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Reaping handsome profits from vegetable farming in Koriya district, Chhattisgarh
Appropriate Technology

Koriya is a tribal district in Chhattisgarh state comprising five blocks. With a forest cover measuring 2000 square km, this region is known for its natural resources like streams and rivers, minerals, wild animals, and different tree and plant species. Small forest-produces or minor forest produces  (MFPs) are abundantly available and are the chief source of livelihood of the people living in forests followed by agriculture, fisheries, and wage labour.

Paddy is the main crop grown here, along with red gram, oil seeds, and some vegetables. Seventy eight per cent of the net sown area is rain fed, with the district receiving an average annual rainfall of 1200 mm. However, a downward trend in rainfall (a drastic fall from 1200 mm to 640 mm per annum) has made water a scarce resource.

SRIJAN’s presence in Koriya:

SRIJAN started working in Koriya in 2012 with SRI and community institution building (SHGs). At present, the organisation works with more than four thousand families across 92 villages in the district. SRIJAN came to Padhewa village (Manendragarh block) in 2014, with focus on forming women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs), and training farmers on improved methods of agriculture. Table 1 provides an overview of Manendragarh block.

The team introduced farmers to SRI with an objective to increase productivity of paddy through seed treatment, early line transplantation, and mechanical weeding of paddy fields; while reducing costs and using lesser seeds. Along with SRI, mulching and drip irrigation were introduced among vegetable farmers to conserve water.

Farmer Sriram's background:

Sriram is a 26-year-old farmer from Padhewa village in Manendragarh block of Koriya. Having completed12th std in from a nearby Govt. school, Sriram was keen to study further. However right after completing school, he was married off to a girl from his community. Now Sriram lives with his parents, sister, and his wife and three children. He shares, “People of this village mature very early” referring to his growing responsibilities towards his family at such a young age.

Despite having appeared for tests for several government and private jobs near his village, he couldn’t find one. Thus, he started supporting his father with farming on in their three acres of land. They mostly grow paddy along with some vegetables, which are used for their own consumption.

Being educated, Sriram is enthusiastic about learning new ways of farming, and he regularly watches TV shows like Krishi Darshan and reads newspaper articles to keep up with the latest techniques that he can implement in his small farm. In the process, he was the first in his village to start intercropping of maize and red gram along with vegetables. Apart from this, his family has three mahua trees that are used for collection and sales of the mahua flowers and seeds. Along with these trees, the family also collects MFPs (Minor Forest Produce) like tendu leaves and seeds from the nearby forests. The MFPs sales fetch them up to Rs. 10,000 annually. Sriram also works as a labourer whenever work is available under MGNREGA. Together, Sriram and his family earn about Rs. 50,000 annually.

By 2016, he started realising that there was a drop in his paddy production. Earlier he used to sell around 3-4 quintals of paddy and had have enough left from the harvest for his family. But now it was gradually decreasing. In addition, alternate options of livelihood were unsteady and risky, as the payments were always delayed, which added to the family’s woes – they were struggling to make ends meet. Sriram remembers how he had thoughts of migrating to a nearby city, even though he grieved at the thought of being away from his family.  Earlier, the excess paddy left after the household consumption would fetch them Rs. 1,400 per quintal in the Govt. Mandis. However, with a decrease in its production, there was no surplus to sell. Moreover, the income generated from the collection and sale of MFPs was also reducing, owing to the stress on forest resources and climatic factors such as uneven rainfall.

Need for Change in agricultural practices:

Since the village was laden with problems in farming due to decreased rain fall, there was a need to introduce techniques that would help farmers to optimise the use of water in paddy cultivation. With paddy production weakening year after year, SRIJAN’s Field executives discussed with farmers about the opportunity of growing vegetables in their backyards. The produce could be marketed in the weekly markets of Dhulku (5 kms) and Biharpur (13 km). Among vegetables, chilli and tomato were in perennial demand in these markets and would certainly fetch good money as compared to other vegetables and hence, these were suggested to farmers as potential crops for their backyards.

It was observed by SRIJAN’s team and the farmers that in winters, chillies usually fetched a price between Rs. 35 to  Rs. 40/kg when sold in bulk ( i.e. more than 1000kgs). In comparison to chillies, price fluctuations were more prominent in tomato and ranged from Rs. 40 per kg in July to Rs. 2 per kg in January. Moreover, a single chilli plant could produce upto 3 production cycles per year, as compared to only one cycle per year for tomato. Thus, chilli was selected by Sriram for cultivation as he felt that it would be more remunerative since the price remained above Rs. 20 per kg throughout the year in the market. He started practicing mulching with help from SRIJAN’s team.

By July 2017, Sriram had prepared a nursery using chilli seeds worth Rs 64 and in August 2017, he prepared and mulched 0.02 acres of land for cultivation. SRIJAN helped him in getting good quality seeds and mulching material. During the bed preparation, he maintained a ratio of 40:60 of farm yard manure (FYM) to soil. This would help him as FYM decomposes gradually and ensures a slow but steady supply of nutrients to plants over a long period (one to two years).

Sriram planted 196 chilli plants on seven alleviated soil beds (1-meter wide and 7-metres long). The plants were watered on every third day and he was also advised to periodically apply 50 ml of a decoction made of drumstick leaves on each plant to enrich the soil with nutrients required for rapid growth.  On the 7th day after plantation, Sriram observed a significant growth in the plants, which was much more compared to his earlier open field chilli cultivation.

SRIJAN’s field executive Balram used to visit Sriram’s plot once a week to monitor the plants’ growth and check for pest attacks and diseases. During these visits, Sriram was trained to understand how to identify symptoms in the stems and leaves and given tips to improve plant nutrition. From time to time, Sriram would note down his observations and consult the field executives. Besides this, he bought a book on good farming practices. While Sriram continued to work and care for the crop, he noticed a certain disinterest from his family towards chilli production, which at times left him disheartened. However, he shares, “Mr. Balram would talk to me during this time and I was able to discuss the lows about how my family was perhaps unable to see the future in chilli production that I see”. Balram’s response was that  they would start helping him once they saw the harvests. While these family concerns did disturb him occasionally, he was steadfast in his belief that his efforts would come to fruition and he continued working on the farm hopeful of that day.

A major turnaround:

The first harvest of chilli (4.5 kg) came in the beginning of August and over the next 4 weeks, Sriram harvested around 4-6 kg weekly. He would sell the produce in the nearby markets of Dhulku and Biharpur at Rs. 80 per kg. His chillies were widely appreciated by his customers for their freshness, given that he plucked them on the same day that he sold them in the market. From the date when harvesting was initiated to the seventh week, chilli production from the plot doubled, touching 10-15 kg. However, as production increased, he was unable to sell his entire produce, leaving him with losses from decomposing and rotting chillies. So, he approached buyers from far-off markets like Kelhari (33 kms), Kacchod (18 km) and Manendragarh (35 km), who agreed to buy his produce weekly, in bulk (greater than 10 kg) at the mandi rate. Even though the mandi rate would fetch him much lower than the market rate, Sriram was willing to sell his produce there to minimize his post-harvest losses.

Starting with his first harvest of 4.5 kg, he sold around 3.23 quintals of chilli in the first production cycle itself. At the end of the first cycle, the chilli plants were pruned to grow new branches and leaves and prepared for the next production cycle of the year. From the 196 chilli plants using 0.02 acres of land, Sriram sold Rs. 12,388 worth of chillies in the first production cycle.

This enhanced income helped Sriram cover losses that he had been making in paddy cultivation. He now sells his produce weekly and gets paid immediately, allowing him to plan his weekly expenses better. Moreover, the bulk sale gives him extra time to manage his chilli plants and post-harvest losses better. Looking at the initiative taken by Sriram and the remarkable outcomes, his family has started supporting him by lending a hand in watering the chilli crops, applying manure, and harvesting the produce. They too feel that chilli cultivation has added to their household income and understand that crop diversification can greatly minimize the risks arising from climatic variations and market fluctuations.

Sriram is now eager to grow different vegetables in his farm. Farmers from the village now visit his farm to learn from him and understand vegetable cultivation and mulching. Realizing the potential of vegetable cultivation on 0.02 acres and seeing the income it generated for Sriram, 15 farmers are keen to cultivate vegetables in their backyards. Sriram has not only changed his life but also inspired many others to take initiative towards a better future.