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Stopping Farmer Suicides in India

Posted on August 9th, 2016


We now need to focus on achieving the next jump in production, literally a second Green Revolution in order to improve the profitability of our farmers in a sustainable manner. This is just what I have been researching over the last 8 years in North India. We have come up with a holistic system of farming which tries to join all the dots and helps farmers produce better crops in a more ecologically sustainable manner. This is a system of farming which we call the STEP SYSTEM; an acronym for Structured Treatment for Enhanced Productivity. A system that has already been rigourously field tested in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The STEP System strikes at the root of the problem and promises to help address most of the issues addressed earlier by increasing productivity of soil thereby enabling the farmer to raise better crops with much better root systems at a far lower cost. Farmers have been able to achieve remarkable yield increases across a wide range of crops grown in the region at a much lower cost. This is accompanied by visible improvements in quality. A robust method of farming which has already caught the imagination of leading farmers of the region and is already in use over thousands of acres of farmland. Some of the notable achievements of farmers using the STEP System are listed below:

    • Increases in yields of rice and wheat to 7500 kgs/hectare ( 3 -3.5 tons/ha over the state average) or even higher. (Some farmers who have used our STEP System reported yields of 9 -10 tons of paddy per hectare in October – November 2015).
      Improving resistance of crops to wind and rain damage which devastated wheat farmers in April 2015. Yields came down to just 3 tons of poor quality wheat with high moisture content and poor keeping quality this year. Our user trials have achieved yields of 5 tons of good quality even under adverse circumstances.
      Potato yields have gone up to over 60 tons per hectare, about 35 tons more than the state average and this is just the beginning, as soil quality improves, so will the yield.
      In a few of our trials yields of chillies, (a crop extremely susceptible to soil borne pathogens) have gone up to over 87500 kgs/hectare.
      Several kinnow orchards in Punjab, Haryana and neighbouring areas of Rajasthan which were on the point of being uprooted due to HLB have been restored to good health within a year and are producing record yields of over 37500 kgs/hectare, far higher than the state average.

The impact this can have on the economy of Punjab state can be startling. Even if we are able to raise average yield of rice and wheat by just 2 tons each per hectare, with 6.37 million hectares under cultivation the added income of Rs 60,000/hectare would put Rs 38,220 crores in farmers’ pockets. This works out to almost 12% of the state’s GDP and could make Punjab one of the fastest growing states in the country. With over 70 million hectares under these two crops in India, this would add over Rs 420,000 crores ($ 70 billions) to farmer pockets, perpetually removing the creases of despair from their faces and saving the lives of millions. The beneficial impact on horticultural crops will be even higher because of the phenomenal spurt in production of almost every important fruit and vegetable crop demonstrated by us with our STEP System. Incomes of vegetable farmers can be made to increase by over Rs 2 lakh per hectare, enabling even small and marginal farmers to become financially viable and eliminating poverty from the state. It has been observed that higher yields of crops like chillies create enormous income opportunities for rural women folk engaged in manual harvesting. As these crops become more profitable, farmers are able to pay much higher wages and the longer duration of harvest, spread over several months provides assured income to farm labour over a better part of the year. Multiple cropping of high value vegetable crops by enterprising farmers without the use of pesticides has opened up additional revenue streams such as through bee keeping. (This is borne out of our actual experience in Punjab where one farmer has already achieved a phenomenal harvest of over 35 tons of chillies per acre already with a few more months of harvest yet to be completed. The complete absence of pesticides use has helped him raise more than a dozen hives of honey bees). The presence of pesticides residues has been a major bottleneck for Indian agriculture exports, by almost eliminating this, the STEP System will provide a fillip for a major thrust in fruit and vegetable processing in Punjab for export. The higher yields obtainable together with lower costs of production will also provide a competitive advantage over nations in Asia and Africa for exports to the profitable EU and US markets.

The area under vegetables in Punjab is just 200,000 hectares, with its proximity to major urban centres in North India and good rail connectivity to the rest of the country, a pesticide free, healthy produce will add immensely to the goodwill Brand Punjab enjoys in the rest of the country, paving the way for increased sales of fresh vegetables. With proper marketing and backward integration, it should not be difficult to increase the area under horticulture in Punjab to add value up and down the chain, creating income even for small and marginal farmers. Just imagine what this can do for our nation with our huge area under fruits and vegetables!! www.sequoiabio.com As mentioned earlier, our total cultivable area is 159 million hectares and we are spending an enormous amount of money importing fertilisers. For instance, if our STEP System is used across this area, we could save the imports of 400 million bags of DAP, each 50 kg bag costing about Rs 1300 to the farmer. This would help farmers reduce cost by Rs 52,000 crores, (almost equal to the loan waiver which was given by the Government in 2008), EVERY YEAR!! And this is just the tip of the iceberg. India can become a powerhouse of agricultural exports in the world, with our rich soil and varied climate capable of producing almost any and every crop that is required in the world markets. Indian agriculture and our farmers can become engines of growth and employment for our country heralding a new era of prosperity that can permeate each and every corner of the country, releasing precious resources to target those who really need succor and releasing the energy of our people into more creative and productive pursuits. This will mark the rise of India in the comity of nations as a true world power where no one sleeps hungry, a country with adequate surpluses to feed the world, where the soft power of (agri)culture will impact the world. The solution to the seemingly unending spiral of farmer suicides appears to be within our reach. The knowledge that will help them pull themselves from despair is already available. The simple, cost effective and robust technology that the STEP System represents can be easily implemented and is capable of producing remarkably quick results. What is now needed is the means to spread this light and hope across the country to the people who need this the most, our farmers. The STEP System offers India the opportunity to convert a problem into a golden opportunity. All that is needed is self confidence and a belief that :