photo roll

Tears of joy: How onion farming is helping Madhya Pradesh’s Korku Adivasis tide over drought

Growing the traditional maize and soya bean crops is no longer economically viable.

“The land is thirsty, the Korku is hungry,” goes the refrain of the Korku Adivasis in the Satpura forest in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district.

An unrelenting drought since 2014 has parched the Korku farmland, driving a population of over 40,000 spread across 100-odd villages to desperation. In Khari village, for example, more than half the farmers have been forced to migrate in search of livelihood.

Vishram Kajale, 33, has found work in a pulse-processing unit in Dhule, a town across the state border in Maharashtra. His three brothers have followed him out as well. “I have a well on my farm but it got filled up with mud,” he said, explaining why he had to leave. “I had cemented the walls but cracked developed in the concrete and it got filled up again.”

A parched field in Khari village.
A parched field in Khari village.

The water crisis in the Adivasi region is all too visible. In Khari, there is only one 50-foot deep well that still has some water in it. “We have to walk one kilometre to fetch water from that well,” said Saraswati Kajale, 30.

Nearly 5 kilometres away in Karwani village, Sushi Kumari mistook this reporter for a government official and asked if I was there to pay “compensation”. What for? “My field was submerged after the government built a pond near it,” she replied. The pond, built a few years ago to tide over the water scarcity, is fast running dry.

“Farmers are free men,” Vishram Kajale said, ruefully. “But the lack of water has killed us.”

Only one well in Khari village still has some water in it.
Only one well in Khari village still has some water in it.

All is not lost, though. While growing soybean and maize, the traditional crops of the Korku, is hardly economically viable, cultivating onion is. In 2016, a few farmers switched to onion farming at the persuasion of SocioFarm, a non-profit launched the previous year with the “sole objective to generate livelihood for these Adivasi farmers”.

A year on, several farms in Khari and Junapani villages are under onion cultivation. It is an indigenous variety of onion now branded as “Koro”, which means human in Korku language.

“This is a pilot initiative where farmers sow onion on less than an acre of land,” said SocioFarm founder Mohit Raj. “We bring them together into farmer groups for collective production, provide seeds and ensure efficient use of the available irrigation facilities.”

SocioFarm chose fields that still had a water source in the vicinity – a depleted well, a pond.

Pratap Patil's family harvest the crop.
Pratap Patil's family harvest the crop.
Pratap Patil’s brother Sikdar with the produce, which is sold in Khandwa's wholesale market.
Pratap Patil’s brother Sikdar with the produce, which is sold in Khandwa's wholesale market.
The Patil brothers take the onion in a bullock cart to the village square, from where a truck takes it to the Khandwa market.
The Patil brothers take the onion in a bullock cart to the village square, from where a truck takes it to the Khandwa market.

Tausif Ali Shah, co-founder of SocioFarm, said after the farmers have learned to grow onion on a small scale, “we will train them to grow it in bulk and market it directly to consumers to eradicate middlemen so that the farmers get their due”.

Raj added: “Post production, the farmer groups are trained in grading, storage and packaging. The brand ‘Koro’ was created to enhance their collective selling power.”

Another Khari farmer Tarachand (in background) and his father collect onion from their field.
Another Khari farmer Tarachand (in background) and his father collect onion from their field.
Tarachand’s daughters lend a hand in sorting and packaging the onion.
Tarachand’s daughters lend a hand in sorting and packaging the onion.
Tarachand's family at work.
Tarachand's family at work.

Pratap Patil, 30, is among the farmers in Khari who have switched to onion cultivation. It did not go as well as he had hoped in the first season, but he has decided to stick with it. “My land was not levelled so water did not stay in the field and that is why the crop was not so good,” he said. “Next time, with more training and better planning, I will have a better crop.”

Before last season, Patil, like most Korku farmers, sowed soybean and maize. The crops earned him about Rs 20,000 annually. Onion farming promises to be more rewarding. According to Patil, an acre of land yields onion worth Rs 18,000 to Rs 24,000. SocioFarm claimed that in the next two-three seasons, the income of the farmers will rise by 50% to 60%.

More than anything, Patil is grateful he does not need to migrate now. “We are farmers,” he said. “But when we go out for work, we become labourers.”

Pratap Patil and Tarachand watch as their onion is unloaded at the Khandwa market.
Pratap Patil and Tarachand watch as their onion is unloaded at the Khandwa market.
The Koro brand logo is painted on every onion farmer's house.
The Koro brand logo is painted on every onion farmer's house.

All photos courtesy Rohit Jain

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.