Jan 29, 2007

In the Killing Fields of Vidarbha

....Contract Farming Comes to the Rescue

Where the government fails the NGOs and the private Cos shine.

Ganesh Jadhav, a farmer from Wadgaon-Tanda in Yavatmal in Vidarbha district, now infamous for suicides by indebted farmers, tills 3 acres of rain-fed land. He has escaped the horrors of the local moneylender because this year, he turned to contract farming.

Thanks to a good castor crop that he sold to Gujarat-based Jayant Oil Mills, which accounts for 38 per cent of the world’s castor oil production, he has already seen a more than 60 per cent jump in his annual income to Rs 25,000.

Now sowing tur (a pulse) and soyabean, Jadhav’s annual income will increase once he sells these remunerative inter-crops and markets the seeds from his first castor crop. “Had I stuck to cotton, I would have barely earned Rs 15,000 in the whole year,” Jadhav said.

Like Jadhav, a growing number of farmers in the region have turned to contract farming in the past year and a half to pull themselves out of poverty and indebtedness.

....the region could soon play a critical role in the supply chains of mega-retailers like Reliance and Big Bazaar for lentils and soyabean.

Already, 967 farmers and nearly 2,000 acres of land in Yavatmal district have been brought under castor cultivation and contract farming. By this year-end, the figure will reach 6,500 farmers and nearly 20,000 acres.

This mass switch to contract farming has been driven by Yavatmal-based NGO Bharatiya Dyananpeeth Multipurpose Rural Development Organisation (BDMRDO).

Said Shailesh Pisalkar, secretary, BDMRDO, “When we started searching for a crop that has low input cost, can be easily grown in rain-fed areas and fetch remunerative prices, we came across castor.”

Under the scheme, Jayant Oil Mills offer farmers a guaranteed price of Rs 1,200 a quintal or the market rate, whichever is higher. This is a major improvement over cotton marketing, where prices are driven by middlemen who earn huge margins by forcing farmers to sell at low prices.

Castor has several advantages over cotton. Says Pisalkar, “The average income per hectare for castor is around Rs 30,000 and input costs vary between Rs 3,500 and Rs 6,000 per hectare, depending on the quality of soil.”

By contrast Yavatmal district’s average gross income per hectare from cotton is around Rs 22,000. “If you deduct input costs, the farmer earns only around Rs 5,000 an entire year,” Pisalkar says.

Castor has the additional advantage of allowing a wider variety of remunerative inter-cropping such as soyabean and pulses. Cotton only allows tur to be sown as an inter-crop.

In the longer term, the district might even emerge as a sericulture centre. BDMRDO is helping farmers cultivate silkworms on castor leaves with assistance from various government schemes. [

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