The Vidarbha turnaround


Advising the debt-ridden Vidarbha farmers to cultivate gerbera, rose, cucumber and capsicum could be seen as asking someone who can't afford a bread to eat cake. As a banker, if you ask him to avail a loan of Rs 26 lakh for just 0.25 acres, you could invite snarls. And if you tell him he could earn a net profit of Rs 4,000 a day, you could be dismissed as a fraudster selling a fake money-spinning scheme.

Some farmers here and the Bank of India (BoI) are, however, working in tandem to prove these presumptions wrong, thanks to a bold shift towards shade-net and poly-house farming.

Today, Ramesh Umate (Morchapur) is earning Rs 4,000 a day from his half-acre shade-net farm where he grows capsicum and cucumber. Ditto for Sanjay Awchat (Wahitpur), who is growing gerbera flowers, and Nishikant Bijewar (Hamdapur), Gopal Wahangal (Barbadi) and Gajanan Chafle (Samudrapur). Namdev Phalke of Dhagadban, who has the biggest shade-net in Wardha district on over two acres where he grows brinjal, has earned an unbelievable Rs 8.5 lakh since December.

Compare that to the dwindling returns of the traditionally preferred cotton and soyabean in Vidarbha's rainfed conditions, where an average farmer can barely break even. And even when compared to the results of copybook Bt cotton farming practices, the shade-net returns stand out as an unsurpassable gain.

Barely a year ago, these farmers had visited western Maharashtra's prosperous farms as part of BoI's educational tours to emphasis the value of shade-net and poly-house farming. Today, they have turned the tide they are now getting visitors from as far as Konkan. "I get several calls each day from people, saying they want to learn from the Wardha experience," says Nishikant Ghaisas, BoI's Rural Marketing Officer, who has led the change.

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