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Challenges of switching crops

Switching to a crop that has not been typically grown in the area brings in additional sets of challenges. First, it goes without saying that the soil and climate have to be conducive to cultivation of the new crop.

Second, the farmer has to learn how to grow the new crop (or new variety of the same crop). For example, I visited farmers who were growing baby corn for the first time and had let the cobs grow too much simply because they did not know when to harvest it. While the produce was still usable, a significant portion of its potential value was lost.

Third, buyers for the new crop need to either already exist at the local mandi (wholesale market), or brought to the local market, or the produce shipped to wherever the buyers are. In Bihar, I was speaking to farmers who traditionally grow cauliflower. Driving around the area in the cauliflower season, you see miles and miles of cauliflower. I asked a savvy farmer group why they grow the same crop that everyone else does and they replied that since the region is known for cauliflower, it is the cauliflower buyers who come to their local mandi. If they started growing something else, they cannot be confident of finding a buyer. Interventions in crop switching (such as organic farming) work well when a new market-facing intermediary is created to procure the produce directly, or act as a sourcing agent for other buyers..

And lastly, the financial risks of making the transition need to be absorbed or softened. For example, a few organizations working on transitioning farmers to organic farming are experimenting with providing a financial safety net during the first three years of transition and low yields before the produce can be certified as organic. These kinds of arrangements could be considered in this context as well and would help encourage farmers to switch to new kinds of crops.