Among renowned personalities like Deepa Karmakar, Virat Kohli and Sanjeev Kapoor on the list of Padma Shri awardees this year was another, but far lesser-known, name– Genabhai Dargabhai Patel, a differently-abled farmer from Sarkari Goliya village of Banaskantha district of Gujarat. And his is a story of grit and determination.
“There is no life without challenges and there is no fun without challenges. Where people stop, I start from there. I never felt that there is something I can’t do. What do you say in English? ‘There is no word called impossible in my dictionary,’”laughs Genabhai, who was born with polio in both his legs.
Genabhai is the youngest among four brothers and one sister. As kids, his brothers would help their father on the farm.However,their dad wanted Genabhai to study as he felt that due to his illness, he would never be able to farm. He was sent to a hostel 30 km away from his village at an early age where he would manage to go to school on his tricycle. He studied till class 12 there, but being illiterate his parents had no clue on how to educate him further. So Genabhai came back to his village.
Though people believed that Genabhai could do nothing to help his father and brothers on the farm, he would still accompany them. He realised that there was one thing that he could do at the farm – drive a tractor. He learnt to drive one and also managed to handle the clutch and break with his hands.
Soon, Genabhai became the best tractor driver in his village.
“My father was into traditional farming. He would grow wheat, bajra and the traditional crops grown in Gujarat. Those times there was no drip irrigation facility as well so the farmers would use flood irrigation method with the help of borewells. Due to this there was a lot of wastage of water. Also one has to work all year round in traditional farming. I wanted to do farming and so I was looking for a crop that I can handle despite my disability, something that requires just one time plantation and gives returns for long,” says Genabhai.
Genabhai then started his research on such crops. He thought of planting mango trees initially, however mango flowers fall if there is a weather change and one has to wait until the next flower season. To know about more options, Genabhai took help of the local agriculture officer. He also visited Agriculture University and gathered information from the government’s krishi mela. He travelled across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra for about 3 months and finally came across the answer to his research. He saw farmers in Maharashtra growing pomegranate in an almost similar climate as of Gujarat. Unlike mango flowers, pomegranate flowers grow all year round and do not require constant attention.
In 2004, Genabhai brought 18,000 saplings from Maharashtra and planted in his farm with the help of his brothers.
“Other farmers would think that I have gone mad to plant pomegranate as no one ever did it in the entire district. But a farmer’s eye can never fail. I knew that this was going to grow well in my land. My brothers and nephews too trusted me and supported me completely,” says Genabhai.
Genabhai was proved right within two years and in 2007 all his plants bore fruit. Noticing his success few farmers also planted pomegranate. But now marketing these fruits was the biggest hurdle as there was no market for pomegranate in the entire state. Genabhai then gathered all the pomegranate growers in Banaskantha–they would load trucks of pomegranate and sell them at Jaipur and Delhi markets. But this was not a long-term solution. They needed traders who could buy their yield directly.
“Traders would buy from us if we showed them enough quantity and hence we played a trick. We asked each farmer to sit at various places in different farms. We showed the trader the same farm several times and showed 100 farms of pomegranate which were actually just 40. The traders then believed that we have a huge quantity and we got our first order,” he laughs.
The first order was sold at Rs 42 per kg. He cultivated pomegranate on over five hectares of land and produced nearly 54,000 kg pomegranate, earning a profit of more than Rs 10 lakh against his investments.
“For every acre of routine farming, the other farmers used to get Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000. But my plantation gave me Rs 10 lakh profit,” Genabhai says.
Seeing this, a lot of villagers started following his footsteps and diverted from traditional farming to horticulture farming. Genabhai also started conducting workshops for villagers on pomegranate farming for which he brought in agricultural scientists and experts to his pomegranate farm. This was to ensure that the farmers can avoid all the mistakes which Genabhai made due to lack of knowledge and exposure to information.
However, the problems did not end here. There was a point when the water level in the entire district went down and there was a huge water crisis. But Genabhai, who believes that everything happens for a reason, took this as an opportunity to install drip irrigation in all the pomegranate farms.
“We had a subsidy of 50% to install drip irrigation that time which has now become 80%. The government also gives subsidy of Rs. 42,000 to the pomegranate farmers. Taking advantage of this, we installed drip irrigation in all the pomegranate farms,” says Genabhai.
Today Genabhai’s efforts have borne fruits and the district’s pomegranates are exported to Dubai, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, giving the farmers excellent returns. During his visit to Deesa in Banaskantha, Prime Minister Modi had also mentioned his name and praised his achievements in his speech.
Talking about how farmers can get out of the current situation, Genabhai says,“I suggest farmers to think beyond traditional crop and traditional farming methods. Every farmer must have at least two indigenous cows and prepare their own organic fertilizer. Using chemicals and spending on them is an unnecessary burden on them. Also if they grow crops and fruits as per the market’s demand then they can export their produce to foreign countries, which is beneficial for the country and they can earn in dollars too.
“If farmers will earn well… then, what do you say in English? ‘We can also pull up our collars and walk,’” he laughs.
Genabhai has been honoured with more than 18 state-level awards and many national-level awards too. However getting a Padma Shri was a dream for him.
He says that he felt like he was in heaven when he received the award on January 26, 2017 from President Pranab Mukherjee.
On asking about his future plans, he says that he dreams of an India where farmer success won’t be a miracle anymore.
You can contact Padma Shri Genabhai Patel at email@example.com