Changing the face of agriculture in Mokhada Taluka
‘It was like getting admission in the school for the first time and directly appearing for S.S.C exam’
Reflections of a farmer, of Koch village on exporting vegetables to London!
In India, agriculture is always considered as the mainstay of large number of population. Presently, most of the farmers are doing subsistence farming which hardly earns them enough to meet the requirements of their family. There is need to convert subsistence farming to an income-generating proposition; so that the people surviving on it could have surplus money to lead a secured and decent life. Currently, 66.2% of rural males and 81.6% of rural females work as agricultural laborers (Kurukshetra, vol 69, 2015) the scenario exists equally among the farmers owning land as well as the landless. The major reason being, the depleting status of agriculture: as a viable occupation. The hardest hit communities are often, the small and the marginal farmers; more so, the ones belonging to tribal areas; where even today, the first generations learners are slowly planting their feet, and the infrastructural facilities, purchasing power of the people is limited to the bare minimum.
In this context, understanding the significance of agriculture and the need for its commercialization; in 2011, our organization- AROEHAN, ventured into development of agriculture in Mokhada Taluka, with the modest beginning of only 11 farmers from a tiny hamlet of Khoch.
The initial effort was, to understand the hurdles in agriculture: – Agriculture products are mainly divided into food- grains such as rice, finger millet and non- food grains like vegetables, fruits; the food-grains are essentially used for self-consumption, whereas the non-food grains are considered commercial in the market and fetch a reasonably higher price.
To begin with, the farmers in Mokhada traditionally grew only food grains and it would not be an exaggeration to say that, ‘vegetable cultivation’ was an alien term to them; to the extent that even the land records of the region did not reflect any practice of vegetable farming. At this point forward, our first natural step was to introduce, non-food grains, which are well suited to the climate and topography of Mokhada. Conversely, the reluctance of the famers was foreseeable; it took us an array of meetings, coupled with thorough study of factors such as water and land availability to encourage the first set of 11 farmers to undertake ‘Okra’ cultivation. AROEHAN, then, collaborated with ‘field-fresh’ to oversee the marketing of the vegetable, and another seed company to provide the technical expertise for its cultivation.
Why Group Farming?
Since, Mokhada is a remote area, transportation of agricultural produce was going to be one of the biggest challenges, AROEHAN, realized this at the very start and hence developed the ‘Group Farming and Collective Marketing model’ to counter it. The model, works on a simple principle that, the farmers come together as a group for purpose of trainings, crop planning, accounting, meetings; however, they cultivate on their farms individually. Through ‘collective marketing’, the agriculture produce of the whole group is sold as a unit; and the expenses of transportation are also shared by the group. This cuts down on the cost of transportation and also facilitates sharing of knowledge, skills and resources. We implemented this model, at Khoch, and as aforementioned a group of 11 farmers was formed.
This marked not only the beginning of new farming practices but overcoming many social barriers such as caste conflicts– one of the group members belonged to ‘Patil community’- considered as an upper caste in the village. He faced a lot of resistance from his own family members and despite of several challenges, threats the group did not budge; they continued with group farming model.
On hand the farmers were coping with the resistance from the community and on the other hand struggling to grasp the new techniques of farming. Field fresh trained the farmers in GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) techniques, packaging and marketing, use of pesticides, quality assurance. In the first year itself, the group collectively produced 7 tons of Okra, which was exported to UK markets. When asked about the challenges they faced during exporting, they recall, one of the most trying times, ‘a death had occurred in the village and as per the strong value system, none of the villagers worked during the mourning period. However, the group had an export order, which would have been incomplete, had they not worked.’ The group stood united and challenged the dogma. They worked that day despite the constant resistance, curses and threats of the community in which they had grown up.’ The farmers have shown tremendous courage in all situations. The first time they went to the market, they had no clue about the prices, systems and almost returned scared and confused. Today, the same set of farmers, understand the competitive pricing of the market and accordingly undertake the crop-selection.
Since then, the farmers of Khoch, have been instrumental in bringing vegetable cultivation to Mokhada. Learning from their success, many farmers of Mokhada opened up to the idea of ‘group farming model’ and ‘vegetable cultivation’. Today, we have been able to reach out to 350 farmers in Mokhada and Jawhar Talukas.
Bringing technological interventions:
After achieving our first milestone, we still had to find out alternatives to increase the net profit earned by the farmers: firstly, by increasing the agricultural productivity and concurrently, reducing the cost of cultivation. During our interventions, we realized that ‘Non availability of water’ was a major constraint. Farmers were forced to practice only rain-fed agriculture as there was no means of bringing water till the farms. We had to develop ways, to adapt technology to increase agriculture productivity.
At Khoch village, through government schemes, pipes were installed to pump water from a nearby dam, till the farms. However, this did not solve the problem entirely as the method proved to be labor and water intensive. The farmers had to water the crops for 12 hrs at a stretch and sometimes even, over-night. As the water flow remained constant and often low, at any given point of time, only a single plot of land could be watered. To avoid inter-conflicts, the farmers devised the system of utilizing water on a rotational basis; which still meant that the frequency of watering the crops was low, and this in turn adversely affected the production of the crops. Furthermore, the flow of water was not moderated; leading to a mushroom growth of weeds around the crops and fungal infestation to the roots, which further restricted the growth of the crop. As a result, weeding became an additional cost for the farmers. For weeding of two acres of land, around 10-12 agricultural laborers had to be employed. This increased the cost of production considerably.
Hence, a need for appropriate technological solutions was felt: In this context, drip-irrigation system had proved to be successful in many parts of India, and was well suited for areas having high level of water stress. The farmers of Khoch had heard about this system and were convinced about its significance. However, the process of finding the apt technical experts took around two years; there were various hindrances for installation of the drip irrigation system at Khoch. The major reason being the accumulation of silt; it would clog the emitters, as a result, the diffusion of water from the pipes would not take place.
At last, in December-2014, drip-irrigation system was installed at Khoch village, under project ‘Boond- AkshayJal’, (the project is a joint collaborative venture between BPCL and AROEHAN. It aims to bring water solutions and agriculture development in the villages of Mokhada Taluka).
Status of agriculture development under Boond-AkshayJal Project
|No. of Villages covered under agriculture development||No. of families benefited through vegetable farming and floriculture||No.of families covered through tree-based plantations|
Additionally, through the drip irrigation system, we have been able to irrigate 9 acres of land and have benefited 17 farmers in all. A company called NIMBUS engineered the entire system.
Key features of drip-irrigation at Khoch:
- Installation of a sand-filter:
The silt-accumulation was taken care of by installing a sand-filter; this facilitated collection of silt and pumped filtered water to the farms. Along with this, we also implemented mulching technique on the farms. The filter has to be cleaned every 15 days. The farmers have been trained in maintenance of the filter.
- Irrigation system running on gravitational force:
The drip irrigation pipes have been set-up in a manner that the flow of water is run entirely on gravity. This is clearly, the USP of the system installed at Khoch village. As it has managed to counter the disadvantages of drip irrigation in rural areas: – the high cost of diesel engine or electricity. Due to use of gravitational force, the cost of supplying water to the farms is zero. The cost of production for the farmers, is cut-down even further, and has successfully put an end to the hassles of long hours of power-cuts, inaccessibility to electricity on farms; and the inflating diesel prices.
Impact of drip irrigation:
Impact of drip irrigation on crop yield and water-consumption: (National Committee on Plasticulture Application in Horticulture, FAO corporate Documentary Repositary Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd
|Crops||Water Saving (%)||Increase in yield (%)|
Conservation of water: Drip irrigation applies water directly to the soil, eliminating water loss from the wind. It is best suited from uneven, hilly lands. This was evident, during our discussion with the farmers of Khoch. They witnessed significant decrease in the quantity of water- used for the field. Earlier, it used to take 10-12 hrs of continuous water supply to irrigate the field, whereas now it has been reduced to mere twenty minutes.
Decreases labor: Drip irrigation is an efficient time, money and labor saving system. A farmer used to spend approximately half a day, only to water, two acres of land. Moreover, the crops had to be watered at least every four days. This required huge amount of labour time. However, with the new drip irrigation technology, the farmer simply has to rotate the valve and the fields gets irrigated through a systematically.
Reduced cost of production: Due to the flooding technique, a constant growth of weeds is formed near the ridges of the plants. As a result of which, the growth of the crop gets affected. Under such circumstances, it was imperative for the farmers to employ 12 agriculture laborers, three times a month, to remove the weeds. The cost of each labourer would be around Rs. 100/- each amounting to approximately Rs. 3600/- per month. This escalated the cost of production for the farmers. However, with the use of drip irrigation along-with mulching technique, has lessened the growth of weeds to such an extent, that currently, a family of two alone can take care of it; and they do not require to incur any additional labor expenses.
Prevention of crop diseases and crops grows consistently and matures fast- drip irrigation prevents disease by minimizing water contact with the leaves, stems, and roots of the plants.
Increase in agricultural produce: In Drip irrigation technique, the water is slowly percolated in the land through emitters directly, at the roots of the crop. This helps in dual ways; firstly, the roots of the plants get sufficient water. Secondly, soluble fertilizers directly reach the plant. This improves the quality and productivity of the plant.
The farmers of Khoch have been slowly growing into fine entrepreneurs. They understand the ‘cost-benefit’ aspect of agriculture practices. As Mokhada, is situated about 150 kms away from Mumbai and at a distance of 65 kms from Nashik. Transportation of agriculture produce despite, collective marketing was becoming difficult. One of the major reasons was ‘Non-availability of transport facilites’. The markets in Mumbai and Nashik open in the wee hours of morning, this created hassles for timely transportation of the produce from Mokhada. During many instances, the farmers had to bear a loss Rs. 8,000/- to 10,000/- each, due to an hour’s delay. To tackle this problem, the group applied for a vehicle loan and has now bought its own vehicle (January, 2015) at an EMI of Rs. 8000/- per month. One of the farmers from the group has learned to drive. Te group has devised a plan for payment of installments. They lease out the vehicle during off-seasons (except for the harvesting period), and the income generated from this is directed to the installments. Secondly, they also give the vehicle to transport produce of other farmers in the neighboring areas; at a concessional rate.
The trajectory of the farmers of Khoch has shown incredible growth. A farmer, who once practiced only subsistence farming, has now developed thorough understanding and knowledge of the market. He has gradually developed the skill sets required for keeping accounts and stock of the produce and has adapted to latest techniques of farming.
AROEHAN has played the role of a facilitator, however, it the conviction and determination of the farmers that has paved way for corporate giants like BPCL to undertake projects wherein they extend their financial, non-financial and human resources to bring about such pioneering developmental projects at Mokhada Taluka.