Farmers in Barabanki transforming their fortunes amidst political apathy - Hindustan Times
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Farmers in Barabanki transforming their fortunes amidst political apathy

By, Barabanki
May 18, 2024 05:08 AM IST

Politicians pass through rural pockets in Barabanki while campaigning for the Lok Sabha election and plan novel methods to attract voters, but they rarely visit fields full of innovation.

Shopkeepers on the busy Dewa Road in Barabanki often get customers who come not to purchase anything but to look for ‘Dragon Fruit,’ a native cash crop of southern Mexico, central, and South America.

Progressive farmers of Barabanki feel their successful initiatives should be supported and replicated. (Sourced)
Progressive farmers of Barabanki feel their successful initiatives should be supported and replicated. (Sourced)

Courteous shopkeepers guide these inquisitive visitors, with a smile, to Mohammadpur Bisunpur, about three kilometres away, where lives Gaya Prasad, UP’s first farmer to cultivate Dragon Fruit.

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On the way from the main road to the village, asking anyone—even without naming Gaya Prasad—will lead you to the same place. “I started with one plant from Gujarat seven years ago, and now I have 2,000 on one acre land. I have guests coming during the fruiting season, from June to December, to see the plantation,” said Prasad, who has also developed a nursery and supplied plants to Himachal Pradesh, as well as to Sitapur, Ayodhya, and Sonebhadra in UP.

Dragon fruit is sold at 300 to 400 per kg, yielding up to 15 lakh a year for Prasad. “Dragon fruit plants survive for 25 years, and with drip irrigation technology, I need 40% less water. I have trained 15 farmers in this method of dragon fruit plantation,” said Prasad, who has been awarded by the state government for his initiative. However, this recognition came only after his experiment proved successful and financially viable. “I earn 30,000 from the plantation of dragon fruit starting from the third year of harvest,” he said.

Prasad’s story is the perfect example of how progressive farmers in the state rely on self-motivated initiatives to tackle climate change and innovate in farming.

They do acknowledge the subsidies on fertilizers (50%), drip irrigation systems (90%), and vermicompost (50%), but they get it only after establishing their novel method and proving themselves.

“Progressive farming is all about taking risks on the ground, and I did that. Research in the lab involves calculated risks, but in the field, it might be extremely successful or an utter failure,” said Iqbal Aziz, who has experimented on 8 acres of land in Masauli village in Barabanki, a district previously notorious for opium cultivation.

Aziz has cultivated watermelon, muskmelon, and cucumber in his field, crops that neighbouring farmers had never grown. He was even advised to avoid taking such risks.

UP produces 7.7 lakh tonnes of watermelon. This season, 10 farmers near Aziz’s field have contacted him to switch to progressive farming. “I have realised that the soil in Barabanki can grow anything except betelnut and dates. The key is to understand what you can grow, a principle that most farmers do not follow. The fear of taking risks can be mitigated with government support,” said Aziz, who has traveled to 10 countries since adopting modern technology on his farm.

He said, “Farmers do not take risks with new crops because there are no food processing units. What if I grow a special variety of potato but can’t find a place to get it processed? Farmers need processing and storage facilities near their villages, say one every 40 or 50 kilometres. But such demands never get political attention.”

Barabanki, once known for opium farming, now has hundreds of farmers using new methods in the field, reducing water and fertiliser consumption while increasing yield, but all this is done at an individual level.

The latest inclusion in progressive farming is indigo, a plant that provides natural dye. Mostly grown in South India, farmers in Barabanki and Lucknow are using new methods to grow indigo with 40% reduced water consumption. However, growing this cash crop is dependent on industry demand. If the demand decreases, farmers will abstain from cultivating it.

Number of farmers in Barabanki who have completely adopted progressive farming is over 250, while those who have partially adopted progressive farming and are using modern methods is over 1,500.

Candidates contesting for the Barabanki Lok Sabha seat have plans for progressive farmers. Raj Rani Rawat, the BJP candidate, said, “In Barabanki, farmers are growing strawberries, dragon fruit, and other varieties of cash crops. We will sit with them and plan how these farmers can be supported as they have made Barabanki proud in the state and country too.”

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