Drip irrigation, plastic mulching, multiple crops and good income – Gandura Oraon had everything going for him. What he did not have was a passport. But when he did have one and travelled for the first time outside India, Oraon has returned overwhelmed by the scale and technological perfection to which farming has been taken in a country smaller than Jharkhand.
Oraon was part of the first-ever batch of 26 farmers (one each from all the 24 districts and three from Ranchi) from Jharkhand to have gone to Israel for a four-day visit, beginning August 26, to learn the best practices in drip irrigation and other technologies that make farming a profitable business done with virtual pin-point accuracy.
Filling up the 28-point questionnaire, Oraon fulfilled all the requirements, but one. A passport. “I also had to get some three to four sets of new clothes, blue shirts and coats stitched for the tour,” he said, dressed in a simple shirt-trousers, wearing slippers. The questions pertained to training programmes he had attended, the number of times he had appeared in programmes of public broadcasters like AIR and Doordarshan, and the usage of new technology etc.
Oraon was worried about language. “They speak only in Hebrew. Their interpreter could translate it in English only. It was only our officials and one more from Delhi, who would translate it in Hindi for us.”
But, Oroan feels that the team should have at least one scientist or subject matter expert. “The officials (which included two Deputy Commissioners and two Directors from Agriculture Department, among others) were very helpful, attentive and cooperative. But, a farmer knows only as much, whether he is from Israel or India. Still, we realised that we have a lot to do to reach their levels,” says Oraon.
“Wahaan to do-teen aadmi mil ke hazaron hectare par kheti kar raha hai; sab GPS par hai; par theek hai, thoda-thoda kar ke aage to badhega (There, only a couple of people manage thousands of hectares. All information is available on GPS. But its OK, gradually, we can go on learning and improve),” says Oraon, taking a round of one stretch of his field, about five acres, where he has got drip irrigation system installed this year.
More than 10 years ago, Oraon decided to begin tilling his land – about eight acres – in his village, Gudgudjari, in Kaimbo panchayat of Mandar Block, around 35 km from Ranchi. His father had taken the family to live on the farm of one “Maurya ji” in Allahabad, where Oraon grew up as a child.
“I would see Maruya ji getting such huge respect from officers and politicians; jabki wo sirf kisaan the (although, he was just a farmer). I used to wonder as a kid whether we could be able to earn so much respect as a farmer,” he recalls beaming.
Oraon’s father died in 2007, largely due to the problem of alcoholism, and the family land – around eight acres – was lying fallow. He dropped out after Class 12. Faced with prospect of eking out a living as the eldest member of the family, Oraon decided to “throw his hat in the ring” by sowing 30 kg pea on a stretch located near Birgora River – one of the two rivulets close to the village. “I was lucky to have a bumper crop and made some good money. For two years, I simply repeated the same. In the third year, I lost heavily because the crop failed and I didn’t know why,” he says.
Feeling his way through, Oraon also got advise from the experts from Ram Krishna Mission, who came to the village with their outreach programme in rural development. From then on, Oraon has been more or less a success story.
Israel, though, was something beyond his comprehension. “Here, we talk in lakhs – and that too after so much of hard work over the years. Most of us talk only in thousands. But, in Israel, they talk in terms of 100 million dollars, or even more. Drip irrigation has been laid there like a gas pipeline across huge plots, running into several hectares. In my village, I have eight acres land, spread across 30 different patches, some as small as 20 decimals,” Oraon points out.
Fellow farmer, Raj Kishore Mahato, of Lohardaga, can’t agree more. “We came to know about plastic mulching – a technique using plastic sheets to cover the land and punch holes at only those points, where seed is to be planted, to prevent weeds from growing – after several years of traditional farming. There, it is the norm. Lekin, drip irrigation wahaan 60 saal pahle aa gaya thaa (But, drip irrigation was implemented there 60 years ago),” says Mahato, who has been adopting these technologies in his farm at Etaburi village in Senha Block, Lohardaga.
Mahato got drawn into farming after having completed his PG Diploma in rural development and working with a NGO for a couple of years in the same field. “I started getting attracted towards farming and brushed aside the apprehensions expressed by my well-wishers that it was a huge risk. I started with tomato, using traditional methods. I failed miserably in the first year itself. The problem was unseasonal rains and water-logging of the fields. Fortunately, I knew the right people and they told me about drip irrigation. From then on, it has worked in my favour,” says Mahato.
For Pakur’s Abhinav Kishore, it was almost a “culture shock” to see cows living in what is called “loose housing” system. “Wahaan gaayon ke gale mein rassi nahin thee; sabke pairon mein pado-meter lage hain aur saari jaankari milti rahtee hai (cows don’t have strings around their necks; they have pado-metres which keep relaying all the information),” says the electronics engineer, who ventured into agriculture after a few years of job in Odisha, Punjab and New Delhi.
Focusing on dairy, Kishore and his wife, also an engineer who assists him in his initiative, now plan to do some of the things on their own. “The temperatures in summer really go high here. So, we plan to get sprinkles, with timers, installed on the dairy farms to make it comfortable for the cows. Plus, we also plan to venture into organic farming for vegetables,” says Kishore, who is developing a brand of his own, “Gau-Dham”, at the local level.
Some like Ramanand Sahu from Khunti district too have decided to move on with what they have learnt. Dependent on “deep boring” for irrigating his vegetable fields, Sahu took to drip irrigation only about a year ago. “Just yesterday, I have asked the man installing drip irrigation to lay the network over two acres in my village, so that I can call people and show them how it works and they can benefit from it, because water is a problematic issue in our area,” says Sahu.
While the farmers seem keen on adopting the best practices available at their individual level, they also expect the government to do its bit for them.
Sahu says: “The government helps in planning, consulting, agriculture infrastructure and, most importantly, in providing export quality markets. If the government can provide that, it would work wonders for us.”
Oraon, though, is more circumspect. “Areas like Mandar, Nagri, Bero, Bijupada (all nearby Blocks in Ranchi) are already a vegetable hub attracting buyers from Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other places. If only the government can provide export market… but, it is also equally true that the farmers too would have to take initiatives. We still can’t think of things like cooperative, which handles huge agricultural operations in Israel,” he says.
Officials refused to comment on the visit so far, saying they were preparing a detailed report on it and will share the same at the earliest possible.