They are young, enthusiastic, talkative, and passionately in love with the internet, smartphones, drones, agricultural farming and ‘jugaad’. They are the new sensation on YouTube, having amassed 182 lakh (18.2 million) subscribers for their channel Indian Farmer, within three years since June 2018. The duo in their mid-20s belong to a very small town called Vita, in Sangli districts of Maharashtra, where till a couple of years ago the Wifi connection was a real problem.
“We have 7 lakh followers on Facebook plus close to 100,000 followers on Instagram too,” says 26-year-old Akash Jadhav.
Very chirpy and with a broad smile, his friend and the face of their channel, 27-year-old Santhosh Jadhav enthusiastically adds, “So far we have 1,000 plus videos of four to 30-minutes-long, plus many 20 second TikTok videos in our library.”
They are neither boasting nor arrogant when they state these numbers. “We still have miles to go. India has some 70-80 crore farmers and we have barely reached less than two crores,” says Akash.
So what are their videos, you might ask?
They influence farmers about new techniques of farming, irrigation, controlling weeds, using pesticides, the right way to use fertilisers, procurement of good quality seeds, rotation of crops, the right way to market and other points that matter to farmers.
There is no age bar for their subscribers. From 18-year-olds to those over 50, farmers from all over India log on to Indian Farmer, for new feed on every Tuesday and Friday at 6 pm. The reason for their popularity is Santosh’s easy way of talking with that broad smile in simple Hindi, which makes every viewer feel he is talking to them. No sermons, no patronising voice, just simple talk about farming.
Another plus point is that they are not armchair talkers nor studio speakers. They shoot on real farms, many a time on the 11-acre ancestral farmland of Santosh, where they grow sugarcane, mango, pomegranate and vegetables like capsicum, tomato, etc. They have first-hand knowledge of what ails the farming community. So, it becomes easier for them to show and talk about problems, making the programme interesting for their viewers to understand and learn.
Akash does a lot of research online. He calls himself a Google prodigy and playfully says, “If ever I write a book, the dedication page will read, ‘Dedicated to Google!’’’. He’s the one who finds out farmers who are using new or different techniques on their farm, reaches out to them and after getting an appointment, travels to the farm to shoot.
The duo travel all over the country. Recently, they returned from Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.
“We have just returned from Himachal Pradesh near Shimla to see how different Sangharsh Sankta’s apple growing techniques are. He uses a high-density farming method. Other farmers plant around 200 to 300 trees in an acre of land but he plants some 700-800 plants, prunes the trees regularly so that they don’t attain their normal size and gives the branches bamboo support so the trees can bear the weight of fruits. The yield of fruit without compromising on the taste or the quality is very high,” narrates Akash.
After shooting at the apple orchard, they travelled to Bhatinda in Punjab to meet the rice and cotton growing farmer, Pargat Singh. “Stubble burning is a huge problem in Punjab and unfortunately after harvesting both rice and cotton what remains is a large quantity of waste, which most farmers resort to burning that causes large scale pollution. It’s really troublesome during winters in the north. But Pargat uses sustainable farming techniques and reuses the stubble instead of burning it,” recalls Santosh.
The Jadhavs found the farmers in Punjab were a very strong community. “They are strong because they are well informed, united and many in number. If farmers of every state unite like them then their plight will definitely improve. Majority of farming communities in India lack tech-knowledge and so are unaware of the supply chain or the management of produce. They continue to grow what their family has been doing for generations. They don’t know how to experiment with new crops. So, they end up investing a lot without getting returns and struggle to make a living. Through our channel we hope to address this loophole and make farmers successful businessmen,” says Akash.
“We enjoy the ‘jugaad’ section on our channel. We Indians are famous for jugaad. Every farmer, rich or poor, innovates some method to get the maximum benefit from whatever is available on their farm. We get maximum viewers for that section where we show what a farmer can do without having to spend a lot,” explains Santosh.
Becoming ‘Farming Influencers’
The best thing about these boys is that though they are from the interiors of Maharashtra where Marathi is the main language, as Santosh was in Prayag Raj for a couple of years and he speaks impeccable Hindi, which helps them reach out to more people.
Their story began from their school days when Akash was a resident of Vita whereas Santosh lived in village Karve, which is about nine kilometres away. Akash cycled his way to school while Santosh took a bus.
“We always looked down upon children who came to school by bus,” recalls Akash.
Santosh remembers that he was always a back bencher and Akash a front bencher who was ever ready with answers to all questions asked by their teacher. But somehow they became friends and that friendship continues till today even though after Class 12, Akash went to Kolhapur to complete his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and Santosh dropped out.
Being aware of the precarious situations of farmers in the country, it was Akash’s idea to start something which would help the farming community.
He had picked up knowledge of making short videos, uploading them and trying to make it to the search engine on Google search from YouTube. All he needed was to convince Santosh and their parents. It took some time as the idea needed a little bit of investment. But once they had parental support, there was no looking back.
Initially, they started only with a smartphone but today Akash, the tech brain behind the channel, says they have the latest iPhone, an old Canon 200D camera, A DJi mini drone, good mikes, two MacBooks for daily work, two PCs for editing and they are a team of four. “If we have a bigger project to shoot, we rent a camera that costs around Rs 3,000-Rs 5,000 a day,” explains Akash.
Their earnings, they explain, keep on fluctuating between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh a month. They have invested a lot of their money and reinvested a heavy chunk from their YouTube income towards their cause. Though they are interested in making profits, at present they are having fun. They get to travel, interact with others, even consult agricultural scientists and marketing wizards.
The icing on their cake was being featured in YouTube Originals’ Creator Spotlight, which is the mini-documentary section of the global video giants. The section carries short stories on YouTube creators who are pushing boundaries.
“Soon we hope to include other farming communities like poultry, fishery, goat rearing, etc. Today, the whole digital space is growing and maturing. There is a bright future in this space for upcoming farming influencers too. It’s time to improve the state of our farmers,” says Akash.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)