Television actor turns farmer to make his native village attain economic independence
“Bihar is a gifted state of India. We have the most fertile soil, decent ground water levels and best weather conditions apt for growing many crops. Selling best quality agri produces is not a problem because having a strong connect with three religions namely Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism every year we receive many tourists across the globe like Japanese, Chinese, Thai and rich communities of India namely Jains and Sikh. Still we are a poor state! Why farmers of Bihar migrate to metro cities to become security guards? Certainly there are some missing gaps and I want to fill it up by leading farmers on the right path of zero-budget natural farming, providing all possible assistance to increase their income by atleast 20-30% and transforming my village’s economic independence,” asserts Mr. Rajesh Kumar, actor cum farmer. He stepped into agriculture in 2017 alongside his acting profession.
Mr. Rajesh Kumar, a known face on television for past two decades has taken the self-initiative to turn his Barma village into a self-reliant village. He became thoughtful towards his village and farmers after volunteering for ‘Rally for Rivers’, a project of Isha Foundation. “I was promoting it quite sincerely as I felt the need to do something about our soil and water scarcity issues. Around same time I happen to visit my own farm at Barma where my father had turned 17-acre barren land into mixed crop farmland in couple of months. He did it all by himself at the age of 73, managing the farm in Barma villagefrom Patna city. It was pretty moving! Besides during my 3 days stay at farm I had many thoughts and finally decided to work with the farmers and turn the entire village into chemical-free zone as well as make it a self-supporting economic farm,” he describes the drive to take up farming alongside his acting profession. He manages the farm along with his father, Mr. Shivanand Prasad Singh.
Indeed Mr. Rajesh Kumar brought the gleam of his acting profession that gives him the recognition but that is not sufficient to transform the village. To begin with, “I started interacting with the farmers and realized the fact that it will be difficult to make the farmers leave the use of chemicals only based on verbal communications as for them, ‘Seeing is believing and then after attempting’, so my 17-acre farm is actually an experiment cum model farm for the farmers in my village and neighboring villages,” he informs.
His 17-acre farm has fruit orchard in 8 acre having mango, guava and papaya plantation. In remaining 9 acre seasonal vegetables, paddy and legume crops are cultivated. “We keep changing the crops with respect to experiment with new crops and market trends to identify different commercially viable crops for the farmers. They will change their farming practices and move towards new crops only when they see positive results in our farm,” he shares.
Non-conventional crops are selected after the intense research on weather and soil such as papaya and lemon grass. “When I found papaya is in alliance with our soil and climatic conditionsI asked my father to transplant 500 papaya saplings in our farm instead of telling the farmers to do so. Within four months the saplings grew very well nurtured only with desi cow based manure. Seeing the growth of the plants and papaya yield, now farmers are willing to grow papaya in their respective farms. They could trust us because what we said we actually implemented, so it worked well. Working on the same rule, I will next cultivate lemon grass, mushroom and off-season crops,” he shares. “I am sure remarkable changes in the village shall be visible by end of next year. With sincere efforts of past 9 months now 200-250 farmers from 4 villages namely Barma, Dhibra, Lalganj and Rajan have agreed to be part of the movement and 50-60 farmers have already switched to zero-budget natural farming. Conversion is taking place at slow pace yet it is encouraging.”
Another strategy Mr. Rajesh uses is to learn from others’ experiences and give concrete solutions to the farmers. “The idea is that neither I nor the farmers must struggle to implement chemical free farming practices instead we can learn it from experienced farmers and apply it on the fields without much risk. Thereby the conversion process would not hit any roadblock and the results would be positive then only the movement of change shall be continuous,” he states.
When asked about providing indigenous seeds and desi cows to the farmers as these two are intrinsic part of organic farming movement, Mr. Rajesh says, “We have developed our own nursery to fulfill the seed requirements. Then I have four desi cows (locallyfound in our region), we are using its dung and urine to make different agri inputs. Presently as the number of farmers actually in conversion process is less we are able to manage with present resources. However later as the number of farmers would increase we shall seek help from others. For example – for desi cow dung and urine we are working on the agreement with dairy and gaushalas around the village.”
As the farmers switch to chemical free farming practices the process of organic certification also begins. “Certification is necessary not only to boost the sales but also to bring the farmers under obligation to stay organic irrespective of the problems on the field. Besides post certification farmers shall be able to earn profit by even 6 times,” he avers.
His immediate plan is to set up Farmer Producer Organization (FPO). “It should be mostly established by July 2018 then the work progress would speed up as 250-500 farmers shall be working together. We will be able to procure the farming inputs collectively and sell all our produces together,” he says. Later he wants to have 1000 acre cultivation in four villages (as mentioned above) under the FPO out of which 250 acre shall have horticulture, 250 acre paddy, 250 acre cash crops and rest 250 acre would have mixed crop plantation such as flowers, medicinal plants etc.
Other than promoting organic farming in villages Mr. Rajesh is also trying to enhance the awareness on chemical-free farming in cities. To do so he is working on a unique project on rooftop farming with homemakers. “50-60 families in Patna city have agreed to be part of this project and have allowed us to set up vegetable gardens on the terrace of their independent houses. The farmers from villages shall be roped in for initial cultivation and later it shall be managed by the homemakers. Vegetables will be grown organically. Every day in the evening, harvest of next day shall be updated on the app. The homemaker can use the quantity of produce as required and rest would be sent to a common collection center. At the same time the homemaker shall place the request for other veggies she needs. In this way a basket of organically grown vegetable shall be prepared. The price of all veggies shall be one flat price, competitive to market rates of organic products. The cultivation shall be done in the soil ensuring there will be no water seepage or leakage in the house,” he reveals.
Mr. Rajesh Kumar concludes, “In our country 83% are farmers and the remaining 17% are engaged in diverse professions. I feel these 17% professionals should also step out of their comfort zone and contribute to agriculture because all of us need food for our survival. People from Urban India must help government to accelerate the movement of organic farming and increase the farmers’ income.”
Mr. Rajesh Kumar
Barma Village, Gurua Block, Gaya District, Bihar, India