NOT FAR from where thousands of farmers have been agitating over the deep distress in the agrarian sector, Yashwant Gawande (62), a farmer in Peth, a remote tribal region in Nashik district, has come up with a novel way to hedge his agricultural losses. In a region where nearly 90 per cent of the population are tribals who grow rice, tur and ragi as a means of sustenance, Gawande and a group of 70 farmers have now successfully started growing mangoes of almost every variety on a commercial scale.
Apart from using the latest agrarian techniques to improve productivity, the group has also started using novel marketing techniques to sell their produce. This includes an “all you can eat” mango festival where visitors to these farms can eat as many mangoes as they want, free of cost. These mangoes have a fixed selling price if the visitors want to take any variety home. “We are sure that once the visitors eat our mangoes, they will be ready to pay any price to have more of them,” says Gawande.
While the feel around his farm with its visitors around it evokes a sense of vibrancy, Gawande’s journey as an agriculturist began with a deep sense of disturbance about the agrarian sector. The retired Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation employee says, “Our fertile lands have gone bad due to excessive use of fertilisers. Farmers are not getting the price of our produce and the government apart from announcing cash sops is unwilling to make systemic changes in the way our agriculture sector works. I always felt that the sector is doomed until the farming community takes things in its hands and does something out of the box.”
Soon after his retirement, he decided to set up the Shrimant Adivasi Bachat Gat Gawanpada, a self-help group of around 40 tribal farmers. While reading up on various agricultural manuals, Gawande was attracted to the potential of mangoes that could be grown in the region. A chance reading of a book on how Israeli farmers were able to pack in a larger number of trees per acre of land got him thinking on replicating the model in Peth.
The region, which receives 2,788 mm of rainfall every year, has climate and soil conditions that resemble Konkan where mangoes grow in abundance. “We had stray mango trees in the region. However, we were not undertaking commercial farming of that crop. The Israeli technique showed us that rather than planting two mango trees at a distance of 15 metres, which was the conventional way, we could plant them at a distance of only 5 metres thereby planting more trees and improving productivity,” says Gawande.
He also used a technique of planting multiple crops alongside his mangoes to hedge for losses in case any of the crops failed. “I have grown guavas, tur, figs alongside my mangoes. In case one crop goes bad, I can still recover some money from the others,” says Gawande. The Israeli technique had allowed Gawande to plant nearly 700 to 800 mango trees on one acre as against 40-50 that he could plant earlier. So lucrative is the technique that the Maharashtra agriculture department has decided to provide subsidy of nearly Rs 1.75 lakh to farmers of the region who want to grow mangoes in this particular way.
“Even if one tree gives us 20 kg mangoes, a farmer during a good season can easily make up to Rs 8 lakh,” says Gawande. He, however, says such returns can be assured only if the farmers get a fair price. Pointing to a 60 ml bottle of pesticide, Gawande explains: “The cost of this 60 ml of pesticide is Rs 1,000. This year, farmers received Rs 500 for selling 100 kg onions. Agriculture is the only sector in the country where the middlemen rather than the actual producer decides the price of his product. Only when we change this system will the farmer as well as the consumer benefit.”