Agriculture

Jharkhand’s success story of fruit plantation under MGNREGA

The state’s experience in horticulture orchards can serve as a model for the country

 
By Debmalya Nandy
Last Updated: Tuesday 05 February 2019
Lalita Bhengra with her family inside the orchard. Photo: Debmalya Nandy
Lalita Bhengra with her family inside the orchard. Photo: Debmalya Nandy Lalita Bhengra with her family inside the orchard. Photo: Debmalya Nandy

Rukmani Mandi’s life has completely changed ever since she opted for the mango plantation activity  under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA). A barren land, which gave out nothing earlier, turned into a gold mine which fetched her Rs 2.15 lakh from the water melon farming. 

A protected environment with assured irrigation cover gave her the strength to take up farming inside a plantation area. As part of the convergence initiative, a drip irrigation system was also installed on her field to ensure precision farming. She had received this system on subsidy from the concerned department. 

Rukmani, a resident of Dhalbhumgarh block of East Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, has now been recognised as a progressive farmer. Her achievements have not only brought accolades, but also created hope among thousands of other women in the state.

Lalita Bhengra from Torpa block of Khunti district shares a similar story. In 2015, when she joined the Roshni Mahila Mandal, a local self help group, her family was going through a terrible financial crisis.

Most of the land these families possessed was barren, and infertile. Initially, she was reluctant   to take up mango plantation under MGNREGA as she was unable to figure out the potential risks and uncertainties. 

Lalita has now become a role model for many other women in her village. She has not only maintained a beautiful orchard in 1.5 acres of land, but is also doing round-the-year commercial farming inside the patch.  

Her family earns Rs 13,200 from vegetable cultivation inside the orchard in addition to Rs 16,800 under the MGNREGA, working for 100 days on the horticulture site. She and her family are surely on a path of prosperity as within three years they will earn handsomely from the orchard as well as from the farming activities.

The Birsa Munda Bagwaani scheme under the MGNREGA has been giving hope to many over the last three years in Jharkhand. Horticulture with inter-cropping being a set and established prototype in some of the impoverished pockets of the state, has now been adopted for large scale implementation.  

Civil society organisations and the Rural Development Department have joined hands to promote large-scale implementation of mango plantation as part of poverty reduction strategy in rural areas.

Over the last three years, 4,269 acres of plantation land has been taken up under MGNREGA Scheme (MGNREGS) which is benefitting approximately 6,500 families. This initiative has been undertaken in all 24 districts and covers 200 blocks out of the total 263 in the state.

Out of the 4,269 acres, civil society organisations along with the local administration have helped set up 3,108 acres of horticulture plantation in 72 blocks of 21 districts.  The rest has been a spill over effect and the state is now on a steady scale up mode in all other areas.

The initiative was first launched as a pilot project.  Later the initiative was scaled up across the state after the administration gained adequate knowledge about the processes and activities through these pilot projects.

As MGNREGA is a process-intensive programme and horticulture is a time bound activity, it’s not an easy task to integrate the two.  The success of horticulture initiatives depend on strict adherence to timeliness, and success of MGNREGA relies heavily on the processes to ensure timely payments to the workers.

Also, it was a mammoth task to educate and orient the local administration on the technicalities of the scheme as horticulture plantation is a highly technical subject and it’s ground implementation is subject to adherence of these technicalities within a stipulated timeframe.

Commercial mango plantation is generally done on a field which is completely fenced and protected and has assured irrigation.  Ensuring these conditions in context of rural Jharkhand is not easy as fencing activities are tedious and open grazing following paddy harvest is a menace.

The state still has only 12 per cent irrigation cover, which results in a low cropping intensity and high dependence on rain-fed farming activities. Thus, the horticulture plantation initiative is a high risk activity.

However, this has opened new avenues and the true potential of MGNREGA has been unleashed. Jharkhand has always had great potential for utilisation of this scheme to check the depletion of resources through land and water conservation efforts.

Further, MGNREGA can be used for improving farming conditions through rainwater harvesting and land development activities, thereby impacting rural livelihoods.  However, the true potential of MGNREGA is yet to be realized in Jharkhand.

This fruit plantation initiative can be seen as a good beginning. It can be a game changer as it can potentially provide up to Rs 1,000 per plant to the beneficiaries.

The prototype is designed in a scientific way after consulting experts of the field. Ground staff and frontline functionaries are being trained by technical experts who have specialised in horticulture.

A mango tree is planted within 25 square meters of a given area, maintaining a uniform distance of 5 meters between two plants. An acre of land consists of 112 mango saplings and thus a beneficiary taking up horticulture in 1 acre of land can earn more than Rs 1 lakh every year from the orchard.

Generally, poor families are given priority while selecting beneficiaries and they are encouraged to transplant at least 40-50 plants which could fetch them a handsome amount after the initial gestation period.

The necessary labour and material payments are done through MGNREGA and there are provisions for replacement of plants in the subsequent year in case of mortality.

It’s important to note that needy families without any access to irrigation sources are also encouraged to construct dug wells through MGNREGA.

As investments are high and gestation period of mango plants is generally  three-four years, poor and marginalized farmers generally do not find horticulture plantation as a  lucrative option, since they normally search for activities with immediate benefits.

The idea of promoting horticulture in the barren uplands  through MGNREGA has been quite  useful as the financial stress is not imposed on the farmer family, the barren lands become productive and fertile through constant fertilizing and inter-culture operations and  most importantly, farming activities inside the  protected fenced  patches  ensure immediate cash income for the families.

The owners of the mango orchards get pump-sets and delivery pipes from the soil conservation department at a subsidised price for using them as lifting device while providing irrigation.

Jharkhand’s experience in horticulture orchards under MGNREGA can be a model for the rest of the country. While the central government has been focussing more on natural resource management activities and improving livelihoods of people through quality individual assets, the plantation initiatives seem to be the answer.

This has shown that poor households can not only cope with their immediate vulnerabilities through MGNREGS, but can also use this scheme to come out of their distressed financial conditions.

(The author wants to thank Sujoy Bhattacharya and Rajkishor Mandal for their support in writing the piece)

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