80-year-old Dadaji Ramaji Khobragade is popular for revolutionising paddy farming in India. Born in the forest village of Nanded in the Chandipur district in Maharashtra, Dadaji dropped out of school in class 3, due to adverse economic conditions.
Since then, all he did was farming. He was the sole breadwinner of the family as his son couldn’t farm due to ill-health. But Dadaji had to look after his son’s wife and his three children.
According to the National Innovation Foundation, the humble farmer would toil on his 1.5-acre farm for a meagre income of Rs.12,000 per annum. Though he had another three acres of land, a relative’s gift, his son’s failing health and need for treatment led Dadaji to sell it. And so, the man would often work as a daily wage labourer to support his family of seven.
The year was 1983 when Dadaji Ramaji stumbled upon three yellow seeded paddy spikes in a one-acre field, planted with the Patel 3 variety of paddy. He decided to take them home and safely stored them in a plastic bag.
The following year, he planted this yellow variety of paddy separately in the middle of his field. To protect these from pigs and other animals who would encroach it from the jungle in the vicinity, he planted the rice amid a fence of thorny bushes. To his surprise, the yield of this variety was high. So he decided to preserve this variety.
When he cultivated the seeds separately the following year, he got nearly ten kilograms of husked rice. Even when the rice was cooked, he discovered it was tastier than the Patel variety.
In 1988, he decided to sow four kg of seeds in 10 ft X 10 ft area; it produced 400 – 450 kg of rice. Another year he sowed 100 – 150 kg seeds and earned 50 bags of paddy and 40 bags of seeds that he sold to a Nagpur-based trader.
At the time, the variety had no name, so the trader who bought it christened it ‘Swarna Sona,’ which he also sold to other local farmers.
Two years later, another landowner from Nagpur, Bhimrao Shinde, bought 150 kilograms of seeds. He yielded 90 bags of paddy from four acres and sold it to a trader from Talodi. This trader gave the name HMT as the variety, after the popular watch brand HMT.
When Dadaji Ramaji saw how the native variety he had preserved grew, he contacted the Paddy Research Centre to tell them about it. Sadly, the centre refused to acknowledge it, stating that it was ‘not based on scientific research techniques’.
Thus began a long fight for recognition. In wasn’t until three years later, that the Gram Panchayat of Nanded passed a resolution in their meeting to recognise the work done by the farmer and acknowledge him as a Paddy Seeds Producer.
He first received public recognition when Vilasrao Mutyan, the erstwhile MP (1993) of Chimera constituency, felicitated him in 1994 and later the BDO of Nagbhid, on the occasion of Krishi Melawa (Agro meet).
His journey ever since has been full of ups and downs. According to a report in The Times of India, the farmer has received over a 100 awards, including the prestigious President’s award for his innovations and the state government’s Krishi Puraskar for his contribution to agriculture.
His variety HMT even helped struggling farmers in Vidarbha. Apart from superior quality, the farmers fetched a better price for the rice, which improved their economic situation.
In the words of Dadaji Ramaji, “Their thatched roofs transformed into tiled roofs – a sign of prosperity.”
Today, this variety is widely marketed in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Dadaji went on to breed seven more varieties of paddy in the next 20 years–namely Chanaur, Nanded 92, Nanded Hira, DRK, Vijay Nanded, Dipak Ratna and a new unnamed variety, apart from HMT. Most of these varieties have an average yield of 15-16 quintals per acre.
But despite all the fame of developing a high-yielding variety of rice, the man who suffered a heart stroke in 2015, had been ailing in the hospital, with no money for treatment.
The Times of India reports that Dadaji’s family appealed to raise Rs 2 lakh through a crowdfunding campaign 25 days ago. And while the family was able to raise Rs 1.2 lakh, it was only after the media picked up the story that the amount crossed a whopping Rs 4.5 lakh.
The farmer is currently being treated at a private hospital in Brahmapuri town near Chandrapur.
The tehsildar met the family at the hospital and noted the farmer’s medical history and financial requirements.
Dadaji’s son, Mitrajit, told the publication, “The local administration reached out to us and promised to seek medical assistance for my father from the state government.”
Sukada Chaudhary, a Digital Marketing Consultant from Nagpur, kickstarted the crowdfunding campaign after she came across the ailing farmer’s story on social media said the response has been overwhelming.
We wish Dadaji a speedy recovery. Just like a kernel of wheat does not yield manifold until it falls to the ground, we hope the humble farmer rises back up from this time of difficulty and continues to face life with an indomitable spirit.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)