Despite being a predominantly agrarian society, farmers’ crisis is a perennial cause of concern in the country as generations of farmers, plagued with countless issues like pesticide poisoning, crop destruction, acute poverty and exploitation at the hands of middlemen and moneylenders, have been living hand to mouth for decades.
After year upon year of futile struggles to make ends meet through traditional means of farming, Mulshi-based horticulturist Dnyaneshwar Bodke decided to make a shift and adopt a more sustainable method of growing fruits and flowers.
In 2004, he set up Abhinav Farmers Club (AFC), a group of agriculturists who came together to practice sustainable farming methods. What started out as a gathering of 11 people has over the course of the last fourteen years grown to encompass 1,53,000 farmers spread over eight states in the country.
Bodke, who will be delivering a talk on Sustainable Farming Practices at the TEDxGateway in Mumbai on 2 December 2018, now encourages farmers to practice controlled methods of agriculture and learn the trade of marketing to sell their produce without shelling out money to middlemen. He provides fresh, organic produce to suppliers across the country and sells vegetables, broccoli, milk, fruits and groceries to as many as 7,500 vendors in Pune alone.
The horticulturist shared with Firstpost some tips and tricks that are employed by his collective to grow and sell good quality produce:
One of the most important characteristics of sustainable agriculture, Bodke says, is replacing chemical fertilisers with organic manure. He admits that using organic fertilisers reduces produce but on the other hand, it also reduces the cost of production.
According to him, one of the major reasons organic fruits and vegetables are sold at high prices is low productivity. Crop produced using chemicals is priced lower, he notes, and it would not be fair to sell organic produce at exorbitantly high prices. But when more and more farmers dabble in organic farming, the price is bound to come down and there will be a rise in production.
Marketing and branding
“All our institutes teach the importance of fertilisers and how to increase production cost but they don’t teach us how to sell the produce which is equally important,” Bodke says.
He explains that before creating AFC, he was struggling to provide for his family despite owning agricultural land. His parents, like so many other farmers, were forced to work as daily wage labourers on other peoples’ farms, abandoning their own.
Bodke attributes much of these challenges to lower selling prices and expensive production techniques.
“It was cheaper to buy everything that we produced at retail prices.”
It was around this time that he decided to market his stock on his own and other likeminded farmers who faced the same issues joined his initiative. He says, “Where previously we were earning around Rs 25,000 every year, now it is as much as Rs 4 lakh.”
Ashok Shelte, one of the club members, underwent similar troubles. Previously, accompanied by his wife, he too would go to other peoples’ fields and earn his daily wage. However, teaming up with Bodke, he undertook training and started marketing his own produce. He now acts as a major supplier of turmeric to the club and also looks after the branding and marketing of the collective.
Bodke lays significant emphasis on education in agricultural, horticultural and mechanical fields. He suggests that it is imperative to enroll the youth that hails from a farming background in institutions that will give them adequate training and take them back to agriculture.
For farmers in Vidharbha, forced to work at a meagre Rs 250 to Rs 300 per day, he suggests an open cultivation project starting with a very small initial investment and putting in more and more resources only when the farm yields a substantial produce.
Bodke has been teaching farmers methods of controlled farming that essentially utilise greenhouses and polyhouses to cultivate fruits and flowers.
These sheds, made out polythene paper release large quantities of heat which can potentially prove harmful for the environment. Assuaging these fears, Bodke says that a shed of around 1000 sq mt can house nearly 10,000 plants which generate oxygen in hundred times more measure than the amount of heat generated by the greenhouse.
These concerns are no doubt real, he says, but as long as we continue to cultivate plants in these greenhouses, enough oxygen will be released by the produce growing in the sheds.
This type of farming also requires less water, he added. While irrigation for traditional farming utilises nearly 40,000 litres of water, these sheds require a drip of 5,000 litres.
Bodke also shared some crucial measures that can be easily implemented to combat climate change. Every farmer, he says, should plant fruit trees along the borders of their fields. Planting more and more trees is the only way to ensure that the air around us stays clean and fresh.
This activity has a dual advantage Bodke pointed out, as the fruits can be consumed by the farmer’s family and the leftovers can be sold off in the market. He also recommends that farmers rear cattle, predominantly for the rich manure.
Along with that, Bodke advocates hundred percent water harvesting to build up high levels of ground water. “Ensure that water is utilised in such a way that not a single drop is wasted,” he says.
Bodke drives home the idea that it is crucial for farmers to focus equally on marketing and production. "Farmers should work towards packing and branding clean, fresh and organic produce and take it from the farm directly to the end customer," he says.
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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2018 17:04:27 IST