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Where Every Penny Counts: A farmer’s story from Budhena village in Mohkhed, Madhya Pradesh

Area Context:

Mohkhed is a block in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh where SRIJAN is currently implementing its livelihood projects. It is located 25 km away from the district headquarters.

This region is surrounded by the Satpura mountain ranges and boasts of lush green fields, rivers and dense forests that are home to diverse flora and fauna, and yield non-timber forest products like Mahua flowers (Madhuca Longifolia), Tendu leaves (Diospyros Melanoxylon), Custard Apples, Blackberries and so forth.

SRIJAN in Mohkhed:

Following the success of the NABARD funded Wadi (orchard) project in Chhindwara block, SRIJAN started its journey in Mohkhed block in 2012-13 with a multi-pronged strategy of promoting community institutions, and value addition of forest fruits to provide an alternate and fixed source of income to small and marginal tribal producers. Prior to implementing the project, soil tests were done to confirm the suitability of the geographic area for horticulture, and several rounds of village meetings and community consultations were held. Currently, around 2,900 families from 46 villages are direct beneficiaries of SRIJAN’s interventions.

SRIJAN had started out with 191 farmers in the first year and reached 1022 farmers by 2016.

SRIJAN’s focus on building community institutions brought marginalised tribal women to the fore and encouraged their participation in village affairs and decision making in their homes. The organisation has promoted 246 SHGs, 20 clusters and one SHG federation called Prerna Mahila Mandal, which was inaugurated in October 2017. In addition to this, SRIJAN has also promoted value addition of custard apple and blackberry (processed pulp), which has benefitted over 957 families.

Shakar Lal’s journey with SRIJAN:

Shakar Lal is a farmer belonging to the Gond tribal community in Budhena village of Mohkhed block. He lives with his two aged parents and an ailing wife. Being the only earning member of the family, Shakar Lal cultivates maize on two acres of land that the family owns. Since agriculture is mostly rain fed in these parts, he used to grow only a single crop prior to 2013, and with an annual yield of five quintals, he was barely able to make ends meet for the whole year. As a result, Shakar would migrate to places like Nagpur, Bhopal, Amravati, and Chandrakoot for five months every year to work as a construction labourer and earn Rs 5000 per month on an average.

In 2013, Budhena was one of the villages chosen by SRIJAN for the Wadi/orchard project in Mohkhed block. The project required one acre of land for 60 fruit saplings and had the potential of providing a farmer with an assured income of Rs. 2000 per plant upon reaching maturity.

Initially when Shakar Lal got to know of this, he declined the proposal on the grounds of lack of water. But after many discussions regarding the benefits that would ensue from a wadi with some effort from his end, he agreed. Thus, Shakar Lal and 25 other farmers from Budhena embarked on this new journey by planting twenty five guava, five pomegranate, thirty mango, two jackfruit and ten lemon saplings on one acre of land. For a stable water supply, a common well was restored and pipeline was built with the support of SRIJAN using funds pooled by a group of farmers including Shakar Lal.  Other supplies like seeds, manure and vermi-compost were provided by SRIJAN for a few years up until the potential output was reached.

Recalling SRIJAN’s meticulous involvement at every stage, Shakar Lal reveals, “They told me to water the plants early in the morning as the soil would remain cool throughout the day; otherwise the roots would burn from the heat.” Shakar Lal’s guava trees bore fruit for the first time in 2016, and he was able to earn Rs.3000 by selling the fruits. In 2017, his income doubled to Rs 6,000 from the sale of guava. The steadily rising income from his own land now meant that he did not have travel to distant lands as migrant labour any more.  He shares, “I have the youth and the strength to go outside and labour for work, but my parents are aged. If I can be at home with family and earn an income sitting here, nothing could be better.”

In 2016, he also started organic cultivation of maize through the AATMA scheme, which SRIJAN facilitated. The initial shift to organic inputs meant that the average maize output of five quintals had come down by half. But he was able to purchase grains, with the money earned from guava, and tided over the loss. The 3000 rupees was not just a first-time income from the land, but a secure reserve of cash to tide over uncertainty. It has also made him confident in taking up new crops and plans for his small plot. He has started growing wheat since two years due to the steady water supply from the well. He has also planted orange fruit saplings from a Panchayat scheme called the Nandan Fal Yojana, and is confident of its success after his experience with guava.

On organic cultivation he says, “In olden days people used to live longer and fall ill less due to organically grown food. Now people live shorter lives and contract more diseases due to chemical inputs applied to the crops.” The organic maize he grows on his field is consumed at home and he feels that one should consume organic food before preaching to others and selling it. He also plans to fully shift to organic wheat cultivation in order to make his farm chemical free.  

As the secretary of the Village Development Committee (VDC), Shakar Lal advocates the same to fellow farmers. They discuss not only agriculture related issues but also other common problems of the village. Earlier, the road leading up to the remote forest village was a steep and rocky path but with the help of the VDC, the farmers discussed the matter and approached the district collector to construct a proper access road. Construction work is now underway.

For a farmer like Shakar Lal, being able to reap a sustainable income from his own field where he has the social support of family and community is greatly valued. Enabling a farmer with the capability to do so also motivates him to take up further initiatives in his own capacity to further his own welfare. Shakar will reap his first mango harvest very soon and is steadily climbing the ladder to economic security.