farming tales

How cauliflower seeds helped a poverty-stricken village in Bihar become prosperous

A combination of modern farming techniques and savvy marketing of seeds is providing a number of young people in Vaishali district a lucrative livelihood.

Rakesh Kumar, an educated youth in his late 20s, is neither keen for a government job nor is he willing to migrate out of his village in search of one. His income from “brand quality” cauliflower seed farming is more than enough for a good living.

Rakesh Kumar, a postgraduate, is not alone. There are over a dozen educated young people in Chakwara village in Bihar’s Vaishali district who have made cauliflower seed farming their main source of livelihood that has turned this poverty-stricken village into a prosperous one. Chakwara is a striking example in rural Bihar as out-migration to earn a living is common all over the state.

Rakesh Kumar’s family own only 10 katha of land (one-third of an acre) but he has taken nearly four acres on lease for seed farming. “Most seed farmers like me have small landholding of their own and have taken land on contract for seed farming near the village and at different places,” he told VillageSquare.in. Rakesh said his family earns at least Rs 1 lakh per bigha (1.6 bigha equals one acre) of land through seed farming. “We are happy as income from seed farming is more than we can earn by doing a job,” he says.

Like Chakwara, there are dozens of villages in Vaishali, particularly in the Hajipur, Lalganj, Mahua and Mahnar administrative blocks, where hundreds of villagers are cultivating cauliflower seed and selling across the country with different brand names such as Green Seed, Baijnath Seed, Jawahar Seed, Anand Seed, Raj Raatan Seed, Grow Seed, Krishna Seed, New Bharat Seed, Solar Seed, Krishna Seed and Sanngeeta Seed.

A cauliflower seed farm in Chakwara village of Vaishali district in Bihar. Credit: Mohd Imran Khan
A cauliflower seed farm in Chakwara village of Vaishali district in Bihar. Credit: Mohd Imran Khan

Most of those in seed farming belong to an agrarian caste locally known as Koeri (or Kushwaha). They are broadly classified as Other Backward Classes. There are some from other castes like Yadav, also OBC, growing cauliflower seeds in Vaishali.

Branded seeds

“There are more than 100 branded seed companies in different villages in Vaishali,” Sanjiv Kumar, a resident of Chakwara and the man behind innovative and high-tech seed farming and its branding, told VillageSquare.in. “They are either selling seeds directly or through small and big traders in this field across the country.”

Sanjiv Kumar, in his mid 30s, said people engaged in seed farming have been selling their seed brands from Rs 3,000 per kg to Rs 10,000. “It all depends on the branding,” he said. “I am selling my brand of Green Seed at Rs 5,000 per kg.”

Like others in Chakwara, Sanjiv Kumar said that he did not own enough land but started contract farming to grow cauliflower seed. Similarly, in villages like Shahpur and Purkhauli in Lalganj block, and Rasoolpur in Mahua block, farmers have taken land on contract for seed farming.

Ratan Kumar Singh, another cauliflower seed farmer, said he earns over Rs 5 lakh every year from his seed farm after spending on labour, pesticides and other things. “I, along with my brother Raj Kumar Singh have six bigha of land,” he said. “Our main cultivation is cauliflower seed. Our brand is Raj Ratan seed and we sell it to traders in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and other states.” Ratan, in his late 30s, said every seed farmer has his own brand.

Annadata Krishak Club

Another villager, Sunil Kumar, who is in his late 50s, said the seed-farming situation has changed since 2005 after a group of villagers led by youth like Sanjiv Kumar has formed Anndata Krishak Club. Earlier, few people were in traditional seed farming. Now from Konhara ghat to Biddupur, a stretch of 30 km, seed farming is blooming and has become a cash crop. “We cultivate and produce seeds of tomato, brinjal and chili but the main focus and business is cauliflower seed,” he said. “It has given us name, fame, and money.”

Sanjiv Kumar said villagers in Chakwara and dozens of other villages prefer seed farming to do any job. “Seed farming is more lucrative than a job for villagers because they don’t have to leave their family to migrate outside Bihar in search of a job and income from seed business is adequate for a good living,” he told VillageSquare.in.

Seed economy

Many families in Chakwara and neighbouring villages like Lodipur, Rambhadra, Meenapur, Jhadua, Nawada Khurd and Senduari have become affluent thanks to seed farming. It is the seed economy that changed the face of the villages and mindset of villagers, particularly the youth. “Good income from seed farming has open new paths for village youth to earn a livelihood at their native place instead having to migrate,” Sanjiv Kumar said.

Cauliflower seeds from Chakwara and other villages in Vaishali have made their own name and brand across the country. Sanjiv Kumar, who has received several awards for his innovation in seed farming, said youths of Chakwara and other villages, which have adopted seed farming on large scale, are least interested in other jobs. “Most of the youths are into seed farming and are doing seed farms business,” he said. “In seed farming, opportunity and income are better than any other job.”

Sanjiv Kumar recalled that the situation was bad in Chakwara even a decade ago. “I along with a group of unemployed educated youths have set up Annadata Krishak Club [in 2005] with the help of NABARD [National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development] and Bank of India and started seed farming in a new pattern with scientific training and high-tech approach,” he said.

Modern techniques

Initially, 24 farmers were trained in the cultivation of cauliflower seed by the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi. That number has is hundreds, Sanjiv Kumar said. There are now 25 registered members of the Annadata Krishak Club in the village. “We have worked on increasing yields of cauliflower seed by taking training, improving its quality and size, and put new marketing techniques developed by us to sell it as brand across the country,” he said. “The Internet also helped us in it.”

During the ongoing winter season, particularly in January, farmers were seen working in hundreds of acres of cauliflower seed farming. Usually, farmers sow cauliflower in July and sell the vegetable by November-December, leaving one-third of the crop for growing seeds. The seed is harvested during February and March. A katha (1361 sq ft) yields 7-8 kg of seeds. Chakwara grows the seeds in over 100 acres of land.

Mohd Imran Khan is a Patna-based journalist.

This article first appeared on Village Square.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.