In India, if you listen to a news on farmers, it is almost always a bad news. But away from this grim situation, there are also a number of small farmers who are raking profits from farming by thinking outside the box. Inspired by their work, here are the six lifehacks which should be adopted on a mass scale to turn farming into a profitable activity.
Hydroponics is a technique of growing plants without soil. This practice employs sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients as a substitute. While the orthodox farming requires manures, pesticides, and excellent irrigation facilities to grow regular crops in small quantity, a large crop can be harvested through hydroponics in much less budget.
“Producing food nowadays is becoming a real challenge. With the increasing population, water scarcity, and the ecological impact of transportation, hydroponics is the best choice for commercial as well as home-based farming. Among many advantages, hydroponics allows you to produce more (20 to 30%) high-quality vegetables and fruits, save on water and nutrient consumption, and grow fresh food everywhere – including sterile and unproductive lands, or in big cities and capitals. It helps cut down on expensive intermediaries and shipping costs,” says Ajay Naik, a Goa-based software engineer turned hydroponic farmer.
Due to lack of soil, the crop can be cultivated in leveled racks to save space and increase harvest. Highly mineralized water is used to nurture the plantation and as the stream is re-circulated through the system, up to 80% water is saved. Temperature and in-house climate control are easy too. Hence, exotic and unseasonal crops can be harvested all year round. Lettuce, spinach, strawberries, and peppers are a few suitable crops for the method.
- Zero Budget Farming
When Subash Palekar, a farmer from Vidharba, discovered that the fertilizers and pesticides were doing more harm than good to his soil, he developed Zero Budget Natural Farming Model. And ever since, not a single farmer who practiced his technique has committed suicide.
Zero Budget Natural farming is a practice aimed at minimizing human labor. It follows the most practical approach to adopt the nature’s production of foods such as rice and barley in biodiverse agricultural ecosystems. The practice features the use of a cover crop, no tillage, no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides and no weeding. Hence, leaving the crop to grow without practically no human interference.
However, organic manures can be used along with suitable irrigation techniques. Seed selection is crucial here; depending on the nature of soil and environment, best seeds should be picked. As the practice requires minimum cost input, it profits the farmers immensely. Palekar has been awarded Padma Shri for his research, and more than 40 lakh farmers across India have adopted his methods.
- Climate-friendly crops
Every crop needs a certain climate to flourish. While deserts in Israel grew olives in their desserts, our Rajasthan nurtured traditional crops. That is until the state government decided to change it. Apart from olive, Rajasthan government is also encouraging the cultivation of dates. Both olive and dates require dry summers and ample sun. Hence, they are suitable to be cultivated in Rajasthan where such conditions could otherwise be damaging for traditional crops.
Today Rajasthan has about 1,000 hectares of olive trees and plans to increase olive cultivation to over 5,000 hectares over the next three years. After the successful launch of olive oil, Rajasthan is now set to export the indigenous olive tea to Europe and Gulf countries. This, in turn, has resulted in good times for farmers for they now earn about Rs 3-4 lakh per acre from olive cultivation against Rs 1 lakh from growing the traditional bajra or millet.
- Three-pillared approach
The Gujarat government encourages farmers to adopt a “three-pillared” approach. That is instead of solely raising the crops, the government asks farmers to opt for a mix of agroforestry, animal husbandry, and farming. This helps provide a security net to farmers even if their crops fail by ensuring a steady income from other two activities.
For example, about 80 percent of India’s milk comes from mixing animal husbandry to farming, says Purvi Mehta, the head of agriculture for Asia at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This not only brings additional income to farmers but also cuts personal expenses of the goods the cattle deliver. Similarly, farmers engaged in bee-keeping has seen a jump of up to 40 percent in their incomes in just one year.
The farmers in Mehsana, Gandhinagar and Kalol districts in Gujarat plant Ardu trees on the peripheries of their farms. Later the leaves are sold as fodder for goats and camels, timber is sold to plywood firms, and fruits are sold in the local market. Besides, the tree enriches and protects the soil underneath.
- Direct sale to consumers
The dealers, farmer sell to, pay farmers considerably lesser than they earn. These middlemen hog all the profit while farmers barely cover investments. By eliminating the middleman, a farmer can get respectable prices for his hard work.
Many restaurants now accept direct sale from farmers and pay them generously. Farmers can also consider e-mandi or online grocery portals to sell their harvest directly and price their farm products as they deem just. The incomes of the farmers selling through e-mandi have shot up by 38 percent in Karnataka, while in Maharashtra, farmers are now earning Rs 5 crore a week.
“Farmers are ready to work hard and repay their loans, all they need is a fair price for their produce,” says Paviter Pal Singh, the co-founder of Farmer Friend, a website that removes middleman to help farmers get full profit from their produce. The site is currently functional in 20 cities.
- Small water pumps
In South Kamrup district of Assam, the income per hectare of small and marginal farmers exceeds that of semi-medium farmers. The reason behind this success is the wide prevalence of small pumps, which come with a much lower capital cost and provide marginal farmers greater control over water for irrigation purpose.
Image: Bikalp Chamola
An average small pump of 1.5 HP costs around Rs 8,000 and works well on a domestic power supply. On the other hand, larger pumps are not only costlier, but they also require transmission line setup. And while only 5 percent of agricultural land in Assam has access to irrigation, the state has abundant groundwater which can be easily accessed through pumps. All these factors make small pumps a great value-provider to small and marginal farmers.
The similar trend has been noticed in Lohardaga and Gumla districts of Jharkhand as well. “We (now) cultivate tomatoes and cabbage thrice in a year to minimise the losses. Even if one crop goes bad, the other two can easily cover up for the same,” says Arjun Prajapati from Aria village in Lohardaga district.