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Reaping riches in suicide zone

Reaping riches in suicide zone

Author: Vivek Deshpande
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 13, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/reaping-riches-in-suicide-zone/422699/

Introduction: Vivek Deshpande profiles three farmers who have brought the power tiller, horticulture and record yield of 35 quintals of cotton per acre to Yavatmal Vidarbha, the suicide capital of the country

Whenever Vidarbha's farm crisis is debated, the blame is often thrust on the farmers themselves.

But three farmers from Yavatmal - the district saw maximum farmers' suicides, 222, in 2006 - have finally proved their critics wrong.

While Abasaheb Deshmukh from Rautwadi village in Mahagaon tehsil and Anil Rathod from Bhatamba village in Pusad tehsil shunned traditional crops and shifted to horticulture, Bhagorao Rathod from Tulsinagar village, also in Mahagaon tehsil, courageously took up innovative cotton farming.

And the results are something that one won't get to see even in the progressive western Maharashtra.

While Abasaheb, who has taken to grape and pomegranate cultivation, expects a net profit of Rs 2.5 lakh this year, Anil is sure of making a whopping Rs 7 lakh in the next 6 to 7 months from the papaya crop and an intercrop of pomegranate that he has cultivated on his entire 10 acres of land.

Bhagorao's success, too, should silence critics of cotton cultivation. He has reaped an unbelievable 35 quintals per acre - a record in the state according to experts - in a region that is disreputed for poor yield in the country. Using Bt technology on 16 acres, aided by company advisors, Bhagorao is all set to laugh his way to the bank with no less than Rs 7 lakh as profit.

The barely literate farmers are part of a group of 20-odd farmers from neighbouring villages, who regularly meet, discuss and practice ways of agrarian prosperity.

"Around three years ago, I started it with 7-8 friends whom I met during their visits to my veterinary doctor son Deepak's clinic. We thought why not try something other than cotton," says Abasaheb, a lanky man who radiates the energy of a 25-year-old youth.

In the year 2000, Abasaheb shifted to Rautwadi from a village 8 km away to be able to benefit from a perennial nullah that flows near the village. He started using drip irrigation system in due course.

"The ideas of grape and pomegranate clicked. We formed Bajrangbali Dalimb Drakshe Bagayatdar Sangh (pomegranate, grape horticulturists' union). Some of us visited the grape-yielding areas of Nasik and met some grape and pomegranate cultivators. A project was submitted to the National Horticulture Board for their 20 per cent subsidy scheme. The State Bank, Mahagaon branch, gave me a loan of Rs 4 lakh. I did grape plantation on two acres and pomegranate on 1.25 acres in inter-cropping fashion. In July 2008, I got my first pomegranate harvest of Rs 1 lakh," he says.

The challenge was daunting. "The crops require special labour. We get them from Nasik. They stay here for 15 days at a stretch," says Abasaheb, adding, "I have now learnt to do this myself."

On his remaining eight-acre farm, Abasaheb gets a bumper yield of crops like gram, wheat, cotton, soyabean and groundnut. "Mono-cropping is a bad idea now; we have to innovate," he says.

The success has rubbed off on other conservative villagers, too. Now, seven other villagers have shifted to pomegranate cultivation.

At Bhatamba, a strange-looking machine at a papaya farm catches one's attention. "That's a power tiller," says farm owner Anil Rathod, adding, "You won't get to see this easily even in western Maharashtra."

Rathod belongs to Deshmukh's group of innovative farmers. He chose papaya along with pomegranate. His 14-acre boulder-strewn farm today has a glowing crop of 5,000 papaya and 5,000 pomegranate plants. The papaya has an average of 60 to 70 fruits (some even have up to 90) per plant. Pomegranate will come in next 18 months. "I spent Rs 5 lakh last year and in next 7- 8 months, I will get Rs 10 lakh from papaya; in another 18 months pomegranate should fetch me Rs 15 lakh," he says.

Rathod quit his construction business to shift to agriculture two years ago. He has no bullocks and drives the power-tiller himself.

A little away, at Tulasinagar, Bhagorao Rathod's sprawling 16-acre Bt cotton field is the cynosure of all eyes. Using drip irrigation, Bhagorao has reaped 35 quintals per acre from plants that rise as high as eight feet. In a region that hasn't seen 20 quintals of yield per acre in an irrigated farm, the produce is no less than a miracle. "Thirty-five quintals in an acre would easily be a record in Maharashtra though Gujarat farmers are known to have yielded up to 40 quintals," says Keshav Kranthi, Director, Nagpur's Central Institute for Cotton Research.

Bhagorao was helped by the Bt company's officials. "On one hectare, I used the telephone technique (holding the boll-laden plants aloft with ropes) and I got 35 quintals," Bhagorao tells.

The math goes like this: in each of his 7,260 plants in the telephone-technique, one acre has about 100 cotton bolls. The average weight per boll is five gram. Thus, each plant produced 500 gram and all plants together produced about 35 quintals.

"Even the yield of non-Bt crop is up to 12 quintals per acre as against the region's average of three quintals. But later, I shifted to more profitable vegetable farming. Bt cotton came five years ago and I resumed cotton farming three years ago," says Bhagorao.

In the remaining 15 acres also, Bhagorao's yield is an enviable 25 quintals per acre. "I spent Rs 21,670 per acre and my income is Rs 50,000. So, on the 15 acres, I earned about Rs 7.5 lakh," Bhagorao says.

Not surprising then that Bhagorao's farm has high-profile visitors like current and former agriculture varsities' vice-chancellors, scientists and MLAs who cannot help but marvel at these stories of success.

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