Ramesh Waman (55) is just another farmer and there is nothing special about him as such. But spend a day with him, like I did, and you realize the commonalities between an entrepreneur and a farmer
It is a pleasant January morning and we take a walk in the farmlands located in Adgaon, which is about 20 kilometres away from Nasik, Maharashtra.In 1988, he had purchased this piece of land stretching about four acres. "It is only in 1996 that I actually considered taking up farming as a serious occupation," says Waman, "You see, my father was a farmer and so were everyone in the side of my in-laws. They mentored me into becoming the farmer that I am today." Interestingly, Ramesh had worked at a photo studio, had set up a pan shop, and also run a small auto-transport company and managed a hospital’s canteen, before actually taking up farming as a full time occupation.
Ramesh tells me he had decided to go organic with his grape vineyard about two years back. He says, "It is the challenge in producing desired quality of grapes that interested me the most." There is a lot of cost and labour that needs to be invested in organic way of farming. For instance, Gobar (cow dung comes from Mumbai at Rs 10,000 per truckload. For 1 acre one needs 4 truckloads of Gobar and Rs 5000 worth labor. Besides this, organic certification is required for being in the exporters list of farmers.
|Ramesh had worked at a photo studio, had set up a pan shop, and also run a small auto-transport company and managed a hospital’s canteen, before actually taking up farming as a full time occupation.|
I ask him about how he got into organic farming, and he tells me, "My brother in law, who has done his higher studies in Agriculture, told me about organic farming and I really liked the concept. There are people who are doctorates in Agriculture who advice us on a weekly basis. The evaluation includes scrutinizing bills, spraying schedule, wind direction during spraying, and so on. Then they check samples of grapes, soil, etc in the labs to find out what is going right and how to maintain it, what is going wrong and how can it be rectified." As for the quantity of produce; as with regular grapes, about one quintal of grapes is produced in one acre of land. While normal grapes for local market are sold at Rs 15-20 a kilo; the export quality ones are sold at Rs 35-40 per kilo. As for organic produce, it is sold at as much as Rs 70-80 per kilo.
Apparently, it is the government organized funds and subsidies that actually help the farmers in procuring loans for setting up farms to loans for cultivating crops. He talks about the importance of diversification in the line of products, when he says, "People who only do grapes are more vulnerable to losses. It makes sense to cultivate other crops elsewhere, to maintain the balance. With grapes, 10 years back, we were selling it at Rs 20 a kilo and it still remains the same. However, the cost factor which was at Rs 30,000 has now increased to Rs 90,000." Even if there is loss, farmers borrow from wherever possible and clear the loan, and keep pumping funds into the farms. He has no options. He has to keep working on the farm for a good harvest next year. According to Ramesh, a small farmer with about two acres of land can survive losses for two years, after which he can get himself into a situation which is difficult to get out of.
As for challenges, Ramesh tells me that producing grapes is like nurturing a new born baby – you are always on your toes. For instance, if there is fog that is setting in at three in the morning, he has to get up and make sure that he sprays his entire plantation with recommended sprays right then. He shows me samples of dying leaves and grapes. They have succumbed to the cancer of grapes, apparently. Downy mildew (Parasites), as it is called, will surface in about 45 days inevitably, but it can be contained with specific sprays. Bhuri (Uncinula necator; fungus) is another trouble that sets in after 45 days till 90 days. One thing after the other, like he had mentioned before, they are kept on their toes.
To add to their troubles, there are many companies that produce spurious bio-products. These products are bought by farmers looking at the word "Bio" and little do they know that these products contain chemical residue, which for an organic farmer can mess up everything. Of course there are labs that can test these products for you, but they charge as much as Rs 5,000 which not every farmer can afford. As it happens, these farmers use multiple products, so there is no way to pinpoint which one was spurious. This is another risk that they prefer to assume.
There is so much more information that I gathered that day. But here is the saddest part of it all. There was a shower of unseasonal rain on Ramesh’s farm. This caused 90 percent of almost ready grapes to go rotten. About one kilometre away from this farm, his brother in law has a vineyard, which was lucky enough to not come under the rain. Such is luck. Ask Ramesh about how he is going to deal with this loss, and he replies with a smile, "There are certain things that are simply beyond our control – it is called fate. What we need to do is to keep doing our best, and never ever give up. There are always ways sustain losses, be patient, work hard, and later make good profits" That is called being enterprising!
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