Cover the field

Alisha Shinde
Saturday, 13 January 2018

How much do we do for farmers who go through hardships, and provide us with food? The real celebration of the harvest festival would be by finding ways to ensure their wellbeing, reports Alisha Shinde.

In an agrarian country like ours, the first harvest of the year naturally calls for great celebration and merriment. The variety in the rituals associated with the festivals — Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra, Lohri in Punjab, Pongal in South India and Uttarayan in Gujarat — further adds to the fun.

In cities, we too have our own share of fun and joy during this season — gorging on the Tilgul, Pongal rice, Gulpoli, Gajak and so on, and exchanging Makar Sankranti greetings on social media and WhatsApp. A few of us have also started visiting the countryside, to get a feel of the life there. As a result, Agro tourism has picked up considerably in the last decade or so. 

But not all go to villages as tourists, some use the opportunity to mingle with their rural counterparts and the farming community. After all, they are the ones providing for one of our basic needs — food. And life has not treated them well in the last few years, their debts and suicides making more headlines than their yield. As  aware citizens, we simply cannot observe these happenings passively. 

So here we introduce you to people who are consciously doing their bit to help the farming community and bridge the rural-urban divide.

Studying agriculture
While many people prefer taking up degrees that will benefit them in securing well-paid jobs, there are quite a few who look at education from a broader perspective. They want to use it not for their own progress but that of others. It’s heartening to see youth seeking Agricultural education so that they can work for the betterment of the farming community. Like Darshna Khandelwal, a student of College of Agriculture, Nashik, who believes that this field of education will enable her to empower the farmers in the years to come. “With several areas being drought hit, it is necessary to adopt a way that can salvage the entire situation and ensure that our farmers do not suffer,” she says adding that food is the basic necessity of life and it’s sad that the one growing it is the one suffering the most.

Khandelwal calls the divide between the urban and rural India ‘unjust’. “Most people in the city do not know the hardship the farmer goes through until it is in the news or if there is a hike in the price of commodities that pinches them,” she says.
Amol Shende, a graduate of College of Agriculture Pune, who hails from Baramati, too has a different take on Agriculture education. “This education is not only about the basics of Agriculture but also about the various other components that can be used to enhance the sector,” he says. 

Belonging to a family which has been into farming for several years now, studying Agriculture was an obvious choice for Shende. But his approach towards it is quite different. “I look at Agriculture as a combination of science and art. It can be bettered by blending scientific facts and the skills acquired by the agricultural community through generations,” he says.
For Shende, the knowledge about the Agricultural sector will never go waste. Which is why, he feels that basic agriculture education must be available in schools as well as colleges.

Then young students will not only understand the importance of Agriculture but also get to know how to use it for the betterment and upliftment of farmers and the rural sector as a whole.  

“Agriculture is something all of us should be proud of because we belong to a rich agrarian country,” says Anand Bhong, another student of College of Agriculture Pune. In the light of the recent instances of crop failures, water scarcity and storage maintenance issues, he believes that more and more youth should take up this stream and find the solutions which will ultimately help the entire country. 

“Agriculture should not be taken up by a student when all other options dry out. It should be taken up as a dedication to serve farmers, who are the backbone of the country and also to stabilise their economic condition,” says Bhong. 

To the village
Thankfully, the number of youngsters who share this ideology, is increasing. They are doing their bit and contributing to the community in every possible way. Mansing Shinde, a civil engineer by profession, has given up his well-paying job in Mumbai and shifted to Sangli to assist his father in sustainable farming. “People thought I was crazy to quit my job in a metropolitan city and move to a rural area,” says Shinde, mentioning that the talks really did not bother him since he was returning home, where he truly belonged. 

Shinde says that the engineering degree was his trump card and he knew exactly how to put his knowledge and understanding to use. “Management is a really important aspect of any field, be it time management or even managing stress and money,” feels Shinde and adds, “Farming is a family occupation for us. My father has been managing it for a very long time but the reason I decided to step into the field was because I wanted to bring more opportunities in terms of income and innovation, not only for my own farm but also for others from my village.”

There have been many who have migrated to cities in search of employment because the farms were not yielding much. Vishal Garud, who works as a call centre driver in Pune, is one of them. But he has not lost touch with his village and farms. “My fields and farms never left me and I knew I had to return to them,” Garud says. The entire year he works in the city so that he can generate enough funds to pay the labourers after the harvest is done. “During the harvest season, I take a long leave and go to my native hometown in Solapur.” says Garud who moved to Pune in search of job so that he could pay off his loan. 

Ankit Gohel, a media student, shares his interesting experience. “I was initially reluctant to work in the fields and felt that it was way below me,” says Gohel. He used to celebrate the harvest festival in its full glory in the city until he visited his village during his vacations and realised the hardships his uncles, who are farmers, were going through. 

“Farming is not only about the harvest. There are several things from irrigation to dealing with the middlemen and so on. With no knowledge of farming, the least I could do was to educate my uncles to use technology,” he says, mentioning that they now make use of laptops to keep a record of the quality of the yield. 

Yash Naik, another city student, believes that there are number of ways in which the urban population can help the farmers. He says, “Little contributions can make a major difference in the lives of the farmers.” He has convinced his mother and the rest of his family members to buy vegetables and grains directly from the farmers at any of the farmer’s markets held in the city. He believes that eliminating the middlemen will definitely benefit the farmers. Therefore, farmer’s markets should be encouraged, especially in the cities as they serve as a platform for the consumers and the farmers to connect. 

Catching them young

While the aware youngsters are doing their bit, it’s also incumbent on parents to educate their children about the importance of the agricultural sector. The children may be reading it in text books that agriculture is the base of our economy but how many know how farming is actually done?
Parminder Bhatti, father of a four-year-old, says, “I want my child to know from where the food that we consume comes and the efforts that go into it.” 

For the same purpose, he takes his son on farm tours where one can take part in sowing seeds, watering the crops or even yielding the fruits or vegetables. “It is not only a fun experience but also a way to learn and connect with our roots,” Bhatti feels. 
“I believe that schools these days are putting in efforts and taking our children to farms for them to learn and understand the importance of farmers and their hard work,” says Sudhir Thakur, father of a five-year-old girl. 

Thakur says that such visits create an interest in the young minds which is definitely needed in today’s time when every other youngster wants to pursue a career in Information Technology or other well-paying sectors. 

Organised effort
Individual initiatives are good but if there are groups working towards a cause, it’s even better. There are several organisations that have taken up the cause of spreading awareness about farming and bridging the growing gap between the urban and rural population.

Says Hemal Patel, founder of Sustainable Farming, which works in this area, “There is a need to bridge the urban-rural gap, not only through infrastructure but through understanding.” 

Talking about why it is high time that each and every citizen of India paid attention to the well-being of peasants, he says that farmers are the producers of the food that we consume daily and if the grower is happy, the crop that he grows will be of better quality which will directly impact the health of the consumers.

He believes that it is important for people to undertake sustainable farming. 

“Our entire livelihood is dependent on farming,” says Harihar Kausadikar, director, Maharashtra State Agriculture Research Council Pune. He says that if we have to sustain for a longer period, it is important for the people, especially the youth to have some basic knowledge about agriculture. 
He believes that the youth of India, who are the future of the country, have a choice of saving the agricultural sector from any further damage. “Agricultural education is not only limited to methods of growing plants but also other related sciences such Horticulture, Animal Husbandry and plant DNA modification. It’s good to see that slowly but surely, the youth in getting attracted towards studying Agriculture and developing new technologies for the betterment of the same.”  

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