FACED WITH constraints in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to which large gatherings have been disallowed, a cooperative sugar mill in Kolhapur is using technology to hold its annual sugarcane development seminars to guide its farmers ahead of the next kharif season.
The Shri Chattrapati Sahu Cooperative sugar mill in Kagal taluka of Kolhapur district is using Zoom, a videoconferencing tool, to reach out to farmers. Between April and June, sugar mills across cane growing states in the country connect with their farmers to guide them for the upcoming cane planning season. In Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Pune, farmers start preparing their land for the adsali — the 18-month cane — which is sown in June-July. Also, agricultural experts guide farmers in specially curated sessions to prepare their fields for specialty crops such as organic cane or using biofertilisers to reduce dependence on chemical fertilisers.
Samarjeetsinh Ghatge, chairman of this cooperative mill, said they were preparing for their annual cane development seminars in April when the Covid-19 outbreak started. This mill, which has 16,500 shareholder farmers spread over 100 villages in Maharashtra and Karnataka, holds these seminars in the nine sub-centres of the mill.
“The lockdown and stringent distancing norms mandated that we could not hold the seminars in the normal fashion,” he said. In the normal course of time, the mill holds these seminars in a common hall at the nine sub-centres. Farmers gather at the halls to attend the day-long seminars.
Faced with this dilemma, the mill decided to use technology to hold the seminars. “Instead of calling the farmers to a single point, we decided to use the Zoom app to hold the meetings,” Ghatge said.
The staff of the mill identified houses of farmers who had laptops or LCD televisions. In such homes, they decided to bring together 10 to 15 farmers to attend these meetings through Zoom conferences. The link of the meeting, along with user ID and password, was to be shared only with the staff who would log in at the right time.
The first meeting was held on June 2 with farmers logging in from more than 100 screens while the second meeting, on June 5, also had similar attendance.
“Our subsequent meetings till June 15 will see higher attendance,” he said. The flash flood of 2019 had affected some parts of the villages associated with the mill and, thus, during the course of the seminars, experts guided farmers on how to care for the ratoon crop grown from the flood-affected cane. They also guided farmers on the care of crops in case the flash floods happen again. “There were sessions on how to take 100 tonnes of cane from a single acre of land as well as on how to use organic fertilisers on the fields,” he said.
Ghatge also said this could be the first such experiment by any sugar mill to connect with its farmers using a virtual platform. During the sessions, the staff curated questions from the farmers, which were answered by experts in the course of time.
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