Renuka and Lakhi Ram had one secret aspiration in life. But for this share-cropper family, that looked like a flight of fantasy. Can a new technique of agriculture help this landless couple realize their ambition of owning and tilling their own farm?
Renuka has not much recollection of the two-three years spent in school. Her husband, Lakhi Ram, had never been to school. The dire economic circumstances during their childhood meant that education was never a priority for the family. They came from the most distressed group in rural India: the category of landless.
For years the family survived by working as labourers. But that meant long stretches away from home; away from their four children. A fate, similar to theirs, was looming large on their next generation too.
So when the family saw the potential of share-cropping in about three acres of land in their village, Chandwal Para, in the Mangaldoi district of Assam, they entered into a quick agreement with the landowner, who had migrated for business to the town headquarters. This was six years back. This arrangement, of sharing half the produce, relieved the family of travelling to other villages for survival. Everyone could now stay under the same roof throughout the year. Agriculture production was low, but the family managed to stay afloat.
In the year 2016, NGO Seven Sisters Development Assistance (SeSTA) organized the women of two villages (Chandwal Para was one of the villages) into Farmers Producers Organisation, under the ITC project. Rigorous training and application of organic soil and pest management immediately brought down the cost of inputs. Farmers began to use Jeev Amrit, Vermin Compost, Green Manuring and Organic Pesticide in their crops with diligence. Introduction of System of Root Intensification (SRI) technique in paddy reduced the seed requirement from 30 kg to just 1 kg per acre. The production went up on an average from 10 quintals per acre to 18 quintals. Introduction of best practices in vegetable also ensured immediate cash income for families.
For Renuka and Lakhi Ram, these new methods of agriculture practice were akin to going back to school finally. Like curious children, they judiciously undertook all agricultural training and applied them on their leased farm. There was not just a marked increase in production but also a marked increase in their confidence. In the next year, apart from the lease for paddy farming, they took 0.7 acres of upland (for ₹1,500) to grow vegetables through organic SRI technique. Utilizing a small perennial stream flowing next to their land, they even cultivated summer paddy.
In the year 2019, the family has sold more than ₹45,000 worth of paddy and ₹7,000 worth of vegetables.
“We are saving some of the money. We want to buy a little land of our own,” remarks Renuka.
“It will be the first time in five decades that our family would own land again,”states Lakhi Ram looking at her.
Realizing that they have given away a family secret, Renuka adds, “But first, we have to marry our daughter.”
The above article was first published here.