Pearl farm: A new work culture

Spreading lustre The self-taught Ashok Manwani wants to take pearl cultivation to every village where there is a river, pond or other water body

A dedicated couple helps villagers augment their income through backyard pearl culture

While surfing the Internet, Jaishankar, a progressive farmer of Tetari village in Begusarai district of Bihar, came to know of Ashok Manwani, a pioneer in design pearl farming.

He lost no time inviting Manwani to his village to train under him. That was in 2009. Jaishankar has since harvested over 10,000 pearls in his own pond by breeding mussels from the Budi Gandak river.

“I expect to sell them in one lot to a Delhi trader, who will be visiting the village later this month.”

Jaishankar has even uploaded a video of his work on YouTube.

Another farmer, Suyog Kawle, met Manwani in 2007 at an agriculture exhibition in Gadchiroli and soon trained under him. Kawle, who belongs to village Ballarpur in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, started collecting mussels from the nearby Wainganga river and these are now mushrooming in a pond constructed by him. He is yet to explore the market, but sells his pearls to the other farmers he meets at agriculture meets and exhibitions. He says the pearls sell for ₹250-1,500, depending on their quality.

Like Kumar and Kawle, more than 500 farmers have trained under Manwani and are today earning from either pearl culture or simply breeding and selling mussels.

Born into an agricultural family, Manwani had read an article about freshwater pearl farming when he was in college. Fascinated, he began experimenting on his own. He collected mussels from Morna river in Akola district but failed to develop pearls.

Finally, in 2000, he underwent training at a pearl culture institute in Bhubaneswar. A year later he started teaching the art. In 2003, he met Kulanjan Dubey and together they started experimenting with different techniques for pearl culture, despite having no outside funding.

“It was not easy. Sometimes we lived in the jungles and practised on different species of mussels,” he recalls. The duo developed simple tools like a mussel opener and a wooden mussel stand to cultivate designer pearls.

They continued with their research for several years and, at the same time, created awareness about pearl farming among villagers in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

Manwani and Dubey (now married to each other) have developed a simple technique that farmers can easily adopt. Manwani says that fish farming alongside pearl farming can increase the production of mussels. He wants more farmers to know that pearls come not just from the sea, but can also be cultivated in every village where there is a river or a pond or other water body.

The Bioved Research Institute of Agriculture and Technology in Shringverpur, near Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, invited the couple to offer training at its premises.

“We are developing different kinds of designer pearls instead of the usual round ones. It takes longer to produce and is more complicated. Designs in the shape of deities like Ganesha, Lakshmi, Hanuman, Lord Buddha and other shapes like a heart or cross are easy to do.” They even use mussel shells to make eco-friendly handicrafts like incense stands, mobile phone holders and other showpieces.

The couple has received several awards for their innovative work in pearl farming. Krishi Vigyan Kendras now invite them as resource persons.

Not interested in running a business of his own, Manwani says his mission is to see that even the poorest of farmers can earn through pearl culture. “That will be the ideal reward for the years of struggle my wife and I have put in,” he says unassumingly.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on August 26, 2016

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