Till nearly two years ago, Suhawan Singh Rathore from Bihar had the world before him. He had completed his Masters in Development at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, and started working as an innovation officer at a private firm in Bhubaneswar.
But then, he had a change of heart. And now, he is back home in Naxal-hit Jamui, helping a collective of paddy farmers battle a cycle of debt and distress by planting additional, organic vegetable crop within a low budget.
“I had always regretted not spending enough time at my village in Pathakchak, where I grew up listening to stories of threats from Maoists who were disrupting development projects. Going back to Jamui early last year was like a payback opportunity for me to help my own people,” says Rathore.
The 27-year-old also helps farmers take their yield to sell in Patna, Ranchi and other towns. He is also working on plans with a group of volunteers that he put together, Green Saver Welfare, to start their “own market locally called Apna Mandi”.
Local officials and people’s representatives estimate that Rathore’s efforts have helped change the lives of around 2,000 farmers in the region.
“He is a very good motivator. The high costs that come with conventional two-crop (paddy and wheat) farming is the biggest problem for farmers here, especially because the land is uneven with erratic rainfall,” says Anand Vikram Singh, project director, Jamui Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA), which operates under the state agriculture department.
“I did not intend to wean the farmers from conventional farming but wanted them to take to integrated farming soon after the paddy is harvested. We are offering them seeds and saplings for vegetable cultivation on the side. We have brinjal, tomato, turnip, broccoli, radish and carrot. The idea is if one crop fails, the farmer can compensate with other crops,” says Rathore.
All of this has meant that farmers like Nandlal Singh Dangi, from Neem-Nawada village, have moved from a life of despair to one of hope. “This year, apart from paddy, I grew five types of vegetables and earned Rs 60,000 from selling that. We are now eagerly waiting for our own organic farming shops in Jamui, Patna and elsewhere. Suhawan has been engaging with local and inter-state traders on our behalf,” he says.
“It took us some time to accept Suhawan’s method. Then we realised that we get the seeds for free, and our investment is mainly our hard work. We are now able to supply our potato crops even to Nepal,” says Raman Singh, a farmer from Bukar village.
A key intervention from his side, says Rathore, is the elimination of “middlemen”. “We have trained the farmers to do their own packing and transporting. We will soon have processing units and shops where we can engage several unemployed youths,” he says.
According to Jamui MP Chirag Paswan, Rathore “is playing a vital role” in the district. “He has introduced a very low-budget technique, which is helping marginal and small farmers who constitute around 90 per cent of the entire population of farmers in the district. We are trying our best to support him,” says Paswan.
It’s not been an easy journey though, admits Rathore, the son of a serving state transport department employee. “I faced intense pressure from my parents when I told them that I was returning home. They had wanted me to become an engineer. But my goal is clear: Make Jamui the first district in Bihar to go completely organic,” he says.