Article and Image courtesy: BodhiCommons
It was the end of May. That meant that from an agricultural standpoint, we were about a month away from the start of the kharif season. Paddy is the main crop here during that time. In South Gujarat, especially amongst the tribals, we promote SRI. But Bihar was a different ball game. One, we did not have the services of an experienced staff.
Two, the team was raw; hardly any experience in working on agriculture. Three, we did not know the farmers. This was an experiment in the first year and that meant that we had to try this with farmers who could take the risk which obviously meant the large landed cultivators and not the small and medium ones. Four, the so-called theory on SRI - that it is suitable only in places where quantity of water in the field can be regulated. North Bihar is flood prone and the fields would be water-logged. As a result, it was prescribed that this region is not suitable for paddy cultivation using the SRI methodology.
These factors notwithstanding, we decided to take the plunge. Two events boosted our confidence. Firstly, the training cum workshop on SRI conducted by PRADAN in Gaya around that time. It gave our staff the first exposure on the technique and thus the initial boost in confidence. Secondly, the timely visit of Jivraj Sutaria, Agriculture specialist from our South Gujarat programmes area. He spent a fortnight in our field and what a period that was. Along with Rajani Bhushan and Yashwant Kumar, the agriculture staff members, they spent considerable time in visiting farmers, talking to them, motivating them, training them and literally getting their hands dirty with the slush and mud to plant the seedlings in the SRI prescribed way. This was not as easy though. Every day, armed with a few hastily printed leaflets on SRI and a laptop in hand, we would set out to convince villagers on the benefits of cultivating paddy using the SRI methodology – less quantity of seeds, replacing chemical fertilizers partly with organic compost, higher yields. The dissemination video on SRI demonstration prepared as part of the annadaata series by E TV was the star attraction in every meeting. Farmers would flock such meetings and watch the video intently but then during the discussions post the show would throw up their hands saying, ‘all this is fine but the labour cost will increase substantially’. They would earnestly request us to concentrate our efforts on tobacco as this was their cash crop. When asked how many of them would volunteer to try out SRI in their fields that year, there would be one or two stray raised hands. This was almost turning out to be a routine exercise. We would have done the video demonstrations to about 200 farmers but each time the response would be similar. Not losing hope, we marched on.