With a majority of the population engaging in farming , it thrives as one of India’s major employment sector. It is an ever changing scenario for those who choose a career in this sector. It was and continues to be a major source of income for many farmers across the nation. There is a huge opportunity for research in this field, and there are many avenues that are still unexplored. These people speak to us about the challenges involved and their journey towards development.
Mumbai-based Naren Bhinge launched Ecoflo treadle pump, a micro-irrigation facility, in 2005. This lightweight plastic pump has a simple manual and is very easy on the pocket, costs just `2-3,000. “We had to convince people to accept a pump made out of plastic. Once we showed them how efficient it could be, our challenge was to convert metal into plastic,” reveals Bhinge, proprietor, Bhinge Brothers.
The pump, for which Bhinge received a patent in 2007, is largely distributed through NGOs like Red Cross, IDE, BAIF and MITRA to marginal farmers. Bhinge refuses to mass market it and only uses the NGO channel, as he wants his creation to benefit poor farmers. “Only through a clean and sustainable channel, products will reach remote villages,” says Bhinge, who also exports Ecoflo to Africa, again only through NGOs.
The treadle pump does not have any complex operating system and can even be used by a child, says the 51-year-old. Winner of the Plasticon Award 2005 from Plastindia Foundation and Innovation for India Award 2008 from Marico Innovation Foundation, the pump can pump out almost 5,000 litres of water per hour from a depth of 7m to a height of 15m. The advantage is that the pump enables cultivation throughout the year and comes handy to transport water from one area to another.
As a mechanical engineering graduate from NIT, Rourkela, Bhinge’s foray into agriculture happened 25 years ago. Apart from Ecoflo, Bhinge’s firm produces pump sets and pipes. Bhinge spends a lot of time with farmers across India, educating them about ideal irrigation practices.
With over 18 years of experience in basmati rice and hybrid rice breeding and molecular breeding of rice, Prof Ashok Singh conceived a new variety of rice — Pusa Basmati 1121 in 2003. “When Pusa Basmati 1, a widely grown variety, became susceptible to bacterial blight, our team used marker assisted selection (MAS) to develop a new hybrid variety of basmati rice,” explains the 49-year-old senior scientist at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi. This variety not only increased the income of the farmers from `60,00 to over `1 lakh but has also contributed 60 per cent to the total forex earned by exporting basmati rice.
Pusa 1121 with a length of 20mm is the world’s longest cooked rice. It can expand to 4.5 times its original size. Says Singh “MAS has been used to develop basmati rice varieties that are resistant to biotic stress particularly bacterial blight and blast, sheath blight and brown plant hopper, which limit the productivity and quality of basmati rice,” he adds.
Singh’s team faced a lot of challenges while creating Pusa Basmati — a proper set up for molecular breeding and funds were just some of them. “Pusa Basmati 1121 will consume less amount of water and require little pesticide, thus bringing down the overall cost of cultivation for farmers,” reveals Singh, who hails from a family of farmers. It is cultivated in the basmati-growing regions of India — Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The seeds are available at IARI, National Seed Corporation and States Farms Cooperation of India.
Singh’s dream to pursue a career in the farming sector was partly fulfilled when he graduated in agriculture from the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, in 1983. He went on to complete his master’s in genetics and plant breeding at the same varsity before finishing his doctorate studies in genetics from IARI. He presently teaches postgraduate students at IARI and also received the IARI Best Teacher Award in 2003. His current research focuses on enriching the rice in beta carotene and developing rice hybrids with higher productivity.
Anupama Singh and Balraj Parmar
Many times, cultivators have lost crops to the unrelenting sun that saps the moisture out of young plants. As a countermeasure, Prof Anupama Singh, principal scientist, Agricultural Chemicals, and Balraj S Parmar, former joint director-research, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, developed an indigenous technology called Pusa Hydrogel. Pusa Hydrogel has the ability to retain water almost 3.5 times higher than the normal content of the soil. It also leads to a decrease in the use of fertiliser application and improves fertigation. Around 2.5-3.4kg of Pusa Hydrogel is enough for a hectare. “There was a lot of apprehension in my mind about the launch of the product — whether it will be accepted or rejected. But I took care to choose the basic bare bone, screened them and tested the facilities,” says Prof Anupama.
Hydrogel was tested on potato, groundnut, soya bean, onion, chrysanthemum, papaya, wheat, maize, sugarcane, turmeric, chilli, cotton, paddy, etc. As it yielded good results, it was decided to be used on other vegetables, fruits and flowers. It has already been adopted by farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra “Farmers should be made aware that such products will give them better yield and enable efficient use of water,” she says.
Anupama, who has a PhD in organic chemistry from Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, Haryana, began work on Pusa Hydrogel in 1999, completed it in 2005 and was granted a patent in 2011. It has been licensed to five companies. Two of these, Carborundum Universal Limited and Earth International Limited has taken it into the commercial market at a cost of `1,000-4,000.
PB Murali and Sethuraman
An ancient technique has been revived in the name of sustainable development. PB Murali, who is at the forefront of the organic movement in Tamil Nadu, has developed biopesticides and fungicides. “Food must not be poisoned in the name of technology. There should be better yield, but it should be healthy,” opines Murali, whose partners-in-bio-development are Hari Sethuraman, a civil engineering graduate from IIT-Madras and PB Mukunthan, a full-time agriculturist and dairy farmer.
The trio were one of early farmers to incorporate modern techniques like drip irrigation, fertigation, pruning and bio-dynamic agricultural practices to control the growth of fungus.“This application controls the purity levels and is non-toxic” says Murali, who has over 20 years of experience in agriculture.
At Punnammai Organic Orchards, a 60-acre farm in Thatchur district of Tamil Nadu, Murali cultivates Banganapalli, Imam Pasand, Alphonso and Rumani mangoes. The products are available across south India and in a few states in the North. The mangoes are supplied to organic stores, hotels and corporates. “The cost varies from season to season and we register a turnover of `40 lakh every year,” says this statistics graduate, who shifted to agriculture after spending 18 years in the corporate world. “Organic farming is a very small community, and people get to know each other through referrals. There is no need for brand building,” reveals Murali, who is a part of the Chennai wing of the Organic Farming Association of India.