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The Vidarbha turnaround

From cotton and soyabean in rainfed conditions,farmers in Wardha district have taken a bold shift towards shade-net and poly-house farming,and are reaping benefits

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Wardha | Published: April 13, 2012 12:12 am

Advising the debt-ridden Vidarbha farmers to cultivate gerbera,rose,cucumber and capsicum could be seen as asking someone who can’t afford a bread to eat cake. As a banker,if you ask him to avail a loan of Rs 26 lakh for just 0.25 acres,you could invite snarls. And if you tell him he could earn a net profit of Rs 4,000 a day,you could be dismissed as a fraudster selling a fake money-spinning scheme.

Some farmers here and the Bank of India (BoI) are,however,working in tandem to prove these presumptions wrong,thanks to a bold shift towards shade-net and poly-house farming.

Today,Ramesh Umate (Morchapur) is earning Rs 4,000 a day from his half-acre shade-net farm where he grows capsicum and cucumber. Ditto for Sanjay Awchat (Wahitpur),who is growing gerbera flowers,and Nishikant Bijewar (Hamdapur),Gopal Wahangal (Barbadi) and Gajanan Chafle (Samudrapur). Namdev Phalke of Dhagadban,who has the biggest shade-net in Wardha district on over two acres where he grows brinjal,has earned an unbelievable Rs 8.5 lakh since December.

Compare that to the dwindling returns of the traditionally preferred cotton and soyabean in Vidarbha’s rainfed conditions,where an average farmer can barely break even. And even when compared to the results of copybook Bt cotton farming practices,the shade-net returns stand out as an unsurpassable gain.

Barely a year ago,these farmers had visited western Maharashtra’s prosperous farms as part of BoI’s educational tours to emphasis the value of shade-net and poly-house farming. Today,they have turned the tide — they are now getting visitors from as far as Konkan. “I get several calls each day from people,saying they want to learn from the Wardha experience,” says Nishikant Ghaisas,BoI’s Rural Marketing Officer,who has led the change.

“After seeing the shade-net success in west Maharashtra,they mustered the courage to take it up,” says Ghaisas.

Says Umate,40: “I cultivated well-irrigated Bt cotton on two acres of my 6.5 acre land and reaped 40 quintals,which is considered very good when compared to erstwhile 6-8 quintals of non-Bt cotton in similar conditions. This year’s market price was Rs 4,400,giving me Rs 1.75 lakh over a period of 6-7 months. Minus input cost,it gives me not more than Rs 500 a day. In contrast,I cultivated capsicum in 0.5-acre shade-net. I reap three quintals per day and get Rs 2,200 per quintal. Minus input cost of Rs 1,000,I pocket a minimum of Rs 4,000 per day,something I had never seen in my life.”

Gajanan Chafle has less than half acre (18 guntha) land. “I am earning Rs 20,000 a month from capsicum that gets sold on the spot. I don’t even have to transport it.”

All others express similar experiences. They have markets at places like Wardha,Hinganghat,Samudrapur and even Nagpur within 70 km. They are now trying to form an association to weed out problems of transportation and cold storage.

Incidentally,shade-net has takers from all shades of farmers. While,Bijewar is MSc,BEd,Umate has studied only up to middle school.

Hamdapur is at the centre of 20 surrounding villages and is hence compulsorily frequented by scores of people in transit. Vikrant Bijewar’s farm there has become a kind of tourist spot with curious farmers flocking there to know the goings-on.

The tribe of shade-net farmers is growing by the day. Says BoI’s Zonal Manager Vasant Kamath: “My Morangana branch manager Navdeep Mohanti recently took a group of 28 farmers to west Maharashtra for education on shade-nets. We have got positive signals from 20 of them.”

The success story

While public sector banks have invited criticism for shying away from giving enough credit to Vidarbha farmers,BoI has proved to be an exception in Wardha. Compared to the Rs 447.53 crore against the target of Rs 438.57 crore of crop loan for all nationalised banks,taken together with a percentage achievement of 102 in the financial year ending March 31,BoI has achieved 126 pc of its target (Rs 97.56 cr) by disbursing Rs 122.75 cr of crop loan. In term or investment loan,while all nationalised banks together achieved only 60 pc of their target (Rs 91.80 cr against 154.32 cr),BoI posted 104 pc achievement (Rs 29.94 vs Rs 28.67 cr). Incidentally,BoI is the lead bank for all nationalised banks in the district.

“Only BoI has what is known as Central Processing Centre,exclusively for agri-finance. The centre does all basic documentation and processing on behalf of 17 of the total 26 branches in the district for farm loan. The branches just have to disburse the loan. That makes the job of the manager easy and processing faster too,” says Lead District Manager Mohan Mashankar.

Of the term loan of Rs 29.94 cr,Rs 10 crore have been given only for high-tech farming using shade-net and poly-nets.

“In the last ten months,we have funded 60 shed-nets and 12 poly-nets in Wardha. And we are soon to add 25 shade-nets and 10 poly-nets,” says Mashankar.

Asked why the BoI stresses on giving loans to farmers when the general trend is one of reluctance,Zonal Manager Kamath says,“We try to tag term loan with crop loan. While crop loan is a one-season phenomenon,term loan lasts longer and keeps the farmer in continuous relation with the bank. Moreover,since,unlike crop loan,the term loan amount is higher and is never waived off,he makes an effort to succeed and repay it. The idea is to inculcate entrepreneurial skills in him.”

The bank managers,however,credit on-field motivator Nishikant Ghaisas for the Wardha turnaround. “He has been our prime mover as far as motivating farmers to take up high-tech farming is concerned. All we have to do it just sign proposals,” says Mashankar.

“It’s a tall order to convince a farmer steeped deep in traditional farming to take up high-tech farming. But I organised tours to west Maharashtra spoke with them for hours and convinced them before they decided to take it up,” Ghaisas says.

One of the problem areas was the margin money of 20-30 pc that farmers have to pay to avail the loan. “Farmers do get a subsidy but that’s after the project is done. So,for a Rs 15-lakh project,he has to pay Rs 3 lakh as margin. If he can,fine. Else,we have devised means of including the cost of his labour,home-made manure,post-harvest and recurring expenses as part of margin so that the case takes off immediately,” says Ghaisas.

“It’s amazing to see how successfully BoI and Ghaisas have convinced the farmers,who are achieving unbelievable results,” says J C Bhutada,Joint Director,Agriculture,Nagpur division.

Farmers,too,praise Ghaisas’s effort. “But for him,I would never even have thought of doing anything of this kind,” Gopal Wahangal,who has netted a profit of 2.25 lakh from his 0.5 acre cucumber shade-net since December 20.

ADVANTAGES OF SHADE-nets & POLY-NETS

Protect crops from excessive sunlight,provides uniform shade for better yield,act as a barrier against heavy rains,hail-storms and other natural calamities,protect against Insects,birds,give soil support,reduce water evaporation

Ideally suited for horticulture and floriculture

As against shade-nets,poly-nets have fumigators that control the temperature to prevent excessive humidity that can affect crops

National Horticulture Mission (NHM) provides 50 per cent subsidy each on net erection,planting material and drip irrigation

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