Specially cultivated for the keg

Aditi Nigam | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on March 27, 2015

Barley to brewery Arrivals at a Saanjhi Unnati centre in Chomu, Jaipur

barley crop

Water-starved villages earn a tidy profit growing malt barley for a beer company

At first glance, she appears as just another Rajasthani woman dressed in colourful attire, a veil pulled right down to her belly. But away from the gaze of a large group of male farmers in a village in Chomu tehsil in Jaipur district, when Neelam lifts her veil, there emerges a confident young female farmer. The 27-year-old is doing something unheard of in her village — a post-graduation in political science. The mother of two is part of a 60-member joint family of largely illiterate farmers that grows wheat, mustard, vegetables and barley.

The family is among several in Rajasthan that are assisted by beer manufacturer SABMiller India, under its Saanjhi Unnati (progress through partnership) project launched in 2005, to upgrade their barley crop from cattle-feed to malt quality, as well as improve other local crops such as sorghum and cassava that are used in alcohol making. Government and non-profit organisations are involved in the effort.

“Barley crop in India is feed-grade and not remunerative enough for farmers, which is why we initiated this project for improving our barley supply chain and securing a long-term, reliable source of locally grown malt-quality crop,” says Arvind Verma, Senior Manager, Barley Procurement, SABMiller India.

The company has offered farmers an ‘assured market’ for malt barley at a fixed price of ₹1,300 per tonne, higher than the ₹1,100 per tonne quoted in mandis.

Barley cultivation requires less water compared to, say, wheat, making it ideal for water-deficit States such as Rajasthan. As many as 37 Saanjhi Unnati centres are present across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, covering more than 9,500 farmers and 31,000 acres.

In 2013-14, SABMiller India planned to buy 45,000-50,000 million tonnes (mt) of malt barley, with 36,822 mt targeted from its 19 centres in Rajasthan alone. The company sold 1,309 mt of certified seeds to farmers, compared to 165 mt in 2005-06, when it had only three centres.

As the company requires about 80,000 mt, it has attempted to improve yields at a research centre set up at its Neemrana bottling plant in 2012-13 at a cost of ₹5 crore. New strains of barley are developed to fetch a higher yield.

Through Saanjhi Unnati, the company is able to source 65 per cent of its barley requirement, from just five per cent in 2005-06.

Many of the farming families seemed happy as the project provides them a ready market and the right price. “The company people come to us, lift the crop from our fields and pay us,” says Neelam.

Some farmers in Itawa Bhogji village, however, seemed dissatisfied. “Water is such a problem. So when there is low productivity or a slight variation in quality, we suffer. Ultimately, we use the barley to feed our cattle,” says Birju.

SABMiller India’s Verma said the company does lift slightly low-quality barley, but at lower prices.

Farmer Shivnarain conceded that his income had risen after joining the project, but higher urea prices and untimely rains had played spoilsport this year. For an enduring and profitable partnership, the company and barley growers would need to jointly tackle the threat posed by climate change and crop damage.

The visit to Chomu, Rajasthan, was arranged by SABMiller India

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Published on March 27, 2015
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