After graduating from college in 2001, Hemchandra Patil decided to join his father, a farmer in Jalgaon. The family’s 12 acres of land, however, yielded paltry produce. Hemchandra decided to abandon flood irrigation and deploy drip irrigation, which he had heard about at several farmer workshops. “It was a decision that required capital and the mindset to give up a familiar method for something untried,” he recalls.
By 2003 he had won an award for achieving the highest productivity of white onion — 19.66 metric tonnes per acre (mt/acre). “I was suddenly a celebrity for the local farmers,” he says with a laugh. How did he do it? “I shifted to drip irrigation, a watering technique that’s being subsidised by both the government and private sector, and went in for contract farming for assured prices.”
Something similar happened to schoolteacher-turned-farmer Rajendra Hari Patil. “I lost my job as a teacher,” he says, “but I had farmland and thought to give farming a shot. I began by farming part-time, but when I learnt about drip irrigation and tissue-culture farming, I made up my mind to get into farming full-time.” He does not regret the decision. This graduate in chemistry once taught science and mathematics at a village school and could not make ends meet with the meagre income from his rain-fed 1.5 acre farm. Today he earns Rs 25 lakh a year from banana, ginger, sunflower and cotton on 7 acres of his own land and 60 acres of leased land.
It was Jain Irrigation Systems, a Jalgaon-based agro, pipes, processed foods and irrigation corporation, that helped both of them to move to newer farm techniques. The company says that, using drip irrigation, the two farmers irrigated 8 acres of land with the quantity of water that would otherwise irrigate only 1 acre. In five or six years the productivity of their land doubled. Jain Irrigation does contract farming of onion and vegetables, banana, mango, papaya and tomato (for puree) with 45,000 farmers in Maharashtra. Recently the company added Andhra Pradesh to its list.
The company also provides inputs like seeds, tissue-cultured plants and micro-irrigation systems that Hemchandra Patil, for one, is using to multiply his crop production. His success has turned him into a teacher — his peers, even some from distant districts, come to him. “My fellow farmers, those who aren’t educated, regularly seek my advice on crop patterns,” he says, beaming with pride. This year on his own farm he has already harvested his second cotton crop. He expects that banana productivity will touch 35 mt/acre.
Last year, he and others made a trip to USA. It was not a vacation. They visited Boston to lecture at the prestigious Harvard Business School about how drip irrigation had made them successful farmers. Dilip Kulkarni, president of Jain Irrigation Systems, accompanied the farmers. “We were given just 20 minutes for our presentation,” he says, “but the Ivy League audience was so intrigued and impressed by these farmers that they let us speak for over 45 minutes.”
Hemchandra relives his Harvard moment: “The audience and international media asked us so many questions and, while I could speak English, it was an overwhelming session when we represented the Indian farmer community on a global level. It was an extremely proud moment.”
Rajendra Patil, who had always dreamt of travelling in an aeroplane and seeing America, had a tough time sitting still on the flight. “There was so much to imbibe. I can never forget my flight, the presentation I made and the respect we got in Harvard.” Now readying to launch three-month courses for farmers, he says, “We once had marginal farmers owning just 1 acre or less of land, like 80 per cent of farmers in India. But education and new farming techniques have changed my family and my fate.” His son and daughter both study in English-medium schools. Their father insists that they will find their own careers, just as he did.