Farmers innovate to thrive amid rapidly urbanising Gurugram
Sitting in his 30-acre farm, which looks like an open air laboratory with high-tech sprinklers and drip systems spread all across, 38-year-old Satish Sehrawat talks of how, over the last two decades, he has conducted multiple experiments in inter-cropping and integrated farming besides adopting new techniques to boost productivity and reduce input costs to grow vegetables and fruits.
At the farm in Makdola village, 16 kilometres from Gurugram, acres of fields are covered with bright shining metallic-coloured sheets, small holes in which allow vegetables to grow — without the threat of moisture and pests that could destroy them. The innovation, however, does not stop here. Around 100 metres inside the farm, one can see a large field covered with four-five-foot-long bamboo sticks, which, Sehrawat says, are meant for staggered farming.
Amid the large-scale urbanisation of Gurugram’s villages and the pressure on landowners to sell their properties to realtors, farmers of some areas in the district have decided to hold on to their ancestral profession — but give it a modern twist.
A visit to Makdola village shows how new-age agriculture practices combined with traditional wisdom are helping farmers not only survive the real estate onslaught but also thrive.
According to data provided by the horticulture department, Gurugram district has 780 registered progressive farmers, all of whom are engaged in integrated farming and use modern farming techniques.
Sehrawat, who, on February 17, won the Krishi Rattan award from President Ram Nath Kovind for innovation and good practices in farming at Gannaur, Haryana, says, “We are traditional farmers. But my father realised that diversification was the way forward in the year 2000, when he planted a guava and jujube orchard on two acres of our land. Since then, this farm has grown in strength. Our income per acre has multiplied and we have helped several farmers to innovate and grow.”
Implementing these techniques, as Sehrawat says, is no doubt costly. However, he says, many in the district has adopted them because the new-age innovations make farming viable. “The input cost has decreased considerably over the years while output has increased massively. We have also learnt how to avoid losses by using herbicides and producing vegetables early on, when the supply at mandis are less,” says Sehrawat, who, along with his three brothers, has flourished and leased more land in Rewari, Alwar and Sonipat for such farming operations. He has two children — a son and a daughter, both of whom are in school at present. His nephew, he added, is in college and is pursuing a graduate course in agriculture, which, he maintains, shall be followed by a master’s degree. “We must keep on learning as practical knowledge needs to be supplemented with what is happening in laboratories and classrooms,” he says.
According to villagers, there are many farmers, most of whom held on to their land due to sentimental reason amid the urban sprawl. Subsequently, the villagers say, they took to modern farming. All of them are now financially empowers, villagers maintain. “The farmers resisted selling their land because they don’t understand business and speculation in land is also not their forte. Sticking to land is all they know but now they have turned that into a valuable asset using modern techniques,” said Dharmender Yadav, a 26-year-old electrical engineer, who shifted to full-time farming after working at a multinational company for two years.
District horticultural officer, Deen Mohmmad, who has been instrumental in several government-led initiatives to boost diversification and modernisation of farm operations, says that like Sehrawat, there are many farmers in Farrukhnagar, Pataudi and Sohna, who have embraced innovation. “We are working closely with farmers to train them in model farming, using minimum amount of fertilisers. We want them to use hybrid seeds and adopt water optimisation to reduce produce cost,” he says. The government also offers liberal subsidies to farmers for buying drip irrigation system, mulching sheets, staggered farms, hybrid seeds and good quality plants for orchards, he maintains.
Majority of the cost of new technologies is borne by the government, and with incentives such as crop insurance and market price difference schemes, the proposition of farming becomes good if not lucrative, Mohmmad adds.
The government is also promoting innovations in farming because large parts of Gurugram have brackish water underground, which has high levels of hardness and can’t be used for growing vegetables and fruits. “To overcome this problem, many farmers have installed pumps in their land which are used to extract hard water from the ground, which is either diverted to a drain or the agricultural fields, where wheat or paddy are being grown as they can withstand it,” says Devender Kumar, another farmer from Makdola.
To reduce wastage of water, many progressive farmers have adopted the drip irrigation or sprinkler system, which helps in reducing water consumption by almost 80 per cent.
Dharmender Yadav, who owns a 10-acre land in Unchamajra village near Pataudi, has installed drip irrigation in his land. He has also leased 20 more acres of land for growing vegetables, which he finds lucrative as Najafgarh and Azadpur mandis are near the city and often help in getting a good price. “I have installed drip irrigation as it cost-effective. Since less water is required, we spend less on electricity too. Using it, we can direct the manures and other nutrients directly to plants. I also use low tunnels, mulching and other such techniques,” Yadav says.
Yadav says that for him, shifting to progressive farming was easier because he comes from a traditional landowning family. “If one does farming seriously and keeps on learning new techniques, then it is a very viable profession. It also frees you from the daily office routine. Besides, the rewards are also high. For an average family, five acres of land is enough for comfortable living,” he says.
All of these farmers, however, have some grouses. They believe that the government schemes should be grounded in reality so as to make agriculture a risk-averse proposition. “The government provides subsidy for drip irrigation for only 3,300 metres in an acre but the pipe needed for this land is 4,300-4,500 metres. Where will the remaining subsidy come from?” Yadav asks.
The farmers also want improvement in marketing of their produce besides the setting up of a cost-effective cold chain system for storage. “Right now, many farmers cannot even think of renting an outlet in the city to sell their vegetables and fruits. If the government helps, farmers can adopt organic farming and get a premium for their produce,” Yadav maintains.
Apart from these issues, another challenge for farmers in Gurugram is the one posed by urbanisation, which has led to a almost 10 per cent decrease in agricultural land in the district over the last 17 years, according to a study released in January 2018. Sehrawat admits that owing to difficulties and the rising costs, several farmers in Pataudi and Farrukhnagar have given up on farming and sold their land to developers or companies looking to build warehouses.
“From my farm, you can see the rising National Cancer Institute in Bhadsa, which is a welcome development. However, it has put pressure on land as prices have shot up. Unless the government supports agriculture operations on a large-scale basis, diversion of land will be a formidable challenge,” he says, adding that majority of landowners in Makdola won’t do this in his lifetime as they sustain on a mix of agriculture and jobs.
When asked about this challenge, Mohmmad says all efforts would be made to strike a balance between urban growth and sustainable farming as food security of future generations depends on options that are chosen now.