Gone are the days when farmers of Pingori village near Pune in Maharashtra, after 6 to 8 months of farming, depended solely on the yield of jowar and bajra (pearl millet) to make an income of less than ₹1,300 a month. Left with no choice they had to migrate to the city to do menial jobs to support their family. “I feel miserable when I see other farmers abandoning their farms,” says Ganesh, one of the 44 farmers in the village. He owns 1.5 acres of farmland in Pingori. Within a few months of Rotary’s (RC Pune Hillside, D 3131) intervention his income has increased to ₹7,000. “This is sufficient to live comfortably in my village,” he says. What makes him happy is that he can grow more than four varieties of crops in the land compared to only millets because of failing monsoons and water scarcity.
The younger people have moved to big cities like Pune and Mumbai and “we were just a bunch of old people who chose to stay back in our village when Rtn Borate Madam and Rtn Baba Shinde of RC Pune Hillside came to visit us,” says Ganesh. Initially sceptical about investing their time and money to recuperate dried wells and set up storage ponds, he says, “We saw how serious they were in their pursuit to make our village better. Rotarians visited, engineers came and Baba Shinde even got the government to support us. So, we decided to invest our money and energy in this scheme.”
Rtn Meena Borate, a doctor by profession, who has managed to finance 16 water and sanitation projects in District 3131 says, “The attitude of the sarpanch of a few villages I have visited was shocking. ‘How will it benefit me?’ they would openly say. This is because they suspect that Rotarians do projects to get money from their village.” But in Pingori, “although they were hesitant the villagers came forward and made it possible for us to help them.”
Baba Shinde had noted that two of the percolation tanks had become shallow, with accumulated mud, and a canal that meandered through the village was choked with sticks and fine mud plugging the percolation channels. He worked with government officials to allocate more funds for cleaning the tanks which were deepened and desilted. While one percolation tank was desilted with the help of
Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Trust, an NGO based in Pune, the villagers themselves cleaned the barren land and laid boulders to create a makeshift bund for the tank to hold water “in the hope that it would rain,” says Ganesh.
Meena, with the help of a global grant in association with RC Muscatine,
US, six Rotary clubs from D 3131 and TRF raised ₹60 lakh. Two storage ponds lined with special polymer paper and compound walls for security were created. The capacity of the big storage pond is 37.5 million litres while the smaller one can store 35 million litres. Continuous contour trenches were dug in different parts of the land to enhance water percolation. Pumps were installed, pipes were laid and drip irrigation lines were supplied to the farmlands. Commenting on the water conserved, Ganesh says that this method of watering plants slowly over an extended period of time cuts down water usage by about 60 percent. Water is directed only to the plant area so there’s also less weed growth.
Innovation in farming
In such cases, Israel is always the reference point. “Despite Israel’s terrain which is not naturally conductive to agriculture, they are the largest exporters of fresh produce in the world. We wondered how that was possible and realised we could do the same with the adoption of the right farming technology,” he adds. With help from Baba Shinde, the farmers learnt soil nutrient management, use of thermal nets, branching and wiring of plants, crop patterns and rotation.
“Once a barren land, now it reaps fruits from 3,500 custard apple trees,” says Shinde. The water supply isn’t divided among the fields by way of pumps. “Instead, the drip irrigation line runs directly from the ponds to the respective farms. This way the water source for agriculture and drinking remain separate,” he adds. Each farmer grows a different crop in his farm such as ladies finger or cluster beans. This results in the production of 22 to 24 varieties of vegetables per yield.
Organic farm produce
Although the vegetables and pulses produced were organic, the farmers were receiving a minimal price. “The middlemen would pay us ₹2 per kg for a vegetable that they would eventually sell at ₹40 per kg and our income remained unchanged,” says the farmer. Things turned around when the farmers decided to invite residents of a large housing society in Pune to spend a day at their farms. After their visit to the farm, “we were asked to create a WhatsApp group and update the residents about the vegetables we have and they started ordering through WhatsApp.”
Slowly word of mouth spread and the farmers started delivering in bulk, and instead of ₹2 per kg, the farmers got the full price for the vegetables.” They shared the diesel cost for the transportation of their produce. After the second harvest was complete, the farmers benefitted economically and decided to invest in livestock and each family in the village takes turns to take care of the livestock. When high-yielding tomatoes were harvested, the women in the village undertook a training to make ketchup. The women no longer have to trek upto 6 km to the highway to collect water from water tankers, because they now have sufficient drinking water. The village school now has its own water tank and children have access to clean toilets and potable drinking water. Water conservation has got the village accolades and the Chief Minister paid it a visit.
But their biggest cause for celebration is that “our youth are coming back home because they now have a good income here. All this would have never happened without Rotary,” says Ganesh.