India Interior

When Bhivpuri took a U-turn

Rina Mukherji | Updated on May 04, 2018

Made to order Women roll urad papads at the community hall in Bhivpuri Rina Mukherji   -  Rina Mukherji

How marginal farmers were weaned back through appropriate technology in Raigad

Bhivpuri is a tiny hamlet nestled in the interiors of Karjat in Raigad district of Maharashtra. It is 18 km from Karjat station, and around 100 km from the district headquarters at Alibag. Primarily made up of tribal Dhangars, Mahadev Koli, Katkari, and Thakur households and a few Maratha residents, all of whom are either marginal or landless farmers, Bhivpuri is faced with the problem of limited fertile land for agriculture, in spite of ample rains during the monsoon.

Notwithstanding government schemes for tribal and marginal farmers, lack of, or low, literacy here prevents farmers from accessing the benefits of official largesse. Limited earnings from agriculture due to climate change and erratic weather have also seen many resident farmers part with their land to weekend resorts and farmhouses that have come up in the vicinity. The few who have continued to farm have abandoned their traditional millet crops like ragi (finger millet), vari (little millet) or kodo (foxtail millet) for paddy.

The back-breaking processing needed for millets, as compared to the easy access to rice mills for rice processing, is the major reason. As a result, nutritional imbalance is rife.

Limited land resource

Rural Communes, a non-governmental organisation that has its origins in an initiative by graduate student volunteers of the University of Mumbai seeking to work in rural Maharashtra a few decades ago, is now engaged in making a difference in these parts. With technical help from the Centre’s Department of Science & Technology (DST) and financial support from Tata Power under its Corporate Social Responsibility programme, appropriate technology is being used to wean back farmers to more scientific methods in farming, and improved livelihoods.

Vertical farming using organic inputs, drip irrigation and the Systems of Rice and Crop Intensification (SRI) are the routes being taken for better returns. Working with self-help groups (SHGs) in clusters, the aim has been to help farmers make the most out of limited land and resources through value addition.

The Bhivpuri cluster has nine villages, with 72 SHGs of men and women made up of 830 rural households. Since 2011, the Thokarwadi dam built by Tata Power has been supplying ample water through canals that flow into these parts. But farmers need to make the most of limited land resources for a living.

This is where vertical farming and appropriate technology has played its role. Take the case of Vandana Bhonsale, whose family had only three acres of land. Until a few years ago, the family only grew two crops of paddy. This would bring home ₹10,000-20,000 per crop at ₹20 a kg (for an average of around 500 kg). The family has now adopted agro forestry, and vertical farming, wherein the same patch of land is used to grow fruit trees, along with a variety of vegetables like bottle gourd, brinjal, tomato, cucumber, string beans, cluster beans, pumpkin, tapioca and bitter gourd. The higher prices fetched by vegetables and fruit have jacked up the family income to upwards of ₹80,000 a year. They continue to grow paddy, “but it is only for our own use,” says Bhonsale.

Each bag used for vertical farming has a mixture of green leaves, small stones, soil and organic compost and has 12 holes from which saplings can sprout, and costs ₹70. Generally, the bag lasts a year although in the case of vegetables like brinjal, a single bag can last for two years or so.

Shankar Maruti Adhore is a marginal farmer with very little land. He has opted for 19 bags of chilli this year. With 12 saplings sprouting out of each bag using space that could suffice for just two plants or so, he is assured of a neat profit.

At the same time, SRI and the system of crop intensification (SCI) is being extensively used to improve yields. Better ventilation by spacing rows ensures improved growth, and shorter periods for crops to attain maturity. Instead of the usual 30 days, 12-18 days are sufficient using the technique, which also limits use of water.

Anil and Alka Badole do not own any land. For them, too, vertical farming and organic farming methods ensure better yields from limited inputs from land leased from landowners.

Processing, for more income

However, only growing and selling of vegetables is never enough to ensure a steady income for farmers, given the limited market in Bhivpuri. Hence, processing of vegetables and food grains becomes an imperative for better income-generation. Here, women’s SHGs have been organised into business groups and given training in skills such as preparing papads, condiments and pickles.

The women spend 2-3 hours working daily at the community hall, where chilli and vegetable cutter machines help them chop and shred as per their needs. The commune provides them access to grinding machines for millets and dals. These are sold to resorts and ashrams in the district and the hill stations of Lonavla and Matheran. This brings each SHG around ₹30,000, which averages to ₹3,000 for each member. “We make pickles and papads for orders received. It ensures there is no wastage,” say Bharati Garud, Arpita Bhonsale and Sangita Mali as they roll out urad dal and sago papads.

The writer is a freelance journalist

Published on May 04, 2018

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