More than seven decades after attaining independence, over half of India’s population remains dependent on agricultural activities.
Over the past couple of decades though, rural residents have been consistently moving base to metropolitan cities in search of non-farming occupations to better their standard of living. As many as 78 million Indians migrated from rural to urban areas, as per data from the 2011 Census.
Despite these figures, it is a rarity for a majority of these residents to find economically viable employment opportunities, and they may often end up settling for substandard living conditions. It was this troubling reality that propelled Bihar-based Abhishek Kumar (35) to leave his well-paying job as a management professional in 2011 and take up farming in his village instead.
A native of Barauli village in Bihar’s Aurangabad district, Abhishek now cultivates a host of aromatic and medicinal plants such as tulsi, lemongrass, turmeric, tuberose, giloy, gerbera, moringa and marigold on his ancestral land spanning 20 acres. He also grows the traditional crops of paddy, wheat and maize, generating an annual income of Rs 15 lakh.
“I come from a farming family but moved to Pune to work at a private bank and another banking consulting firm. I noticed that most people working as security guards here are from Bihar, even though they usually have enough land back in their villages to make a living by farming. Most of them do not end up making enough money to afford good accommodation and hygienic food. They leave their families behind to lead extremely painful lives,” Abhishek tells The Better India.
“Moreover, crops in Bihar are not grown as per the land’s production capacity. With this in mind, I decided to quit my job and take up farming. I wanted to create a profitable agricultural model that could be replicated by such people and help a little in stopping the migration from Bihar,” he adds.
On his return, Abhishek says, he wanted to pursue farming on his own rather than just advising people. “This helped them establish their faith in me and perhaps, is one of the reasons that lakhs of Indian farmers are associated with me today,” he says, adding that he’s involved with as many as 95 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in the country.
Since 2011, Abhishek has mentored and provided marketing assistance to more than 2 lakh farmers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, among other states.
Bringing horticulture to Bihar
A few months after Abhishek had moved to Bihar from Pune, he met with a road accident that left him in a critical condition. Even as he gradually recovered and mustered the strength to pursue his newfound ambition, he says he faced a fair share of resistance from both his family and community.
“My relatives and neighbours were convinced that I was not making the right decision. They had the perception that I had spent several years away but didn’t have anything to show for it. But I explained to my father that I wanted to adapt to modern, sustainable farming techniques on our family land and was fortunate enough to receive his support,” he recalls.
While Abhishek began experimenting with soil testing, micronutrients, polyhouse farming and foliar application of urea on traditional crops, he decided to pursue horticulture that enabled him to earn Rs 6 lakh in his first year of farming.
“I was the first person in Bihar to cultivate Gerbera,” he claims. “I sourced the saplings from Bengaluru and Pune and used tissue culture techniques to plant them. Eventually, I began cultivating other flowering species such as lilium, orchid and hortensia. Their production cycles last for two months and enable farmers to generate profits in a shorter period.”
Presently, a quarter of Abhishek’s land is used only for the cultivation of medicinal plants. “Once planted, a farmer doesn’t have to worry much about medicinal crops for the next couple of years. Their leaves can survive heavy rains and hailstorms, and the plants are capable of thriving even if they are watered once every 20-25 days,” he notes. “A lot of farmers also face crop damage because of animal attacks, especially by Nilgai, but they do not eat medicinal plants and this helps curb the nuisance.”
One of Abhishek’s most notable products is Teatar green tea, which he started cultivating in 2018. It is effective in treating blood pressure, boosting immunity and treating tumours, he claims.
Abhishek explains that the green tea is made by processing medicinal leaves of tulsi, lemongrass, moringa, by machines used to cut cattle fodder, and then dried using solar dryers at a processing unit in Barauli village.
“I made this product following regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration. Today, we have customers across India to whom we courier our products through online retail merchants,” he says.
Abhishek’s Teatar green tea is branded under Aurangabad Kadambini Farmer Producer Company, an FPO he founded in 2018, with nearly 500 farmer members from Barauli and nearby villages.
Getting farmers their dues
For the past two months, Abhishek has been working as the business development lead for Kissanpro, a Bengaluru-based agritech startup that provides linkage and marketing support to thousands of farmers across the country.
“In most rural parts of India, farmers are not capable of selling their produce by themselves. Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies (PACS) are meant to help with the local procurement of their crops, but not all of them function on the right track. It takes a long time for farmers to receive their dues and even then, middlemen end up eating most of their profits,” notes Abhishek.
He says that agritech startups that function as umbrella organisations for both individual farmers and FPOs are the need of the hour. “Kissanpro, too, works on a cluster-lead model, enabling farmers to connect with vegetable stores and grocery outlets to sell their produce both within the country and internationally. We might not always be able to get them MSP (Minimum Support Price), but they are paid in cash and at the right time,” he explains.
Presently, as many as 40,000 farmers from Jharkhand, Bihar and Karnataka are associated with Kissanpro. They are also provided real-time data-based guidance concerning weather phenomena, sustainable methods of production and tentative sales, says Abhishek.
Abhishek received the Best Farmer Award from Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, Bhagalpur district in 2014. He was also conferred the Bhartiya Krishi Ratna Award by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 for his significant contributions in the field of agriculture.
“If one spends some 10 years in agricultural work, it’s but natural that they would like to see the returns. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to increase our network to lakhs of farmers in the next few years and help them get the price they deserve,” he says.
Edited by Yoshita Rao