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Cultivating an interest

Manoj Kumar, a gold medallist-turned-farmer, started a club that energised the local economy and taught villagers to make high-yield, organic manure. Ashok Mishra reports.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2012 20:11 IST
Ashok Mishra Ashok Mishra
Ashok Mishra Ashok Mishra
Hindustan Times

Until four years ago, Mustafaganj was like any other Indian village. Its people had big dreams, but they killed them. Manoj Kumar, a gold medalist in geography from BR Ambedkar University of Muzaffarpur, knew what it meant to have unfulfilled desires.

Like most young men from Bihar, he wanted join the IAS. But couldn’t. In 2006, he returned home after completing his postgraduation, smack in the middle of the Maoist-controlled ‘red zone’, to discover people living on the edge. He convinced them to sign up for a club whose members would be engaged in the production of vermi-compost and start organic farming.

Day labourer Leela Devi, 43, is a member of Manoj’s Bihari Thakur Kisan Club. “Yeh khad nuksaan nai karta hai (This manure does not harm),” she said with a smile on her face. “It’ll produce nearly six quintals of organic manure and fetch Rs 3000.” It funds her children’s education. Leela’s son is now a graduate. Her daughter is about to complete B.A.

Kumar’s initiative has clearly begun to energise the local economy. As one winds one’s way through his village, hundreds of green makeshift vessels assembled out of synthetic sheets come into view. There is one almost outside every house. Each of those containers, filled to the brim with cow-dung, rotting banana trunks and earthworms, is sealed tight at the mouth. Three months later, they yield six quintals of organic manure worth Rs 3,000. More than 150 women and 300 men of the village are producing this in their bid for self-reliance, and so that their children have a chance at education. Before 2006, the 3,000-strong village had only five graduates and two post-graduates. Today, there are 15 post-graduates, including four women, in Mustafaganj.

Initially, Kumar had a tough time convincing farmers to follow his example. With time, he was able to persuade them that organic farming and production of vermi-compost involved no extra expenditure. “They started taking interest because the banks and agricultural scientists backed us,” he said.

His persistence paid off. Nearly 350 farmers are at present organised into a green brigade under the aegis of the Kisan Club that has branches in 10 neighbouring villages. But Kumar hasn’t hung up his boots. He continues to move around educating farmers about the latest agricultural techniques and encouraging women to cultivate and become self-reliant. The Club has been registered with NABARD that provides financial help to farmers under its agri-development schemes. More than 150 members now have Kisan Credit Cards; banks are more ready to advance them loans. Under the National Horticulture Mission, the state government has also started providing farmers high-quality seeds and subsidies worth Rs 5,000 each for setting up vermi-compost units.

The Club has more than 100 trained farmers, who interact and inform other farmers in several neighbouring villages. “It has helped people set up vermi-compost units in Mustafaganj and the surrounding villages. The yield of wheat has, over the past four years, gone up from 60 kg to 100 kg per katha. Maize, wheat, potato and guava yields have also doubled,” said Mahesh Kumar, a trainer, who motivates farmers through his songs during the Kisan Club meetings.

The Club has also turned women’s interest towards organic farming. They have successfully planted mango, lemon and guava using the grafting method. Sushila Devi, a mother of four, is thrilled with the new learning. “Do you know there are more than 40 varieties of guava and about a dozen varieties of lemon? We have become experts not only in organic compost but also in grafting method for mango and guava,” she said.

Villagers of Kumar’s village, however, rue the absence of a market to sell their produce for a good price. Rajdeo Prasad, a villager, said: “We sell high-quality guava for Rs 10-16 per kg here. It sells at double that price in Patna.”

Despite these concerns, Mustafaganj, other villagers say, has shown the way. It has also checked the migration of villagers to other states. And all because of one man. Manoj Kumar — a farmer’s son who decided to think of a community and not his own little green field.

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First Published: Feb 12, 2012 21:07 IST