As you reach Palibugbuga village, 10km from Atabira block in Orissa’s Bargarh district, you are struck by a patch of land with multi-coloured vegetation in the midst of vast paddy fields. That patch is Santosini Karna’s labour of love — several varieties of medicinal plants and crops. The 36-year-old is Orissa’s first woman farmer of such plants.
A few years ago, distress sale of paddy was rampant in Bargarh district, known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Orissa. The returns were very low and this forced farmers to sell their paddy at throwaway prices.
Santosini, a housewife in the village, was concerned by this. She read an article on cultivation of medicinal plants and got hooked to the idea.
Though there were several government schemes for cultivation of medicinal plants, farmers did not venture into it because of an uncertain future. However, for Santosini it was a risk worth taking. She read up about cultivating medical plants and visited some agro-based farms in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
After this, she started cultivating safed musli in her 3.5 acres by investing Rs 3 lakh. She sold the harvest at a very good price. Encouraged, she took a loan of Rs 35 lakh from Andhra Bank and started cultivating medicinal plants in another 15 acres taken on lease from other farmers. Her repertoire included safed musli, jatropha, vanilla, stevia, bacha, pipli aloe vera, datura metal and calotropis procera.
She repayed Rs 20 lakh just after a year. “I achieved a good harvest by using traditional fertilisers like cow dung, chicken wastes and neem,” she said.
Santosini’s success prompted many farmers in Bargarh and other districts of Orissa to follow suit. “Many farmers from as far as Jagatsingpur district visited my farm and went back, promising to start their own. It gives me satisfaction that I have come up with something new.”
Santosini’s farm now employs more than 50 persons. Besides, she has started another venture, a herbal trading and consulting firm. Obviously, husband Fakira is full of admiration. “You never know what she will start next," he said with pride.