farmers in the villages to explore new agricultural practices—a daunting task in a place where farmers have been using the same techniques for generations. JIVA participates with farmers in pioneering new agricultural practices, and applies the lessons learned over the last several years to responsibly, responsively, and cost-effectively scale the most effective agricultural interventions.

In addition to changing the lives of individual farmers like Sita, the freedom to innovate is transforming agriculture in the villages on a large scale. Before JIVA, local farmers did not believe they could grow high-value crops like pomegranates. However, upon seeing for themselves pomegranate’s income-generating potential and resiliency through exposure visits and intensive training, farmers began to believe they could make it work. Today, local farmers have planted over 13,000 pomegranate trees in these three villages alone, which once mature stand to increase overall agricultural income in the villages by as much as 6 million rupees, or $100,000, annually.  

With these results as proof, the John Deere Foundation and PYXERA Global see the freedom to innovate as more than the key to JIVA’s success – it is the key to improving the lives of the world’s farmers.