Village – Aterna Village, Sonepat District, Haryana
Date – 29th January 2019
As the Government has set itself the target of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022, the stakeholders of agriculture have been tasking to find innovative models by integration of traditional knowledge, modern technology, and consumer preference.
India has been the hub of traditional skills and knowledge in agriculture, but after the movement towards Green Revolution, the agriculture became unsustainable, especially in the areas of Punjab and Haryana. Cultivation of water intensive crops in dry lands areas led to the problem of water exploitation. Over-irrigation has resulted in salinity and alkalinity of the soil. Due to faulty Minimum Support Price policies, Punjab and Haryana became the food basket of the whole India. This resulted in cultivation of mostly rice and wheat in the region. Overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides led to killing of natural biodiversity of soil. Soil degradation reduced the fertility of soil leading to lower yields. This resulted in a vicious cycle.
Despite food production increased, the per hectare and per person productivity has remained stagnated. Because agriculture is a state subject, markets across the states could not be integrated. Small and marginal farmers found it difficult to obtain benefits of government policies and schemes due to lack of awareness and capacity. Role of intermediaries in supply chain increased and farmers could not get the due price for their produce. Distress sale became common because post-harvest management facilities and storage facilities were not available. Crop insurance remains unaffordable for the poor farmers. Farmers find it difficult to shift to new crops and new methods of farming because there is lack of safety net.
Who has the solutions to these problems?
The Government calls for convergent approach among all stakeholders – Government, administration, farmers, scientists, private companies, consumers, intermediaries, banks, farming input providers, gram panchayat, local change agents and others.
However, the convergence mechanism is not uniform or specified. This calls for innovative approach to develop agriculture ecosystem. Several organizations are working to find replicable models by experimenting at local level. The main thrust, in the present times, is on:
- Revival of traditional systems and its integration with modern technology
- Crop Diversification
- Innovations within the supply chain management
- Land Reforms
- Shifting the labour from farming to allied sectors
What is the purpose of Dhara for Sustaining Life?
Dhara for Sustaining Life is on a mission to identify commercially profitable and sustainable models of farming in villages that can be replicated by others.
For this Dhara for Sustaining Life does the following:
- Research through several models of farming in India and abroad
- Organize the visit of volunteers to the place to understand the practical implementation
- Prepare report on the field visit and submit to concerned government agencies
- Spread awareness about the sustainable models among other farmers
Aterna Village (“Baby-Corn” Village)
Gandhiji firmly believed that self-reliant villages form a sound basis for a just, equitable and non-violent order. This can be a guiding principle for all citizens, constructive workers and policy makers in India. He emphasized that State should work in coordination with the people to generate sustainable economic model. Arousal of aspirations in the people and ownership of development by the people are two important pillars of sustainable development.
Aterna Village, located in Sonepat District of Haryana, is a textbook example of such structural reforms. The village farmers have experienced three-fold increase in the household income through a simple formula – change the cropping pattern and form a collective marketing organization. But as wise people say, simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world. The story of Aterna village’s development can act as model for various other villages.
Aterna is a village in Sonepat District of Haryana, India. It is around 35 km from New Delhi and is connected to it through National Highway 44 (erstwhile NH-1). The region (Bhiwani Bagar) is guided by semi aridity as it receives less than 75 cm of average annual rainfall. The region has plain topography and alluvial type of soil which is good for cultivation of crops.
Aterna Village used to cultivate wheat and rice in the normal course of cropping. The farmers could utilize one or two seasons on the field. Cultivating rice and wheat led to degradation of the soil and overexploitation of the groundwater. Farmers were highly dependent on the mandi and the intermediaries. But the certainty of revenue, subsidies from government and low initial investment - made the farmers to continue on the self-deprecating path.
In 1997, Shri Kanwal Singh Chauhan, Padam Shri awardee, started to cultivate the baby corn. Dr. S.K. Chauhan from ICAR Horticulture department was instrumental in giving technical advisory. They imported the seeds from Thailand. It required higher investment. The Sonipat mandi did not have a regulatory mechanism for trade of baby corn. The demand for baby corn was very high in the hyper-urbanized Delhi but supply was short. The risks were high, but so were the returns. Initially, other farmers were critical of this move. Shri Kanwal Singh Chauhan continued in his pursuit with determination because he was guided by long term thinking. The model gradually became more profitable.
Cultivation of baby corn requires less water. Even the cropping cycle is short enabling at least three times yield in a year.
He set up food processing facilities for processing, packaging and distributing baby corn, sweet corn, tomatoes, mushrooms etc. He also partnered with international brands through contract farming methods to generate stable demand. The cultivation of corn had benefits in allied sector as well. The agri-residue could be used as fodder and as biofuel.
Other farmers also understood importance of switching from monoculture to crop diversification. In one and a half decade, not only Aterna but also its surrounding villages, Manoli, Khurampur, Bhaira, Jaati and Sersaha, have been turned into green baby corn fields. Today, baby corn farming generates employment among the villagers, and some farmers have become entrepreneurs.
They have formed Farmer Producer Organization to market their product. They set floor price to sell their product in order to ensure that they get adequate returns. Farmers are now producing the seeds of baby corn locally and whoever wishes to buy the seeds can only buy from Aterna.
This FPO is one of the few profitable FPOs of India. Even it has partnered with ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research), KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra), NABARD (National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development) and other institutions in order to holistically build the agriculture ecosystem.
Recently, Shri Kanwal Singh Chauhan has started cultivation of mushrooms in polyhouses. It is part of vertical farming initiative in collaboration with KVK. Mushrooms cultivation requires scientific inputs, controlled conditions, well-nourished soil and immediate processing. For this food processing facilities have been set up to process and package them. The model has been recognized as 100% sustainable method. Even it can be replicated into other grow-at-home products.
Farmers have realized that to double their incomes, they should go for cultivating diversified vegetables which have high demands in urban areas and in export market. Even they have reduced their dependence on market intermediaries to a great extent by selling produce directly to institutional buyers.
The focus is on expanding the network and add more farmers because, otherwise, it is difficult to fulfil rising demand in Delhi. Mr. Chauhan, who is a lawyer by qualification, wants to inspire youth to think out of the box when it comes to agriculture. He wants to revive the entrepreneurial spirit in the farmers which can generate self-respect and dignity in the profession. Even, he wants to create a self-sufficient economic cycle within the village so that dependence on trans-national corporations can be reduced to a great extent. According to Mr. Chauhan, 2022 target cannot be achieved without reducing the input cost.
The prosperity of farmers has brought multiplier effect on the entire village economics. Health and education indicators are rising while poverty is declining. Women have gained productive employment in food processing facilities. More youth is pursuing higher education now. Female literacy level is also rising. Anganwadi centres are well equipped and well-staffed. Government school students can speak and read in English. Teachers are well motivated to teach the students. Gradually, with modernisation and better socio-economic justice, the village can organically grow into prosperous village.
In the beginning, the cost of cultivation was quite high due to high-cost imported seeds from Thailand at Rs 250-300 per kg. With the introduction of hybrid HM 4, Haryana Seed Development Corporation (HSDC) currently supplies the seeds at Rs 60-75 per kg, making it economical for the farmers. Some farmers now produce the HM 4 hybrid seeds on their own.
The cultivation practices for baby corn are simple and almost similar to that of ordinary maize, except harvesting of its green cobs within 2-3 days of their silking at very young stage. The fields are prepared and the standard dose of compost and urea is applied. After following the standard package of cultivation practices, a good crop of baby corn can be taken. Their outer green husks are removed and the de-husked baby corn is properly packed in thermocol trays by covering them with cellophane sheets and sent to markets for sale.
It has proved to be a money-spinning crop for the farmers. The green fodder has also increased the milk production by 20-25 percent.
Green cobs are harvested within 2-3 days without pesticides. It is quite safe for human as well as for livestock consumption. The pesticide free gobar (dung) of the cattle forms a good base for vermi-compost. This rich organic content further adds to the soil fertility and improves crop health. The baby corn thus being an organic crop helps improve health of human, cattle, soil and environment and brings prosperity and happiness to farmers.
Baby corn' nutritional quality is at par or even superior to some of the seasonal non-leguminous vegetables such as cauliflower, tomato, cucumber and cabbage. Besides digestive proteins and fibers, it is a rich source of several important minerals and vitamins. It contains 3 percent protein, 8 to 10 percent sugar, several minerals such as potassium 370 mg/100 g, phosphorus 150 mg/100g, calcium 36 mg/100g and iron 0.88 mg/100g. It also contains 120 brix of total soluble solids (TSS).
Baby corn is high in folate, B-6 vitamin, riboflavin and vitamin C. It contains two carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein which help to prevent cataracts, thus keeping eyes healthy. It is also a rich source of crude fibers and fibrous proteins which help prevent intestinal cancer. It contains zero cholesterol which helps prevent coronary artery diseases.
At the Village, participants listened to various eminent personalities at the village who have worked hard for alleviating the condition of farmers in Aterna.
- Shri Kanwal Singh Chauhan, Padam Shri Awardee – He enlightened the youth regarding role of innovation in agriculture, importance of food processing and marketing in increasing farmers income. He also briefed about his life journey and his multiple failures. He inspired the participants to do good work always without expecting anything in return.
- Shri Shyam Bihari Gupta: stressed the role of Integrated Natural Farming, crop diversification, people’s revolution and understanding the local resources of the village and area specific approach.
- Mr. R K Johri (DDM, NABARD): He talked about the role of NABARD in the Agriculture and various schemes through which NABARD assists farmers and Regional Rural Banks.
- Dr. J K Nandal (Principal Scientist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Sonepat): talked about Knowledge science. Role of animal husbandry especially indigenous cattle population, Deenbandhu model (for biogas), Biowaste and Jeevamruta.
- Mr. Tribhuvan Singh Chauhan (Retired ITS Officer)
- Shri Charansingh Chauhan, Retired SI: shared his experiences about the administrative aspects of agriculture, stubble burning etc.
- Shri Virender Singh Badkhalsa (General Secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh): shared his experiences about the administration and the Agriculture.
There was a street play competition. Students were divided into 4 groups and asked to prepare a street play over a topic of their choice. Group 1 talked about how a person converts a village into a Model Agriculture village to be an example for the country. Group 2 talked about issues in Agriculture and its impact on people especially farmers suicides. Group 3 talked about comprehensive aspects of Agriculture and its problems. Group 4 talked about the role of innovation and education in Agriculture.
- Small and marginal farmers need to have formal credit access in order to purchase the inputs and do cultivation
- Market linkages with urban areas is essential, because mushrooms and baby corns require higher purchasing power
- Post-harvest management in the form of food processing facilities and cold storage facility are needed
- Still India lacks local branding and has to rely on big corporate houses (example, Del Monte) for marketing the product
- These are commercial crops and cannot be used for self-consumption; thus, farmer may still need rice and wheat to ensure food security
- Requirements of the export market must be first studied properly, otherwise chances of rejection
The real social, economic, political and even environmental development of our country can only happen through development of our villages. Our villages are the reservoirs of innovators and risk takers. Innovation is the key to doubling the farmers’ income by 2022. The government can act as facilitator by designing area specific policies, by strengthening the backward and the forward linkages, by subsidising technology, by strongly implementing National Mission on Agriculture Extension and Technology. Governments can play a role in facilitating functioning of the market forces in smooth and fair manner. Farming the backbone of our economy. As Lala Lajpat Rai gave the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ during 1960s, we want to raise the 21st century slogan of “Kamaye Kisan, Ho Navotthaan” (Farmers earn more through innovation).