Positive Deviance and Appreciative Inquiry: The story of slowly transforming Sadai



With development interventions’ increasing focus on utilizing a given community’s strengths in order to lead to desired outcomes, the field narrative detailed in this piece by the researcher Malvya Chintakindi sheds light on Sehgal Foundation’s (SF) work in Sadai village which serves as a case of successful utilization of positive deviance and appreciate inquiry.


Positive deviance is an approach to behavioral and social change based on the observation that in any community, there are people whose uncommon but successful behaviours or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources or knowledge than their peers. These individuals are referred to as positive deviants. Identifying capable individuals who can serve as examples to others in the same context facilitates better understanding of the intervention at hand. This essay highlights how Sehgal Foundation was able to influence farmers in Sadai village to adopt better farming practices through targeting positive deviants in the sampled village.

Jafruddin using a solar spary pump on the field

Coupled with positive deviance, the essay also showcases how the concept of appreciative inquiry was utilized in order to successfully perform interventions in Sadai. Appreciative inquiry is based on the assumption that every community has its own assets in physical or non-physical forms which can be the starting point to creating positive change. This is fundamentally different from the problem-solving Deficit Approach, which focuses on the things that are not working and tries to fix them. Building the capacity and understanding of a community is a fundamentally different task than fixing the old processes that are no longer viable. In Sadai’s case, appreciative inquiry was effectively employed to steer capable farmers to serve as an example for the rest of the farmers in the village.

Sadai is a village located in the foothills of Aravalis in Nuh block, Nuh district, in southern Haryana. There are approximately 400 households in the village and the dominant occupation is farming. Farmers in Sadai majorly grow wheat, tomatoes, ridge gourd, mustard, pearl millet and Sorghum. There are also a few contractual labourers, construction labourers and those who work in the mining industry. Before now, there is one government run primary school with classes only up to the 5th standard but recently, classes up until eighth standard were added, making it a middle school. Most of the children discontinue going to school after fifth or eighth to take care of their younger siblings. Only very few girls or boys move on to other regions to study further. There is no hospital in the village and the nearest medical facility is at least 15kms away.

Sehgal Foundation commenced its work in six villages of Nuh block in December 2017. The intention, as reported by Mr. Kailash Gupta, Sehgal Foundation’s Agriculture expert, is to provide knowledge and to improve understanding regarding best practices in farming in order to improve their crop yields, for them to reap profits and to sustain their livelihoods. This is being done through organizing monthly meetings in the chosen villages, providing demonstrations in 0.5 acres of a given farmer’s land (the demonstration and non-demonstration plots of the farmer are 0.5 acres each that help in the display and comparison of the result of a particular farming practice) and imparting knowledge regarding better farming practices such as staking, weed management, composting, spraying of pesticides and so on. Depending on their attendance at the monthly meetings and their ability to adopt a new practice, a handful of farmers are chosen by Mr. Gupta to serve as an example to other farmers. Appreciative Inquiry allows the organization to understand the strengths of the chosen farmers. These farmers are encouraged to take up new farming practices such as staking and composting or are provided with equipment such as solar spray pumps and reaper machines used for harvesting. These farmers, in turn, serve as positive deviants for the other farmers in the village enabling them to witness the results of Sehgal Foundation introduced farming practices in action while also spiking their interest in adopting the same.

Field Account illustrating positive deviance and appreciative inquiry in Sadai

Sadai Village, Nuh district, May 2018


“One night earlier this year, there was a huge thunderstorm. There was no electricity and it was pitch dark. On the lane in front of my house, I placed a street light that runs through solar energy. Surprised, everyone in the village came running to see this light in front of my house. Now our nights are so full of light due to this solar tube light given to us by Sehgal Foundation (SF),” says Jafruddin, a 70 year old farmer owning 5 acres of land in Sadai who has been a part of Sehgal Foundation’s intervention. Now, the premises of the village school and six mosques are lit up through solar tube lights. Solar energy based lighting is just one of the many benefits listed by the farmers in Sadai as a result of Sehgal Foundation’s work.

When Mr. Gupta initially stepped in Sadai, he inquired if there was any farmer well known for his farming practices in the village. It was then that he was directed to Mehmood Khan, a middle-aged farmer owning 5 acres of land, who has been farming since 25 years. He has studied until 12th standard in Nuh and got back to agriculture as he had keen interest in it. Mehmood is considered an advanced farmer in the village as he has been using drip irrigation system and cultivating vegetables since a long time, way before Sehgal Foundation started its work in Sadai.


As a part of the intervention, Mehmood was provided with a fertilizer mixture called ‘Jeva’ that facilitates in increasing the moisture content in the soil. “The soil is fertile in Sadai, owing to its proximity to the Aravali Mountains. At the same time, Sadai is also arid and humid with temperature often reaching 38 degree Celsius which is why it is important to ensure soil moisture,” says Mehmood. If the moisture content of a soil is optimum for plant growth, plants can readily absorb soil water. Not all the water, held in soil, is available to plants as much of water remains in the soil as a thin film. Soil water dissolves salts and makes up the soil solution, which serves as a medium for supply of nutrients to growing plants. Mehmood reports that ever since he started using Jeva, plants in his field do not dry up. They look fresh and green.

In addition to Jeva, Mehmood was given a mixture that is to be mixed with the food served to buffaloes and cows. As a result, his cattle have become stronger, devoid of worms and consume their food properly. Due to good health, the quality of milk produced has increased. Mehmood was also given a compost unit to make compost using cow dung. Cow manure contains three main plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Fresh cow manure contains sizeable water content that keeps soil evenly moist throughout the growing season. Mehmood reports that the compost made in the compost unit is much better than chemical fertilizers as useful germs stay alive. He is also able to guard the compost made from any incidences of rain.

Harvesting is probably one of the most eventful and celebratory task in farming as the produce gets ready to leave the farm. Harvesting at the right time and in the right way maximizes grain yield and minimizes grain losses and quality deterioration. In terms of machinery utilized in the process of harvesting, interested farmers in Sadai contributed Rs. 10,000 each in order to procure a reaper machine for themselves which was facilitated by Sehgal Foundation. There are around 25 farmers who now own their own reaper machine. The money contributed by each farmer now sits in the form of a direct deposit under their respective names with the reaper machine vendor. Reaper is any farm machine that cuts grain. Early reapers simply cut the crop and drop it unbound, but modern machines include harvesters, combines, and binders, which also perform other harvesting operations. Mehmood and other farmers use reaper machines to harvest wheat in their own farms. They also harvest farms in other villages at a discount of Rs. 200. Typically, it costs at least Rs.6000 to harvest one acre of wheat. Due to reaper machines, 25 farmers in the village do not have to spend money on harvesting. In turn, they also get to earn money through harvesting in other farmers’ farms. Use of reaper machines cuts the cost of labour and has enabled Mehmood to harvest in a timely fashion thus saving his yield from being damaged by thunderstorms like that one that hit Sadai earlier this year. 

Stakes in the demonstration plot

Similar to Mehmood, Jafruddin also uses a reaper machine to harvest wheat in his farm. Farmers in Sadai respect Jafruddin as he is an elderly farmer who has adapted farming practices introduced by Sehgal Foundation. When he learnt that Mr. Gupta was meeting Mehmood to speak about farming practices and to provide advanced technology or solutions, Jafruddin, a farmer who has been cultivating tomatoes since 25-30 years, expressed his interest in being a part of Sehgal Foundation’s work. Mr. Gupta visited his tomato farm and introduced the concept of staking. Staking is the process of driving a stake into the ground near the plant and gently tying the stem to the stake using a thick thread or yarn, and repeating the same as the stems grow. This method was employed in Jafruddin’s demonstration plot (0.5 acres). Now, his tomato farm is popular in the village for it contains bright and big tomatoes staked uniformly.

Jafruddin admits that he did not understand why staking was important when he was provided with stakes and yarn. He only agreed to try it out of curiosity. “All our neighbors started laughing at us since they did not understand the concept of staking as well. I wanted to try it out nonetheless. It took the help of my children to drive stakes in my field and my children who are also farmers did not understand why we should be doing it either and found it cumbersome. We were able to complete staking the whole farm in 8 to 10 days,” says Jafruddin.

Staking saves space as it allows for more plants to be grown in a given area. In general, the ideal spacing for tomato plants is between 24-36 inches apart. Staking also keeps tomatoes off ground making it easier to pick tomatoes and to work around plants. Staking tomatoes leads to earlier harvest. The pruning (defined as pinching off all side shoots so that the plant may utilize all its food and energy for fruit development) of staked tomatoes allows the plant to use most of its energy in ripening fruit. Staked tomatoes have more leaves exposed to the sun, which allows the plant to manufacture more energy sooner and for blossoms to have the power they need to set fruit earlier. Given these advantages, Jafruddin was soon able to witness the results of staking. 

As a result, non-staked tomatoes (in Jafruddin’s non-demonstration plot which is 0.5 acres) are being sold for Rs. 200 per crate and pesticides such as ‘billo’ and ‘current’ were used. Staked tomatoes (in Jafurddin’s demonstration plot which is 0.5 acres) are being sold for Rs. 300 per crate and minimal chemical fertilizers were used. In the non-demonstration plot, 20 crates of tomatoes were produced (each crate typically holds 30 kilos of tomatoes) whereas in the demonstration plot, 50 crates of tomatoes were produced.

With a broad smile on his face, Jafruddin reports that his field has now become an attraction in the village as farmers would visit to see his staked tomatoes. He mentioned that he would continue staking his tomatoes even if Mr. Gupta doesn’t provide him with stakes and yarn. Staking seems to be a sustainable practice for Jafruddin.

Jafruddin also employs the use of solar spray pump given to him by Sehgal Foundation to spray pesticides and fertilizers in his field. A Sprayer is a piece of equipment that is used to apply herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers on agricultural crops. Sprayers range in size from man-portable units (typically backpacks with spray guns) to trailed sprayers that are connected to a tractor, to self-propelled units similar to tractors, with boom mounts of 60–151 feet in length. Jafruddin initially used a spray pump that runs through electricity which costs Rs. 2000. Now, he prefers using the solar spray pump though it costs Rs. 5000. He likes the fact that the solar spray pump charges through a solar panel attached to it and that no electricity is required. Since electricity is a major problem in Sadai with an average of 6.5 hours of electricity supply during summer, farmers like Jafruddin and Mehmood prefer solar spray pumps as it is practical and feasible for them. As Mehmood remarks, “Solar spray pump is like a doctor for the vegetables”. Solar lights have also been set up in most visited places such as mosques and the school in Sadai.

Another young farmer from the village, Mohammad Mubarik, adds that he was able to charge his mobile phone using the charging system inside the solar spray pump. “I was speaking on my mobile phone one day when there was a storm that evening and there was no electricity. I needed to use my mobile to speak with someone urgently and I used the charging system inside the solar pump to charge my mobile. The mobile remained charged for the next three days,” he says. Mubarik was also provided with a mixture that is to be mixed with the food for cattle, a reaper machine and a solar spray pump.

These instances indicate that when things are explained to the farmers clearly and more importantly, are able to witness the results in action; they will be willing to employ them to improve their agricultural lives.

Farmers involved with Sehgal Foundation in Sadai are vocal in discussing their ideas. However, there are a few farmers in Sadai who neither attend Sehgal Foundation’s monthly meetings regularly nor show any interest in the farming practices being discussed. Irrespective, they tend to feel isolated of other farmers who have been provided with animal food mixtures, solar spray pumps, and reaper machines and so on. There is a dearth in their understanding with regard to the objectives of Sehgal Foundation’s work in Sadai. As Mr. Gupta clearly spells out, “We organize meetings with all farmers in Sadai. We do not just provide all kinds of materials or equipment to everyone. We select farmers depending on their capacity and those in whom we are able to see a certain sense of understanding and caliber. We give demonstrations and expect farmers to understand and follow them. We help everyone but can’t provide everything to everyone as that would be financially burdensome and does not encourage farmers’ to understand things on their own. Our goal is to provide knowledge and to guide them.” Farmers like Jafruddin, Mehmood and Mubarik support the idea of being guided than being spoon fed. They believe that farmers should be motivated enough to take things into their own hands.

Farmers in Sadai understand the importance of water conservation. Due to Sadai’s proximity to the Aravalis, ground water near the foothills where most agricultural land is present is ‘sweet’ or of high quality. Most farmers own their own personal bore wells dug up to 200 ft. This groundwater is used for irrigation, drinking and all other household purposes. There is a canal that flows through the village which originates in Faridabad. The water in this canal is very dark and is filled with factory and industrial waste. Farmers usually use this water to irrigate their wheat farms. Even though the farmers in Sadai have not faced any acute water shortage, they realize that conserving water is very necessary. They report that the water quality is depleting slowly and that water conservation is very crucial. They are aware of the fact that as more land is dug deeper, the groundwater quality goes down. They also do not believe that rainfall could come to their rescue. In Sadai, unlike the sweet water available at the agricultural fields, the quality of groundwater situated away from the fields is very low. Villagers face shortages of drinking water. Drinking water is being supplied by the government for free to them. Sometimes, farmers drive tractors to transport water from the foothills to the village.


In light of the water situation, Mehmood suggests that Sehgal Foundation should concentrate on activities related to water conservation during the demonstrations. Sehgal Foundation associated farmers already understand the concept of drip and sprinkler irrigation. A few farmers like Jafruddin, Mehmood and Mubarik already use drip irrigation technique in their farms. Irrigation means to supply dry land with water, artificially, by means of pipes, ditches, or streams. Sprinkler systems deliver water to crops, gardens, and lawns by shooting it out of sprinkler heads high into the air, where it can then fall down onto the plants. Drip irrigation method delivers water directly to the soil, leaving stems, leaves, and other foliage completely dry.

In addition to these irrigation techniques, Mehmood also suggests that farmers should be made well aware of mulching. Mulch is a material placed on the soil surface to maintain moisture, reduce weed growth, mitigate soil erosion and improve soil conditions. Mulching (installing mulches) can help to improve crop yield and optimize water use.

Sehgal Foundation associated farmers in Sadai are keen on developing their farming practices while conserving water. Mehmood expressed his interest in planting a Kinnow (mandarin hybrid) and lemon garden. Since these plant varieties require less water and because Sadai’s soil is fertile, he believes that investing in such gardens would be beneficial for their village. Advanced farmers like Mehmood are also aware that they need to upgrade their knowledge regarding seed varieties, hybrids and various other agricultural aspects every year.

The younger generation in the village would also like to take up farming since the villagers have been farming since decades and since it is the predominant occupation. Few farmers such as Mubarik would like their children to be educated in order to move away from farming. Nonetheless, most farmers take pride in their profession. Their produce is usually sold in Gurugram, Delhi and Alwar. As Mehmood very aptly notes, “One can see Mewat’s (Mewat is the former name of ‘Nuh’ block.) glory in every Mandi (Mandi means a large market where typically, vegetables are sold.) in Haryana”.




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  2. Appreciative Inquiry, NC State University, Cooperative Extension, 2008. https://communitydevelopment.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Appreciative-Inquiry3.pdf?fwd=no
  3. Soil Moisture, My Agriculture Information Bank, 2015. http://www.agriinfo.in/?page=topic&superid=4&topicid=274
  4. The advantages of cow manure, SFGate. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/advantages-cow-manure-72719.html
  5. Grant, Amy. Spacing Tomato Plants: How to space tomato plants, Gardeningknowhow, 2018.https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/tomato/spacing-tomato-plants.htm
  6. Staking and training in tomato production, Agropedia.
  7. Saxena, Niti., Socio Economic Profile of Select Villages of Mewat, Institute of Rural Research & Development, 2013. http://www.smsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Socio-Economic-Profile-of-IRRADs-Intervention-Villages.pdf

*For more inquiries on this research work email our editors: editors@villagesquarejournal.com

Malvya Chintakindi is a trilingual Development Professional with a Master’s in International Policy and Development with a concentration in Monitoring, Evaluation, and Design. She currently works as a Research Associate at Sehgal Foundation, a grassroots interventionist organization based in Gurugram, Haryana. Sehgal foundation designs and promotes rural development interventions that create opportunities, build resilience, and provide solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in India’s poorest communities.

She has previously worked as a Research Analyst at Outline India and was responsible for building proposals, coordinating field work and assisting with communications and outreach. Prior to that, she had also served as a Micro-Enterprise Consultant for small-scale farmers in the Salinas Valley of California developing process evaluation tools and overseeing their implementation. Her research interest span a wide variety of areas, some of them being poverty alleviation, gender disparities, sustainable development and inclusive growth.