Man behind sugarcane ‘revolution’ in U’khand
Haridwar: The journey of a thousand miles, they say, starts with a single step. Rahul Kumar should know. The 29-year-old took the first step, quit his job in a pesticide firm and returned to his roots with a desire to do something for his village. Today, Kumar's wish has come true. With the innovative farming practices that he ushered in at his village Liberhedi near Haridwar, life has transformed for almost 1,500 families involved in sugarcane cultivation here. Villagers term it as nothing short of a "revolution". "From almost 60 tons per hectare — which was much less than the national average of 68 tons — sugarcane productivity in our village has gone up to almost 90-100 tons, after Kumar introduced his methods," says Liberhedi resident Anil Kumar.
So how did Kumar help villagers increase their yield? By using science and common sense, he says. "For decades, our village followed the traditional ridge technology, in which the gap between crops is less. I found out that the trench method is much more suitable — in which crops are planted at a distance of at least 2.5 feet. This ensures proper spacing between plants, which allows sufficient sunlight and air to reach the crops."
Apart from experimenting with the trench method, Kumar, who's a graduate in agriculture from Raja Mahendra Pratap Post Graduate College of Agriculture in Narsan, also started intercropping sugarcane with pulses. "Sowing pulses like 'urad' and 'moong' in between sugarcane crops gave a financial boost to farmers in the village. While pulse crop ripens in three to four months, sugarcane crop during this period is getting ready. This is a good arrangement since lentils help conserve moisture in the field, which help in better yield of sugarcane," he says.
Shobhan Singh Rawat, scientist at the Dhanauri Krishi Vigyan Kendra, says that Kumar's initiatives were timely and practical. "There are three sugar mills in the area, so the farmers were aware of the opportunity. They just needed this kind of support to improve productivity." Kumar also contacted research centres in Karnal and Pant Nagar to bring new varieties of sugarcane to the district. "COP 99214, COP 3220 and COP 5224 are among the varieties which I introduced, and this added to the improved quality and better yield," he says.
Initially, though, many farmers in the area were reluctant to adopt the practices which Kumar proposed. But when they began seeing results, says Anil Kumar, they warmed up to the idea. "More and more farmers are now following these techniques and getting better results."
Technology has further aided the farmers. Kumar helped started a "Sugarcane farmers" group on WhatsApp which has farmers from Uttarakhand as well as Uttar Pradesh. In addition, he also uses his Facebook account to keep farmers posted about new trends, challenges and problems in sugarcane farming. Saurabh Baliyan, a farmer from Shamli who is on the WhatsApp group, says he found the discussions on the group very informative. "If we see a good crop, we post the photos, talk to other members and discuss the strategies adopted by them.It keeps us all better informed."