Surendranagar, like much of Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, is reeling under drought. Most farmers in this district, which is India’s largest cotton producer, have harvested little crop following last year’s monsoon failure. Hamirsinh Parmar from Gautamgadh village in Surendranagar’s Muli taluka is an exception. He hasn’t taken much of a hit — thanks to the income from his lemon orchard and the higher prices of his organically-farmed produce.
Parmar has six hectares land, on which his lemon orchard is in a plot measuring around 1.6 hectares. “I was growing cotton and groundnut, whose market prices and yields were prone to fluctuations. About 25 years ago, I decided to develop this particular plot into an orchard by planting 220 lemon saplings,” he states.
In 2007-08, Parmar, after retiring as a purchase officer with the Gujarat State Cooperative Cotton Federation, took a further step. He converted the orchard — having an open well recharged by water from the Nayka Dam on the Bhogavo River — into an organic field. “My job required me to meet farmers to procure their cotton. They would complain about how the cost of chemical fertilisers and pesticides kept spiralling, without any commensurate increase in yields. Moreover, farmers, unlike other businessmen, could never set the price of their crop. I wanted to break the mould, both by stopping inorganic chemical use and deciding what rate to sell my produce,” he tells The Indian Express.
The first thing that Parmar did was to reinforce the perimeter dyke of his orchard, to prevent entry of rainwater from neighbouring fields whose farmers could be using chemicals. He also installed a drip irrigation system to cut water consumption. To prepare manure, he used the dung from a cow reared on his farm and foliage from trees — lemon, neem, rose apple, apple berry, mango and chikoo — and stems of vegetables grown as an intercrop in the orchard. For pest control, he formulated a compound of lemon extracts, aankado (Calotropis procera) leaves, cow urine and butter milk. “I make about 1,000 50-kg bags of manure annually, a quarter of which is used in my orchard. The rest I sell; that alone earns me over Rs 1 lakh,” claims Parmar.
The 67-year-old harvests 100 quintals of lemon on an average per year. Since the trees, planted at a spacing of 25 feet each, don’t grow too high, he is also able to take vegetables as intercrops round the year. “I have been marketing my lemons and vegetables as produce harvested from an organic farm. Being richer in taste and aroma, too, my consumers don’t mind paying 15-25 per cent more than the market rate. Normal lemon sells for Rs 80 per kg, while my product fetches Rs 100. Besides, I make roughly Rs 1,000 daily from sale of brinjal, okra, spinach leaves and other vegetables grown in the same orchard,” notes Parmar.
Higher income apart, Parmar has also seen his input costs practically halve. “My spending is limited to purchase of vegetable seeds and hiring of labour. Earlier, chemical fertilisers and pesticide were a cost, whereas now manure is giving me income,” he observes. Incidentally, the cotton crop in the rest of his holding has suffered damage this time from a white-fly attack; the spraying of pesticides didn’t help.
Parmar, however, admits that his farm being just 20 km from Surendranagar has been a major advantage. He himself stays in the town, leaving day-to-day management of the farm to a labourer paid Rs 3,500 per month. Parmar sells the harvested produce directly from his home to consumers in an urban centre, realising a better price. He pegs his gross yearly revenues at Rs 5.5 lakh, as against all-inclusive input expenses of Rs1.5 lakh.
What stops him from bringing his entire six-hectare holding under organic farming? “I am too old for that. My real interest in any case was not to make money, but to try out something new that can be a model for other farmers,” says Parmar, who has got his orchard certified by the Gujarat Organic Products Certification Agency. The process involves adhering to mandatory cultivation protocols and maintaining nine different farm registers to record everything-from weeding and harvesting operations in the orchard, to the quantity and sale price of produce that is sold.
The other new thing that the sexagenarian farmer has sought to do is value addition. Lemon production is the highest during the monsoon, but market demand does not go up during that period. To address this, he has started making pickles from his organic lemons on an experimental basis. The market response, according to him, is encouraging.
It is not for nothing that Parmar’s farming practices has already won him the Gujarat government’s Sardar Patel Krishi Sanshodhan Puraskar award for 2016-17. Even before that, he was declared the best farmer of Surendranagar by the district’s Agricultural Technology Management Agency. Either way, he has shown that the market for lemons can offer something beyond the ordinary for farmers.