Who says farming cannot be financially sustainable?

Shirish Shinde
Saturday, 23 February 2019

Dnyaneshwar Bodke, with his knowledge of direct marketing and experiments, has trained over 2.5 lakh successful farmers across the country

Who says farming is not economically viable? In fact, it can be lucrative, if a farmer has the proper knowledge and willingness to experiment, says progressive farmer Dnyaneshwar Bodke, who has set an example in agriculture practices.

Bodke’s farm stands out as a green patch, along with farms of some other farmers, amidst swanky IT companies at Bodkewadi, Mann near the Rajiv Gandhi IT Park, Hinjawadi. It is a pleasant sight to see farming co-exist alongside the hi-tech firms when the percentage of the population engaged in agriculture has been steadily dwindling across the country and farmers are facing distress. A video clip shot on Bodke has been going viral on social media. He founded the Abhinav Farmers’ Club, in cooperation with other farmers, which has been successfully selling their produce directly to customers ranging from exporters, malls and housing societies for over a decade now.

Bodke has trained over 2.5 lakh farmers from across India on his farm, a majority of whom are now getting good returns in agriculture.

Bodke has studied up to SSC and did a training course in poly house farming at the Horticulture Training Centre, Talegaon, Pune, where he later worked.

Sounding optimistic about his profession, he said one doesn’t need much capital for farming. One can start with as little as Rs 5,000 on a small plot of 10 gunthas by growing vegetables.

Speaking about his resolve to make farming profitable, he narrated an incident from his life. “We were unable to make both ends meet with the income my father used to get a couple of decades ago even after toiling hard in our farm. I told my father that we would note down each paisa that we spent as farm input and the returns that we get. So, when my father harvested some baskets of gourds, I calculated the input cost including packaging, transport, etc., which amounted to around Rs 800. However, when we sold it in the market, we got only Rs 300. That day, I resolved to market our produce in such a way that it would give at least a few per cent more returns,” says Bodke.

Giving details about the turnaround, he said, “Initially, I made good money in floriculture. However, it required a lot of pesticides and constant monitoring. I gave it up. An official from the State Agriculture Department one day introduced me to Yogeshbhai Shah, an owner of a mall, who wanted to sell exotic vegetables. I decided to enter the sector of organic farming. However, our club, established in 2004, broke up. We had suffered losses in floriculture. Growing organic exotic vegetables proved lucrative. We got Rs 2.5 lakh returns from 10 gunthas of farms. The media immediately spread this news. We also revealed the method and route to this success. Other farmers woke up and also started growing exotic vegetables.”

This prompted him to change his marketing strategy. He targeted housing societies as a market for local varieties of organic vegetables. “The economics was in our favour as consumers were buying vegetables at an average rate of Rs 2 per 250 gm while we were selling 10 kg at Rs 2 at the market. Moreover, these consumers had to travel a few kilometres and spent at least Rs 10-15 on transport to buy vegetables worth Rs 2. They happily paid Rs 2.50 (50 paise more) per 250 gm, if we delivered vegetables at their doorstep,” said the game-changer.

“We had tasted success following profitable floriculture plantation, which compelled us to experiment with the marketing plan. Failures didn’t deter us from experimenting and we kept on succeeding. This invited media attention and our experiments were made public, which helped us widen our network. Consumers spread the word through mouth-to-mouth publicity,” he revealed.

“We are transporting our produce, particularly exotic vegetables to hotels and malls in Delhi, Kolkata, Panaji and other cities. Moreover, we sell Gir cow’s milk also. Cowdung is an ideal component of manure essential for organic farming. Hence, a Gir cow per acre should be the ratio. Initially, we got Rs 2,200 per day from milk and vegetables. This agriculture income model became popular and more and more farmers started joining us. However, we faced labour issues as IT firms were paying well. We decided to rope in women’s self-help groups. Today, around 1,300 women work for packaging and grading of vegetables for our 300 farmer members. A woman earns Rs 300 if she works for three hours and Rs 1,000 for nine hours,” said Bodke.

Emphasising the need to replicate this model in drought-hit Marathwada and Vidarbha, he says, “An acre of farm needs only 10,000 litres of water. One earns Rs 2,200 per day using this much water. A 10,000-litre water tanker costs Rs 600, which is affordable during summer months. A farmer still earns Rs 1,600 per day.”

Narrating stories of countless small farmers, whom he has imparted skills to turn around the tide, Bodke said, “Our club recently set up 600 polytunnels in Uttarakhand. Some farmers had as small as 150-200 sq ft landholding. We consolidated them as a common unit. The State government gave them around 85 pc subsidy. Their exotic veggies are supplied to the tourist places in Nainital. They have become popular as the Abhinav Club vegetables. Tribal women from these areas, who could not even earn Rs 50 daily, are getting Rs 200 per day now. We have trained two agriculture graduates from this region. Another success story is that of Mayur Agarwal, a Symbiosis management student from Uttar Pradesh. He came to us one day and wanted to learn more about our work. He volunteered to distribute our produce around the city in a tempo. Today, he earns around Rs 5 crore from farming. Dnyaneshwar Shendre from Jalna, Marathwada, read my story in ‘Agrowon’. One day I was invited to speak in a programme in Jalna, where he came to hear me. We trained him. He supplies exotic vegetables to all five-star hotels in Aurangabad. We have trained around 13,000 farmers from Marathwada and Vidarbha, who are successfully running their farms.”

Dnyaneshwar Bodke’s daughter’s marriage is scheduled on March 3. He has decided to do away with ostentatious spending and will hold the marriage ceremony in the temple at his village in a simple manner. He has bought 15 drip irrigation sets worth Rs 50,000 each from the saved money, which will be gifted to the 15 needy farmers across Maharashtra on the day of the wedding.

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