Agriculture’s a scream in Maharashtra

I’ve never had to repeatedly bite back a scream when I’ve been interviewing someone before, but then this has been a trip of many firsts.

I had a pretty jam-packed day yesterday as I was given a whistle-stop tour of agriculture in Maharashtra state and the work being done by KVK, a quango which helps producers transfer the latest research and ag developments onto their farms.

I started off back at KVK’s main headquarters, where I was shown the organisation’s eco-tourism centre. For 2000 rupees a night (£29) you can stay in one of these fancy tents, eat out in the open, exercise in the gym and join in with the work being done on KVK’s farm.

Eco-tourism

Interestingly, this type of holiday doesn’t just appeal to foreign tourists – about 1000 Indians come to stay here every year too. Apparently city folk are as disconnected with food production as they are in the UK, and KVK is doing a lot of work trying to education urban populations about where their food comes from.

Afterwards we took a quick trip around the centre’s trial plots. They have everything here, from sugar cane and soya to gooseberries, mango, banana. The centre takes varieties being developed by universities and breeds them with native varieties to make them hardier, before selling plants or seeds on to local farmers. Most of the farmers come here for crops because they know the varieties are the best-available and will help them improve their yields.

Crop trials
Having seen the science, I was then taken to meet some of the farmers who were benefiting from it. Sangram Taware, the lovely chappy showing me the book on the right here, is head honcho of his club in a town called Malegaon.

Farmers Club
He told me how he and his 40 members meet once a month to chat about their farms and their problems, host talks and information evenings, and plan trips to research centres to learn about all the latest crop technology.

As well as collecting 500R a month from each member that they put towards a fund to lend to new entrants and people who want to invest in their farms, the group also works as a producer group, pooling their high-quality soya beans (high quality because they are grown from one of the new varieties from KVK) so they can have more power in the market place and demand higher prices. This way, since the group formed in 2006, they have managed to command at least 20R/kg more than the average market price.

Having so far only been shown top-notch farming enterprises, it was great to meet actual farmers who were probably more representative of the country’s agricultural community, and who were so keen on working together to do the best for each other. Sangram and his chums were brilliant too – they were fascinated about UK agriculture and couldn’t get to grips with the fact I live in country where it’s too cold to grow mangoes.

The one bad thing about the trip was that, throughout my entire chat with him, Sangram had the biggest spider I have ever seen crawling up his leg. Bearing in mind the extent of my arachnophobia, it was a miracle I managed to carry on asking questions or stop myself from yelping every time the hairy monster put on a burst of speed. I’ve noticed many cultural differences between the UK and India, but I’m guessing screaming at people you’re interviewing is a no-no in every continent…

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