Born and brought up in an arid, barren hilly region of Rajasthan, Lal Singh never imagined he would earn well by farming chillies. For almost forty years, Lal Singh from Singhatwada village in Udaipur Bhilwara district of the state practised conventional farming – growing corn and wheat. He says he never managed to earn more than Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per quintal per year from his one and a half-acre plot of land.
“This amounted to earnings of about Rs 15,000 from two seasons. The rainfall is about 580 mm in a year. Much of the rainwater runs off the hilly slopes due to barren land, leaving farmers to rely on groundwater,” he added.
But, in the last one year, he made Rs 2.5 Lakh by selling chillies. Rs 15,000 to Rs 2.5 Lakh – now that’s an impressive hike. Here’s how he made it happen.
A Turning Point With Chillies
“My family has been settled here for centuries, and our village of about 3,500 people have never experimented with any crop,” says Lal Singh, who is a sixteenth generation farmer.
But it was in 2017 when Lal Singh was introduced to the BAIF Development Research Foundation, a charitable organisation that helps agricultural development. The organisation taught him innovative farming methods including drip irrigation and mulching techniques.
“After feeling the need to change my farming practices and earn better, I attended training in Bandhanwada of Ajmer, conducted under the SAMADHAN programme,” he added.
In 2018, Lal Singh decided to cultivate red chilly in half an acre of land. “I was experimenting and was not entirely sure if the method would bring me success,” he narrates.
The farmer said, to his surprise, the produce was enormous, and he earned Rs 1.5 lakh as profit after leaving out expenses and investments.
“I used organic methods to cultivate the crop, along with bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides. The drip irrigation helped to grow crops with little water. The mulching helped retain moisture in the soil, thus further reducing the need for water,” Lal Singh added.
Adopting new methods and changing mindsets
Lal Singh says it was the first time in his life that he saw bumper produce. But success did not come easy. “The saplings had to be brought and nurtured in the nursery for 30-35 days. After their growth, the saplings got replanted in the field. Mulching with plastic sheets and drip lines were laid,” he adds.
Reassessing his farming methods in the past, he says, “I realised that a scientific approach was needed to bring such an outcome.” Lal Singh also managed to sell some chillies by making organic chilli powder, as a part of adding value to the product.
Seeing his success, Lal Singh became more confident. “In the year 2020, I have planted green and red chillies in the entire field,” he added.
Sankar Meena, a farmer in the village also got inspired by Lal Singh’s success. “I visited Lal Singh’s farm to understand his change in methods of farming. After getting interested, I decided to practice the same methods,” he added.
However, Sankar said the exercise was quite challenging as he had to borrow funds from multiple places to get the equipment and start the farming.
“I used to cultivate vegetables, wheat and corn to bring home an earning of Rs 20,000 a year. The outcome came with a lot of effort invested in farming activities. But using the technique, I noticed that the cultivation required a much lesser quantity of water,” Sankar said.
The farmer added the saving of water became a huge relief in an arid region like Singhatwada. “The manual efforts required were also comparatively less. In one year I have increased my income by 40 per cent,” Sankar said.
About ten more farmers have decided to replicate the success of Lal Singh in the village.
Empowering the masses
Naresh Kumar, a senior project officer at Sustainable Agriculture Management and Development by Human Action for Nature (SAMADHAN) said, “The initiative is led by Hindustan Zinc Ltd. (HZL) led integrated sustainable livelihood project in partnership with BAIF.”
The senior project officer said, “We never suggested Lal Singh process chillies into powder for selling and earning more for his produce. It was his idea. We want to empower farmers in a similar fashion.”
Naresh added that this project is focused on farm-based development, ensuring values of nature or environment through community participation.
“We are aiming to demonstrate proven technologies, good management practices and empowerment of the farming community and orientation of rural youth,” Naresh said.
He added that the project is working to pilot the development of crop production, horticulture, strengthening of primary and secondary producer groups, promotion of rural entrepreneurship, doorstep services for improved animal husbandry practices through integrated livestock development centre and goat development.
“The programme is run in five districts of Rajasthan across 172 villages. Districts like Chittaudgadh, Ajmer, Bhilwara, Udaipur and Rajsambandh are a part of the project,” he adds.
Naresh said driving the farmers to accept new practices is a challenge. “A majority of the farmers are not exposed to better technologies or innovative agriculture practices. The health of the soil is fine, but new methods need to get implemented for the best outcome,” he added.
Naresh said that over the last couple of years, about 35000 families have benefitted from these initiatives.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)