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Smart farming

8 Comments
Feb 15, 2013 | From the print edition

Two IITians explore ways to make farming profitable for Bihar farmers

Shashank and Manish discuss market trends with farmers at their office

In a shabby godown-turned-office in Vaishali district, Shashank Kumar, an alumnus of prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), pensively browses through the Internet on his laptop. He is surrounded by a goup of farmers who wait expectantly to know the chances of rain. Kumar finally gives up. He walks out of the office and looks at the partly cloudy sky. “It might rain,” he says, mumbling that weather update in Bihar is awful. His friend, Manish Kumar, another IIT alumnus, is back from a hectic tour of villages in Banka district. Long hours of walking under the sun has made him ill. Yet he joins the discussion on what the group of farmers should grow this season keeping up with the market trend.

Shashank, a statistician, and Manish, a textile engineer, resigned from their plum corporate jobs in 2010 and have since been working with farmers of Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Banka and Hajipur to turn farming into a profitable venture. “For us, it was a call of land,” say the duo who hail from the same village.

So the profit of their organisation, Farms n Farmers, must be impressive. Mere mention of profit gives them bouts of laughter. “Our balance sheet is negative but things are looking up,” say the entrepreneurs who are in the process of finding out what ails the farming sector in the state. “When we started, we thought a direct market to farmers’ produce in cities and elimination of middlemen would bring them more money. Our concept was far removed from reality,” says Shashank. “We realised the problem lies in the gap between demand and the produce.” Farmers in the hinterlands of Bihar prefer sowing labour-intensive paddy and wheat. They do not grow for the market and have little idea about high-value crops. Then there are obvious problems like small landholdings and reluctance towards new farming techniques.

Amid the gloom, Shashank and Manish decided to persuade young farmers. The idea worked. Young farmers agreed to experiment, though on a small portion of their fields. The duo also told the farmers about storage facilities and packaging and processing techniques so that they can earn higher prices for their produce. Varun Singh is one such farmer from the IITians’ village who grew baby corn on one-tenth of his farmland last year. “Initially, I had to face the wrath of my father,” he says. But the earning from baby corn was impressive. This year Varun’s father has allowed him to grow capsicum, another vegetable in demand in cities, along with baby corn.

His neighbour Ravi Bhusan was startled when he was told about mixed farming. The IITians after a thorough study of his field and market trends asked Bhusan to grow potato along with wheat. He reluctantly followed the advice. A bit of profit in the first year itself surprised him. “My profit would have been much more if I had grown a few more crops,” says Bhusan, who is now improvising methods of mixed farming.

Farm n Farmers segregates the harvested crops into categories of ready to sell, crops that need to be processed and crops that require storage facility. “Farmers usually sell their produce in the local market where they do not get a good price. We find a niche market for each crop and sell it at a better price,” Shasank says. Crops like baby corn are sold processed and canned, and fetch an impressive price, he adds.

Though at a nascent stage, their venture has come to the notice of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, which has offered them access to its farmers’ clubs. This has enabled them to interact with large groups of farmers and understand the problems better. “There is a severe resource and information crunch in Bihar. Weather updates are difficult to get despite 95 per cent of farmers depending on rain,” says Manish. In the next few years, they plan to set up a call centre to advise farmers on crop diseases and right planting schedules. To begin with, they have prepared a database of farmers and send them remiders through SMS about when to buy seeds or irrigation methods.

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CONGRATULATIONS TO FARM AND FARMERS! However I will advice extreme caution on this high value crop route to leapfrog into 21st century. Bihar farmers will derive immense benefits from traditional staple food crops, provided decentralised storage facilities are created to derive value added benefits in the short term. Being a former non-resident Bihari indicates that risk-taking is not new to the farmers. Strategic growth path has its followers, don't they?

3 February 2013
Posted by
Prof. J. George

@ Prof. George - Thanks for the good wishes. You are absolutely right sir. I would like to tell you sir, that we do not suggest/assist farmers for high value crops only. Crop combination is optimized in such a way so that overall risk is minimized and cycle of return from agriculture is reduced from 5-7 months (in case of only staples) to 80-90 days. We are also dealing with traditional crops like paddy, wheat, maize, mustard etc.

Besides, FnF provides end to end solutions, which also includes post harvest interventions ( storage, primary processing and marketing).

Warm regards,

4 March 2013
Posted by
Shashank Kumar

Hi Shashank,

Very good initiative.
I am ready to do a free software for you guys if u need anything to automate your process or to analyze the data you collected.

I am a son of farmer. And I would like to help those who are serving that community.

I really appreciate your initiative from the depth of my heart...all the best.

22 April 2013
Posted by
Ramesh

Actually, Manish Kumar is the Statistician (MSc from IIT-Kharagpur) & Shashank Kumar is the Engineer (IIT-Delhi) :)

23 February 2013
Posted by
Achintya Nath Sexena

Manish and Shashank, it is really a great initiative from you guys. this has the potential of bringing in a cultural change in the society and can usher a progressive mindset, similar to what AMUL and SEWA did in Gujarat. I too have similar aspirations and am thinking of doing my bit for society in my home state of Andhra Pradesh which too has many social problems like backwardness you can observe in many parts of India. I would like to share my thoughts with you and collaborate our knowledge for a better India in future. My email Id is: cvgkrishna@gmail.com. Request you to share your email Ids by sending an email to my personal email Id.

Warm Regards,
Gopal

6 March 2013
Posted by
Gopal

What a great idea! most appropriate way to serve our country. My hearty congratulations. I hope the same thing can be implemented all over india once this venture becomes a success.

9 March 2013
Posted by
sudha

Excellent. This is what is needed in the country to bring rural prosperity through science and technology.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

23 March 2014
Posted by
Dr.A.Jagadeesh

First of all a big salute to the farmers. The article gives an idea about how much they are dedicated to the nature and agriculture. I am sure the post will be an eye opener for many who doesn’t think about the environment and lead them to do something for the conservation of the nature. It tells the importance conserving our nature and the role farmers. Excellent work.

24 April 2014
Posted by
shruti

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