The Wheels Are Turning
by Prabhat Priyanshu & Ashisa Ratha, Mahagama

Agar zameen apni ho, aur kheti karni aati ho – to koi dusra kaam kyun dhunde?

Humara beta aur pati dur sheheron mein kaam karne jaate hain, wahan se paise bhi bhejte hain jisse guzara hota hai. Lekin ab to wo bhi wapas aa rahe hain, yani ki kamai khatm!

Fasal zada ugani hogi ab se, zameen kam reh jayegi agar bhaiyon mein batwara karna pade to! Bhukhe to nahi reh sakte na?!

These were some of the most common answers we got while analyzing how the COVID-19 lockdown has impacted people in some of the far flung villages of north-eastern Jharkhand, also referred as Santhal Pargana. And even without conducting a survey one could tell that more than 70% of the rural poor depend on remittances to run their household expenses or to fulfill their aspiration of leading a ‘better life’! But with stringent lockdown rules that curbed mobility even in remotest pockets of the country, small and marginal farmers of Mahagama block in Jharkhand had wrinkles of their foreheads deepen further.

“Ab fasal kaise kaate? Kaise beche hatiya mein? Ye virus ke chalte hatiya hi jo bandh ho gayi. Ghar se nikle kaise ab? Thhandi ki fasal hi bech nahi payenge to aane wale barsaat ka kya hoga?” wondered Ganesh Soren – who provides handholding support to other farmers of the region to grow crops adopting improved techniques and inputs.

Every day, there would emerge a new problem, and coupled with that a fresh directive will be issued from the administration – curbing mobility of people and availability of goods, all for the sake of keeping them safe from COVID-19. Even if marketing were allowed for their Rabi crops, what would happen in the next Kharif? And along with Ganesh, Manikant Ray, Premlata Devi, Surji Devi, and Betaram Besra were agriculture entrepreneurs who could sense that this year is not going to be the same like the other years. Along with restrictions on movement, hike of seed price, shortage of seeds in market, and credit issues were going to make life tough, for all of them.

It’s June. The parched soil has received the first drops of monsoon showers. The village air bears the fragrance of wet-earth. And the farmers are in dire need for good quality paddy and other seeds and fertilizers for this Kharif season. But only a handful of them have their own means to travel to distant markets where these are available. The rest either have no means to travel or just cannot afford to pay double the actual fare to auto-rickshaws to take them to the markets. They turned to us, for some solution.

We, at the PRADAN Mahagama team, realized that if all the hard work we had put for community empowerment had to be sustained, then this year’s plan needed to include a solid ‘seed supply mechanism’ to every farmer in the villages. We came up with the idea of ‘Seeds on Wheels’ by which every farmer, even those residing in the remotest pockets, would be able to get good quality farm inputs absolutely on time. Manikant Ray was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the operations. Over the years he has earned quite a fame in the villages as far as his expertise in agriculture and allied activities are concerned. He teamed up with Premlata, Surji, Ganesh and other entrepreneurs to kick-start the process of assisting farmers at their doorsteps. With support from Axis Bank Foundation, two vehicles were procured for the purpose. Flex banners put up on the vehicles have taglines “Pradan Mahagama ka ek prayas, unnat krishi Atmanirbhar kisan”.

During the last two weeks, both the vehicles with seeds and fertilizers are on the move, delivering them to every farmer at their door steps, as per their demand. The vehicles have visited 70 villages so far and around 450 farmers have accessed the service till date. In return, our agri-entrepreneurs are getting 10% of the market price of each good as their remuneration from each farmer. Manikant already earned Rs. 40,000!

“Sirf training se unnat kheti nahi ho pati, uske liye sahi veej aur khaad bhi chahiye. Hum har ek kisan ke ghar par veej pohochayenge – dekhte hain kaise behtar kheti nahi hoga?” reassures a confident Manikant.

If it’s the best time for every Indian to become self-reliant, then the farming communities cannot be left behind. They will have to create their own systems and self-sustainable mechanisms to become ‘Atmanirbhar’. ‘Seeds on Wheels’ is a small but definitive step towards that.