At a time when majority of the small and marginal farmers have been the worst victims of the agrarian crisis, progressive farmers from Punjab are working overtime to make their out-of-the-box ventures commercially viable. On Kisan Divas, The Indian Express looks at few trying to break the mould to show others a way ahead.
Mandeep Singh Randhwa (38)
Dhardeo village in Amritsar
Grows mushroom on 4 acres, provides employment to 150 people
In the farmer’s words: My mother Harjinder Kaur has started mushroom growing in the courtyard of our house and now I am growing 12 varieties of mushrooms by using ‘tissue culture’ technology on all our four acres land. I am making mushroom products like mushroom biscuits, pickle, bhujia, mathian, matar, sevian and several other items. Our family owns a tissue culture laboratory where the mushroom seed is prepared. We sell it directly at our outlet located on Batala-Beas state highway. We are four brothers and looking after the different sections of our mushroom business from growing to developing new seeds with new technology, processing and marketing, but still our mother is the main guiding force behind entire our business.
I grow button mushroom (agaricus bisporus), five colours dhingri (pleurotus spp) and shiitake mushroom (lentinus edodes) suitable for cultivation during winter months of Punjab, whereas milky mushroom (calocybe indica) and paddy straw mushroom (volvariella volvacea) etc is fit for summers.
The cultivation technology of all the varieties makes use of locally available agri-residues and simple cultivation technology and around 90 per cent of mushroom growers these seasonal growers restrict themselves to the cultivation of white button type only because of its relatively easy marketability.
I am the recipient of the honour of growing maximum varieties of mushrooms and also got a National award for these two years back.
The result: Despite being a small farming family, the Randhawas now employ 150 persons while several small farmers are under debt and committing suicides. Direct marketing and processing has been the mantra behind their success, they claim. “After seeing our success, the Directorate of Mushroom Research Centre Solan in Himachal Pradesh has started providing us the new seeds, the latest technology to grow mushrooms,” says Randhawa.
The challenges: According to Mandeep Singh Randhwa, “In the beginning, the business was not doing well when I was growing mushroom at our native village where marketing was a big problem. Due to stress, I fell sick and faced huge losses for years but did not lose hope. The PAU Mushroom experts Dr Shammi Kapur advised me to change the place and enter directly into marketing. I then shifted with entire my family to our land located on Beas-Batala road and started growing mushrooms there as it was a difficult time for the family to get uprooted from our village. We then opened our own outlet and started selling on our own and the rest is history.”
The road ahead: “I am going to open fully air-conditioned Farm with Holland-based technology where mushrooms will be grown throughout the year and will start ‘home delivery’ system soon,” says Randhawa.
The message: Even a farmer with less than an acre land can earn big profits by growing mushrooms, which can be grown in summers and winters.
Rajesh Singh (37)
Chohana village in Pathankot
Aromatic and medicinal plant grower earns Rs one lakh per acre from lemongrass
In the farmer’s words: I have started growing aromatic, medicinal plants like lemongrass, geranium, a flowering plant, maintha, tulsi, kari patta and some more for the past few years. I have done a course from Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow before venturing into this and now I have set up a ‘distillation plant’ to prepare oils from all these plants as these oils are used in perfume and food flavor industries. I have 16 acres land out of which I grow lemongrass on 8 acres and on remaining land, I grow other plants while some land I have taken on rent which is meant for growing paddy, maize, and wheat.
The result: From lemongrass only, a farmer can earn Rs one lakh per acre annually depending upon the look after the field. Once it is grown, there is zero input cost on it for the next five years as we need to regrow it once in five years. Also, it does not require any fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, etc. After sowing, the first harvest is taken after five months and then we can harvest it after every 90 days that means three harvests in the first year of its sowing and four harvests annually in the next four years.
After processing, the rate of one-litre lemongrass oil is between Rs 1650 to Rs 5000 in national and international market and it varies as per demand. One can get 90 to 110 quintals biomass from one acre at each harvesting. I am getting 60 to 70 litre oil per acre annually after processing depending upon the quality of grass.
“Around 25,000 saplings costing Rs one each are required per acre but under Centre government’s Aroma Mission the seed/saplings are provided free of cost”.
The challenges: “I have to struggle hard to convince my fellow farmers to adopt it and now 55 farmers are associated with me. In the beginning marketing was a problem but with passage of time, now this has become my strength,” says Singh.
The road ahead: Rajesh Singh now plans to grow 24 types of aromatic and medicinal plants for which he is growing a nursery in his fields. “To utilise the barren land of Kandi area where farming is not possible due to lack of irrigation facility and fear of wild animals, which destroy the food grain crops but hardly affect the aromatic plan like lemongrass. I also have the plan to set up a double distillation unit, which is quite costly, but gives three times the rate of one-litre oil after processing it in that unit,” he adds.
Message: A great crop for kandi area (sub-mountain area) farmers where most of the farming depends on rain.
Jagir Singh (60)
Mundi Morh village in Kapurthala
Mentha grower. Has roped in several farmers
In the farmer’s words: I am a specially-abled farmer (his right leg was amputated after an accident) and a former sarpanch who grows mentha and owns a plant of extracting ‘ark’ (steam distillation process to get a liquid extract) from the plant. I availed of the government subsidy of Rs 4-lakh to set up a processing plant. Mentha oil is used in pharmaceuticals, food products, and cosmetics and has good demand. I motivated around two dozen farmers from my village to grow it for extra income as it is just three months’ crop which is grown between January to March and is harvested in May-June. I was just another farmer cultivating wheat and paddy, with part of the land for potato, etc. all my life without venturing beyond the traditional crops but my first ever experiment made me a happy man.
The result: In three months, farmers can earn Rs 42,000 to 52,000 per acre after meeting all the expenses and if one is doing inter-cropping like onion than the income would go up to Rs 2 lakh per acre. The input cost of mentha is around Rs 8,000 per acre from sowing to harvesting while the farmer can get 40 to 50 kg ‘ark’ from one acre. And a liter of ark sells for Rs 1200 to 1250 per kg. “I have given employment to nearly over a dozen persons by opening a processing plant. I have roped in several farmers of the area as our plant has the capacity of processing of mentha crop cultivated on 500 acres and the crop is a boon for the land of low fertility as its roots are very healthy and improve soil fertility and farmers get a very good yield of the following crops like maize, paddy, vegetables, and potato,” says Jagir Singh.
The challenges: Marketing is the main challenge along with dealing with middlemen who want to take major chunk of the profits.
The road ahead: “I want to increase the capacity of my processing plant. I also want to start direct selling to the companies to increase the profit share of the farmers,” says Jagir Singh
The message: Small farmers can increase their income by making it a third crop and the educated lot can sell it at a great price bypassing the middlemen.
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