Rather than give in to despondency, farmers in the Vidarbha region have resolved to overcome the daunting agricultural crisis by trying out a set of low-budget, high yield techniques.
As many as 3,500 farmers from six suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha attended a four-day workshop on natural farming in this progressive village near Nagpur and returned home with a pledge to end the sordid saga of suicides.
Most of those who took copious notes of the "zero-budget" farm techniques in eight marathon sessions belonged to the families of debt-trapped farmers, hundreds of whom ended their lives during the last 20 months of acute farm distress.
Giving them lessons on farm operations — from sowing to harvesting — was a down-to-earth agricultural expert Subhash Palekar whose disciples have set up models of successful multi-crop farming at several places in Vidarbha and western Maharashtra.
"The workshop has given me new strength and confidence to toil on my farm for abundant yield, henceforth using the natural farming techniques taught by Palekar guruji," said Pandurang Rathod of village Ambezari of Yavatmal district whose younger brother and sister-in-law had committed suicide in 2002.
"I will persuade other farmers in my village to adopt the low-budget, high-yield technique and ensure that there are no more suicides," he added.
All the inputs that Palekar's technique involves — such as cow dung and urine; dried leaves and twigs — are available on-farm and thus require little money. Even seeds are supposed to be raised by the farmer employing a treatment that makes them pest-resistant. Besides, it needs less than half the water that conventional farm practices require.
A former employee of the state agriculture department and a farmer in his own right, Palekar has conducted several workshops across the length and breadth of the country benefiting thousands of farmers. Many more visit the models that Palekar's disciples have been running on their farms with amazing results in terms of both quality and quantity of yield and drastically reduced costs.
A simple treatment with a mixture of cow dung, urine and limewater ('beejamrut') makes seeds pest-resistant — they also germinate faster. A more or less similar mixture with a larger quantity of water ('jeevamrut') serves as manure. Covering the sown soil with a bed of dried leaves and twigs ('aachhadan') prevents loss of water through transpiration and helps maintain optimum soil temperature and humidity, claims Palekar.
A few farmers from Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan also attended the four-day workshop organised by former agriculture minister Ranjit Deshmukh under the aegis of Vidarbha Pragatisheel Shetkati Sanghatan and Arvindbabu Deshmukh.