Emerging Entrepreneurs

How UP, Jharkhand farmers managed to earn a sustainable income

Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla | Updated on October 08, 2019 Published on September 17, 2019

Farmer Embrosiya Kiro (left) from Kanghi, Jharkhand

Better Life Farming imparts training on a range of eco-friendly farming practices

On his 5-acre farm in Uttar Pradesh where he grows tomato, pea and green chilli, Umakant Singh is busy dispensing agronomic advisory to fellow farmers.

The 48-year-old agri entrepreneur has set up a small shop in his premises where he helps other farmers with the latest know-how and sells seeds even as he encourages village folk to imbibe eco-friendly farming practices.

“I used to get 7-9 tonnes of chillies per acre. And then rot and disease struck my farm,” Umakant says, remembering the troubled times he faced in sustaining his family with his meagre earning.

“In 2016, after we adopted the multi-green practices (of Better Life Farming), we had a record crop of 22 tonnes of chilli,” says Umakant. From 7 tonnes to 22 tonnes, Umakant has learnt to grow more with less.

Unlocking the potential

Better Life Farming — a global alliance of International Finance Corporation, Bayer Crop Science, global insurance company Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, and drip irrigation technology firm Netafim — aims to help smallholders unlock their farming potential.

In Ranchi, Jharkhand, Rubi Devi has a similar story of despair that wrecked her field.

Rubi Devi, who owns six acres at Merle village, about 125 km from Ranchi, used to grow potatoes, rice, cauliflower and green gram, but barely managed to eke out a living for her three children and in-laws when her crop was ravaged by rot.

“In 2017, we were given training on tomatoes — how to string the plant, when to put fertiliser and how much water to use,” she says. Aided by saplings from a tomato nursery and fertilisers, Rubi Devi planted half an acre with 4,000 tomato saplings in October 2017. By February 2018, she was the proud owner of 23 tonnes of tomatoes.

“It was unbelievable,” she exclaims. “Normally, we could just manage 2-3 tonnes per acre, which is why we avoided planting tomatoes and kept to cauliflower and gram. This was an unusual bounty,” says Rubi Devi.

Despite the fact that tomato was retailing at ₹5 per kg at that time, as compared to the normal ₹25 per kg, Devi sold her tomato crop for ₹1.75 lakh. For a farmer who earned ₹30,000 ‘with an alright crop’ and ₹50,000 ‘with a good crop’, the tomato bounty drastically altered her mindset.

As it did for Rajesh Singh, who earned ₹50,000 before joining the alliance. Rajesh now earns ₹3 lakh per annum. Tomato smallholder farmer Embrosiya Kiro has a similar tale.

The global alliance was launched in India in 2016. Last year, like-minded partners Yara Fertilisers, DeHaat and e-commerce retailer BigBasket came on board.

Harmanpreet Singh, Lead-Smallholder Farming, India, Bayer CropScience, says the alliance is operative in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand and will expand to Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Bihar.

“We wanted to go to areas which suffered low yield and productivity. Wherever the gap was highest (in terms of low productivity), it meant scope of improvement was high. Moreover, no one speaks to these farmers since their ticket size is small. It does not make business sense,” says Harmanpreet.

Investing heavily in training to get the farmer to understand the new technology, the Better Life Farming alliance is helping smallholders increase yields and income.

In 2016, 20 chilli farmers in Uttar Pradesh were roped in, which increased to 250 farmers in 2017, and to 1,570 across 121 villages in 2018.

Pilot in Jharkhand

In Jharkhand, a pilot started in 2017 roped in 37 tomato farmers. By 2018 end, 500 farmers from 52 villages were part of the agenda.

This year, the alliance will work with 25,000 smallholder farmers across UP and Jharkhand, says Harmanpreet. The aim is to reach 2.5 million farmers through 2025 with the help of 5,000 agri entrepreneurs creating rural employment

Ruba Devi from Ranchi

 

“We have a field force of agronomists trained by different organisations. From crop nutrition to irrigation, farmers are trained by the best professionals in the industry and can transfer that knowledge to other farmers in their village,” he adds. The results are evident: with green chilli, alliance farmers have touched an average of 22 tonnes per acre which is 3.7 times India’s national average. With tomato, alliance farmers have touched 20 tonnes per acre, which is almost three times the average yield in Jharkhand.

A global initiative

Commenting on why the alliance adopted this approach given that farmers are not their immediate target segment, Harmanpreet maintains the project is not India-specific. “The global initiative has been launched in Africa and South-East Asia apart from India. The broader objective is simple: by 2050, the world will have 10 billion people. Approximately, 50 per cent more food will need to be produced,” he adds.

“The productivity level of our farmers as compared to those in Europe is low,” says Harmanpreet.

Umakant is grateful he was chosen. Seeding his farm in August 2016 for the first time and armed with the requisite tools, Umakant’s bounty of 22 tonnes per acre made him the cynosure of all eyes in his village.

Umakant Singh, a farmer in Uttar Pradesh

 

Today, as he gathers 35 tonnes chilli per acre from his farm, Umakant advises some 40 farmers. The agri entrepreneur also boasts of a nursery, an unheard of thing in his village.

Plans for this smallholder from Chaudharipur village in UP’s Mirzapur district include tomato this year, with his sights set on gathering 10 tonnes per acre.

With a B.Sc in Agriculture from Udai Pratap Autonomous College, Varanasi, and an LLM from Banaras Hindu University, Umakant has one goal: to give back to his community by creating employment for the people in his village.

The knowledge he has gained over the past year, which has helped his own tonnage grow, is now imparted to fellow farmers. Whether it is irrigation techniques, or how mulching helps reduce dependence on rain water, or issues related to finance, Umakant’s business acumen shines through.

Not only has he managed to eke out a sustainable income from his own farm, seeing his success with the crop and the high tonnage, other farmers are eager to replicate his journey.

“In the end, all of us are farmers,” says Rubi Devi, who also advises around 250 farmers. She now owns a shop (Better Life Farming centre) which she inaugurated in March. Till date, she has earned ₹2 lakh from the sale proceeds.

“Nobody has a business in our village. We all grow crops. If my neighbour manages to get a good yield because of something that she has learnt from me and due to my seeds, I become famous,” she says.

 

Published on September 17, 2019
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