By Prasanna Kapoor:
Recently, I left the city I’d lived in for many years, as I could no longer resist the pull of the mountains. I chose to live in a little village, Bagri, in Kausani, in the quiet of the Kumaon hills. There are around 30 families in Bagri, and the small town of Jauna, adjoining Bagri, has 18 families.
With my habit of surveying new places and discovering more about the lifestyle and occupation of people, I seem to have developed a close camaraderie with the children and women of the place. I want to spend time with the farmers, in particular the women, and work closely with them. In furtherance of the aim, we have initiated regular liberal discussions amongst each other on various pros and cons of rural lifestyle. We get together on Sundays in the evening after the hardworking ladies get some time off from their daily back breaking farming and family chores. In the initial meeting, the women sat huddled in a group and did not utter a word, but gradually, they began to thaw and ask questions, and even make a few comments here and there. It became apparent that, given the opportunity, their natural intelligence and wisdom surfaced, the lack of formal education did not come in the way.
The problem faced by people, especially the newly married girls involved in agricultural activities, came up in almost every discussion — after all it was their main occupation. According to NABARD statistics, the work force engaged in agricultural activities is 58.39 % of the total work force. The share of female work force in total work force is 36.31 %.
Mamta, the only post-graduate of the village, voiced her concern, “Agriculture is no longer viable, because the land holdings have become so small. In two generations, the fields have been divided and sub-divided between sons and grandsons, so, the plots are not only small, but are also fragmented and scattered so that cultivation is difficult and uneconomic.” Radha, mother of two, said, “The real problem is shortage of water. No doubt, we have a good rainfall with an average of 1150 mm, but the range varies from 800 mm to 1600 mm. Both extremes are worrying, as with a low rainfall our crops suffer, and a high, torrential rainfall cuts into our terraced fields and we lose valuable cultivated land. The men migrate to the plains to supplement the family income. And this has added to the burden of our work in the fields and at home. We must continue to work from dawn to dusk, everyday of our lives, whatever the production. Where is the alternative?”
On the contrary, I saw in my survey of the village that Balwant Singh, a well-established farmer, with the help of the horti-culture department, set up a poly-house. He told me, “We don’t even have half an acre of land and it makes more sense for us to grow vegetables for the market and also for our use, rather than food grains.”
The next day, I discussed the matter with Threesh Kapoor, a passionate poly-house promoter. He made me aware of the various advantages this technology can and is bringing in agricultural practices of Uttarakhand region. Poly-house is a framed structure covered with polythene sheets where environment is controlled, it facilitates production of off-season crops. There is a perennial demand for fresh vegetables and flowers all through the year. Farmers can sow vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, baby corn, cherry tomatoes, and flowers like rose and gerbera, so as to get a premium price during off-seasons. Poly-house farming protects plants from wind, precipitation, excess solar radiation, and temperature. It enables rearing off-season nursery. Crops of good quality and higher yield can be grown. Water requirement is very less, while the low labor-intensive method helps in controlling pests and diseases. “Traditional farming practices, due to high cost, being labor intensive, and low revenue yield, is not a viable option today,”, he said. “Farming in poly-houses bear fruit in about 90 days, saving time.” In traditional farming, the farmer is at the mercy of weather gods. But in greenhouses, clement conditions are created.
I went to the ADO Horti-Culture Office, Kausani, and met M.K.Mandolia, who told me about the different poly-houses already set up by the department in different locations. He termed this technology as a boon for the hilly regions. He told me, “The reason farmers are scared of this method is because of unawareness of various government schemes for the benefit of the public and quick outcome though this sustainable technique. This sector is of prime importance if seen in the context of prevailing “money order economy” of the region i.e. it can improve the socio-economic status of hard-working women folk of the region. Mukhyamantri Sanrakshit Kheti yojana for promoting Poly houses (100 sq.mt) for small farmers needs to be encouraged with the 30% subsidy made available by the State Govt., which means farmers will now have to put in only 20 per cent of the total cost of the poly-house, which comes around Rs.1 lakh.”
Again, a meeting was arranged with the women, where I shared the knowledge about poly-houses, and during the discussion, I noticed their keenness about the technology and scheme; but, they had their reservations. They were conditioned to the traditional agricultural practice, anything new seemed to be an additional burden on their shoulders. The lack of entrepreneurship spirit and awareness was hindering them from taking the required risk. I told them that age was not a barrier, and family could be used as a resource than a burden. It all depends on how you handle things and convince your family to allow you to go outside.
I concluded, what they need is a pilot project through which they can observe the conceptualization, formulation, implementation, and outcome of poly house, and later adopt this sustainable practice once they are convinced. Here, the role of the stakeholders, NGOs, SHGs, Govt. department, hotels and banks comes in to disseminate awareness.
The sunrise areas in agriculture viz., horticulture, floriculture, organic farming, food processing, agricultural marketing infrastructure, micro irrigation, etc. have huge potential for growth. The potential under various horticulture activities in the state for the year 2014-15 has been estimated at Rs. 130.68 crore.
Knowledge interventions in the field of agriculture will help in improving productivity, nutrition management, soil health, water management, better input and output distribution. Accordingly, Govt. of Uttrakhand should arrange credit camps for financing farmers for sustainable agriculture. The government may consider giving subsidy in deserving cases.
In the end, I would like to conclude that banks, government as well as NABARD play a vital role in this area by giving more importance on knowledge dissemination and creating chetna among the masses to avail credit facilities for sustainable agriculture.
With more people leaving agriculture, the need of the hour is that they are given the entrepreneurship push and made aware that this sector has a lot to offer to them. With a poly-house pilot project by The Himalaya Study Centre coming up in the Jauna village, I feel that this will be our step towards the same.