Ramesh Chander Dagar, an organic farmer from Akbarpur Barota village, Sonipat, Haryana demonstrates how
Small farms can be profitable
Rupees 10 lakh every year, from one-hectare (ha) land -- an unbelievable proposition for all those bought up on the much-propaga ted idea that small farmlands are unprofitable. But Ramesh Chander Dagar has made this proposition into a reality. A visit to his farmland in Akbarpur Barota village, Sonipat district, Haryana can be quite an eye opener. The farmland resembles the laboratory of any agricultural scientist. Says Dagar, "I am a simple farmer, who has studied only up to the 10th standard. I used to keep hearing claims of the government that small land holdings are not viable for agriculture. And that set me thinking. About four years back, I set aside one ha from my agricultural land and started experimenting on it. Today I am confident that this land can give a minimum income of Rs 10 lakh per annum."
Dagar follows what is known as integrated organic farming. "Such farming does not merely mean not using pesticides," he says. "It also comprises many other practices such as bee keeping, dairy management, biogas production, water harvesting and composting. A good combination of all these practices is sure to make organic farming successful, both ecologically and financially," adds Dagar.
Today he is busy spreading the message of integrated organic farming in his home state. With support of other farmers, he has set up the Haryana Kisan Welfare Club, which has branches in all districts in the state. Close to 5,000 farmers are active members of this club and they are fast spreading the word around. In states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat there are now efforts at replicating organic farming clubs.
Learning by doing Dagar started farming with a mere 1.6 ha land in 1971; today he owns close to 44 ha, all of which is completely under integrated organic farming. A clear understanding of three factors -- the market demand, the natural resources available and maintaining the product quality -- helped him succeed. Most organic farmers find it difficult to get good markets for their produce, but not Dagar. "Before sowing a new crop, I first do a market survey and understand the demand. It is only when I am 60 per cent sure of getting returns, do I take 40 per cent risk," he says. And in most cases it works to his good.
Almost all seasonal vegetables, fruits, paddy, wheat, mushroom and flowers are grown organically in Dagar's farm. He has also started growing exotic vegetables and fruits, such as lettuce, baby corn and strawberry, for export. This innovative farmer has set aside one ha for research purposes (Dagar's research lab). "Through this land, I want to prove wrong all those who doubt the profitability of organic farming. With a bit of hard work and understanding of nature, any farmer can earn a minimum of Rs 10 lakh per annum. I do not understand why everyone is running after a job?" he asks.
Dagar's research lab Dagar's lab oratory is a visual extravaganza. One can witness composting taking place at one end, flowers growing at the other end, a farm pond with fishes, and a biogas plant. And all these elements in his farm are interlinked through various agrocycles and together generate an annual income of Rs 13-14 lakh (see table: Farm gold). Moreover, the farm saves precious energy by using solar power.
Spreading the word
Today Dagar is busy spreading the word of integrated farming throughout the country. Farmers from Haryana are playing a lead role in the mission. The Haryana Kisan Welfare Club gives hands-on training on organic farming. Since most farmers cannot come to the district clubs, workshops are organised at village level. In February this year, a gathering of about 4,000 farmers was organised at Sonipat. Apart from farmers, experts, agricultural scientists and bureaucrats were invited. But Dagar concedes that motivating government machinery towards integrating organic farming is a big task. " Jo sarak sarak kar chale who sarkar (The government is something that crawls along slowly)," he remarks casually.
But Dagar is not waiting for government help. He has made organic farming his mission."I keep experimenting with various crops in my field. For instance, right now I am trying to grow a Chinese plant, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar but is cholesterol free. If I am successful in my venture, I will recommend it to others. Since the plant has medicinal value, it has a huge international market," he says. Way back in 1987, Dagar had introduced baby corn in Sonipat on a mere 0.40 ha plot. Today, almost 485 ha land in Sonipat is under baby corn cultivation.
With success come new challenges. The cost of organic food is priced higher than food grown with the use of chemicals. Dagar has tried to turn this adversity to his advantage. He makes use of good marketing tactics to exploit the high premium on organic food. He has also tied up with voluntary organisations that market organic food. To be doubly sure, he himself conducts market research to ascertain the demand for various organic foods.
Another, problem for organic farmers like Dagar is that India lacks a streamlined procedure for certifying organic foods. Also one kind of certificate is not valid for all countries. "Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority is the nodal agency which addresses the issue of certification internationally. It has about 10 companies registered under it, of which only one is an Indian firm. A day's visit of a company official costs about Rs 15,000. Which Indian farmer has so much money?" asks Dagar.
The Haryana Kisan Welfare Club has taken up this issue with the government, but without success. Finally it approached a Gurgaon-based private company for certification. The company should start work within a month. The club is following group certification scheme where rich farmers will subsidise the certification process of the poor ones. But it is high time, the Indian government facilitates the procedure and supports farmers like Dagar.
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