Prasanna Mishra

In 1992, that’s about 30 years ago, as Agriculture Secretary of Odisha Government, I had visited Nasik, Dhule and Jalgaon region of Maharashtra and looked at the agricultural development. This region gets an annual rainfall of only 18 inches. In May, the temperature goes beyond 45 degree Celsius. Adverse climatic conditions have not discouraged the spirit of enterprise in the farmers. Through adoption of drip irrigation and taking recourse to scientific management, they had been getting a per-hectare yield of 715 quintals of banana, 100 quintals of grapes, 250 quintals of pomegranates, 200 quintals of mango, 300 quintals orange and 150 quintals of lemon. My interaction with a few entrepreneurs afforded insight into their indomitable spirit, application of science and technology and the thrill of excellence that sailed them and their society quite far on the road to prosperity.

On 27th of June, I reached Nasik and visited the tomato fields of the farmer, Shri K.K.Patil. He had grown tomato in five acres out of which three acres had been covered through drip irrigation. Shri Patil was expecting 30 tons of tomato per acre from the irrigated land. After harvesting tomatoes, he would grow Chilli and thereafter, again grow Tomato. I visited the farm of Shri Firoze Masani in Nasik, a Chartered Accountant by profession who worked in Europe, but for personal reasons, came back to Nasik and took up floriculture. His poly-houses over an area of two and half acres under blooming Carnation through drip irrigation was a feast to the eyes. He had planted two lakh plants – all the seedlings had been imported from Holland. On an average, he harvested eighteen flowers from a plant. Most of his flowers got exported to Holland while the markets in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune absorbed some. Another entrepreneur, Sri Bogul, had grown strawberry in seven acres of land. He had planted thirty thousand strawberry seedlings per acre and covered the entire plantation under drip irrigation. He had timed the operation in such a manner that the strawberry from his farm would be available in European markets in December when strawberry from no other country reached the market. Shri Harish Chandra Jagtap was one of the hundreds of enterprising grape growers of Nasik. He had grown grapes in forty-four acres of land. On an average, he harvested twelve tons of grapes per hectare. Along with some other grape growers of the area, they had started a Cooperative Society which set up a Champagne factory and champagne was being exported. They had been regularly exporting grapes to Europe. Pre-cooling chambers had been set up at different places close to grapevines so that freshly harvested grapes got into the pre-cooling chambers without loss of time. Subsequently, the grapes got transferred to containers for export to foreign markets.

Wakode village, at a distance of ten kilometers from Ajanta, was where I met a young agriculture scientist, Sri Nitin Phadke engaged in growing Teak through drip irrigation. This seemed to me a novel experiment. He had planted 5,400 saplings per acre and the plants, growing very close to one another, were struggling to get adequate sunlight and therefore growing fast. Assuming mortality of 25%, he would be able to grow 4,050 plants per acre. Through drip irrigation he was also providing chemical fertilizer to the plants. Shri Phadke was cutting off unnecessary branches and, thereby inducing the plants to grow taller. After four years, the scientist would harvest 1350 trees and earn Rs.67,500 /- @ Rs.50/- per plant. Thereafter he would wait for four years and harvest 1350 eight-year-old trees and earn Rs.2,70,000/- @ Rs.200/- per tree. After four years he would harvest 675 trees and earn Rs.6, 75,000/- @ Rs.1000/- per tree. After four years, he would sell the balance 675 trees at Rs.6, 000/- per tree and would have a gross income of Rs.36, 50,000/-. His total income in sixteen years would be Rs.46,62,500/-.

Even today, we in Odisha haven’t reached this level of performance they had achieved three decades ago. We love to set our own pace, oblivious of what’s going on around. We love blowing out trumpet; giving big shout out to baby steps. In five years of operation of the ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of the Centrally sponsored PMKSY- PDMC Scheme, while Karnataka brought 9.25 lakh ha under Drip Irrigation, Andhra 7.43 lakh ha and Maharashtra 5.41 lakh ha; Odisha achieved a measly coverage of 29143 ha. Some states create more wealth through Agriculture than through Industry. Contribution of Agriculture to State GDP is higher than of Industry in states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The disparity in production and productivity keeps growing, pushing Odisha to suboptimal stage of return from farming. In 2013-14, while Odisha produced Banana worth Rs 241 crore; Tamilnadu’s was worth Rs 5970 crore and Rs 3720 crore for Maharashtra. Though share of Agriculture in Odisha GDP has gone up to 27%, it would be relevant to quantify it and compare it with Maharashtra. Odisha’s SGDP of Rs 5.34 lakh crore got a share of Rs 1.44 lakh crore from Agriculture compared to Maharashtra Agriculture contributing Rs 6.99 lakh crore (25%) to its SGDP of Rs 27.96 lakh crore (India’s richest state). In other words, farming sector of Maharashtra contributed five times more than what Odisha did.

Given the quality of soil, availability of water and burgeoning demand, it’s absolutely possible to scale up production and productivity and enrich the farming community. Political leadership, however, is yet to grasp the potential the sector holds and the way it can contribute to equitable wealth creation. I am yet to come across the Chief Minister expressing publicly his desire to see the huge Rice fallows on either side of the Railway Line or National Highway between Berhampur to Jaleswar, under intense agricultural activity throughout the year. The wasteland experience ends the moment one enters Andhra or West Bengal. Odisha must stop romanticising poverty to grow. Odisha’s ailing Farm Eco-system needs appropriate retrofit to be vibrant. Our farmers can surely perform if political leadership motivate them and bureaucrats do meaningful handholding.

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