Rasheeda Bhagat

Harvesting self-worth

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on October 10, 2013

women delegates at the Gujarat Global Agri meet. - Rasheeda Bhagat

Prabhakaran grows brown basmati in Tamil Nadu. - Rasheeda Bhagat


In the group of 4,000-odd farmers my eyes looked for women and found barely one or two in the huge Mahatma Mandir complex in Gandhi Nagar, where Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government had organised a mega farmers’ meet. With its swank convention facilities and plush, air-conditioned conference halls, the edifice seemed a bit incongruous for the farmers who had congregated here from 542 districts in 29 States. But they were lapping up the attention, and the Amul buttermilk and ice cream and other goodies dished out in abundance at the three-day vibrant Gujarat Global Agricultural meet.

In the mela-like atmosphere, farmers with colourful pagdis and other traditional headgear were going around the exhibitions put up by over 200 companies selling farming equipment. Or listening with rapt attention at technical sessions where high-value farming experts explained how to improve yield, adopt diversified farming and utilise banjhar zameen (wasteland) for highly profitable ventures such as beekeeping, livestock rearing and dairy farming.

Women farmers

Suddenly, in the main conference hall, I found the female farmers I was hunting for. This was where the farmers’ panchayat was being held, and where Modi made it a point to return after lunch, having already spent over three hours at the morning inaugural session. He honoured the successful and the innovators, each with a cash award of Rs 51,000.

One such winner was Santosh from Rajasthan’s Kota district. She owns 24 bighas (about 15 acres) on which the family grows rice, wheat, vegetables, amla (gooseberry). For her, agriculture is profitable “but not because of what we grow, rice, wheat or vegetables. It is because we have put our land to different use, and taken advantage of the various government subsidies for agriculture.”

One of the subsidies she first applied for was related to drip irrigation, and then vermicompost. “And now we have taken a big warehouse which can store up to 63,000 bags of foodgrains. While a male gets only 25 per cent subsidy for such a warehouse, as a woman I got 33 per cent subsidy. I have plans to lease out this warehouse for seven years and that will bring us good income.”

Santosh says that unlike in some other States, in Rajasthan it is easy for farmers like her to get bank finance for such schemes; “I got the remaining 67 per cent of the money required for the warehouse at 11.5 per cent interest from the Oriental Bank of Commerce.”

Also, she adds, she runs a very successful dairy venture selling eggs and paneer.

Coming to the larger question of whether agriculture was profitable at all for the farmer, she says: “Yes, if we do diverse activities.” Her family manages to generate income exceeding Rs 25-30 lakh from the land.

So, would her children go into agriculture?

Rate ka chakkar

The answer is a very forceful ‘no’. “ Nahi Madam, yeh sab rates ka chakkar hei (rate conundrum).” Santosh explains that compared to the hard labour all her family members put into the land, what they get out of it is “not satisfactory any longer”. The extremely articulate woman explains patiently, “ Sarkar ko sochna chahiye ki kyo har roz 2,500 kisan kheti chhod kar ja rahe hei (The Government should ponder why every day 2,500 people are quitting farming).”

To illustrate, she says, in 1970-80 “by selling one quintal of wheat, a farmer could buy one tola of gold. Today he’ll need about 25-30 quintals.” Other comparisons follow in quick succession. “In one pizza 100 gm maida is used. You pay Rs 400-1,000 for that pizza, depending on the restaurant you visit, but the farmer gets barely Rs 1.50 for that maida. How is this fair, and how will he survive?” And prices of inputs from diesel to fertilisers, seeds and labour have all shot up. “ Kab tak ghate mei rehke kisan karega kheti (how long will the farmer continue to make losses),” she asks angrily.

And the future will only get worse, she predicts, adding that while her son has chosen to become an engineer, her daughter, after completing a linguistics course from JNU, worked for Google for some time. “Now she is doing her PhD at an institute near Siliguri; as a research scholar she gets Rs 22,000 stipend, so why would she come into farming,” is the valid question Santosh asks.

It was heartening to find smaller farmers, particularly women, who were using their land for livestock rearing and making a decent living. One such feisty woman was Ranjan Ben Patel, from Gujarat, who was using her two-acre plot to grow some rice as well as rear “seven cows and five calves”. The milk fetched an income of Rs 50,000 a month “and I’ve used this money to educate my daughter and send her to London to work as a helper in a store,” she said with great pride.

On an earlier visit to Ahmedabad I had learnt from some Patel farmers that the main objective of almost every Patel family in Gujarat was to send at least one member to the UK; the cost came to a couple of lakh rupees. It was great to note that Ranjan Ben, who came from an ordinary background, had added her bit to grow the Patel clan in the UK!

Sita, from Ajmer, had come with a group of seven farmers, three of them women. All were marginal farmers owning barely a couple of acres, which didn’t give them much income from the wheat, chana, bajra and other millets they grew on it. And yet, they were happy being farmers; “we don’t have skills for anything else”, said Sita. Smilingly she added, spreading out her palms: “We have some free time, and we have these hands, so whenever we find the time we work as labourers on other farmers’ fields. We are not afraid of hard work.”

Pride and innovation were the sterling qualities of many of these farmers. Prabhakaran, has come with a group of 140 farmers from Tamil Nadu. He says farming can be a “super profession, if you do it the right way”. He has seven acres, of which two have been leased. He grows paddy and flowers on the other five acres, and says it is possible to earn Rs 12 lakh from both.

Exporting brown basmati

“But we have to do value addition,” he says, and carefully unseals a polythene bag to pour out on my palm the grains of the “brown basmati rice” he grows. He urges me to chew it, and grins when I say it’s sweet and tasty. “And nutritious too, madam! It has no chemical fertilisers and is not polished.”

This rice can fetch him Rs 140 a kg in export markets like Singapore and Malaysia, he says, adding, “I am looking for a buyer.” Prabhakaran’s farm is in Thiruvannamalai, near Chennai, and he grows this rice using natural manure.

Does he mean organic? “No, if I label it organic, there are too many inspections and hassles. So I call it natural farming. The manure he uses is made from “cow dung, cow urine, 2 kg of jaggery, 2 kg each of different millets, and I use only drip/micro irrigation.”

Once he establishes his export chain “it is possible to make Rs 5 lakh from each acre”, he says confidently.

Swaran Singh, from Himachal Pradesh, who grows pulses and oilseeds on his two hectares, is searching for the lab-to-field link. He doesn’t grow apples in a State famous for it “because it’s a lot of hard work and there is no marketing support from the Government.… the apples for which you pay Rs 90-100 a kg, the farmer gets barely Rs 15. It is the middleman who makes all the money,” he rues.

Always watchful for better alternatives, he found mushroom cultivation quite profitable, but the drawback is that “these are very delicate and prone to pest attacks”. Singh says that farmers like him desperately need practical and timely tips on dealing with such issues. So this enterprising farmer has collected a group of 250 people from his region and is trying to establish a link with agri labs to find ways to ensure better yields under difficult conditions.

It was heartening to know that not all farmers are resigned to their fate. By shifting to making and marketing honey, Goswami Devyog of Jammu has struck a pot of gold. He grows rice and vegetables on 2.5 acres of his “good land” out of a total seven acres. But his main profit — “around Rs 25 lakh a year” — comes from the 4.5-acre “wasteland” used for apiculture. Starting with one, he now has 1,000 boxes of bees; and with Dabur and Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali buying his honey, all his three sons have returned to the family profession. “With their help I am now packing and marketing our honey under the J&K honey brand,” he beams.

Published on October 10, 2013

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor