The Telegraph
Sunday , June 22 , 2014
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Cash flowers in oilseed field

Supaul, June 21: A college graduate hailing from a farmers’ family, Anil Kumar Yadav (32) roamed around in Delhi and Mumbai in search of a job only to return empty-handed, about three years ago. The very idea of getting engaged in the family’s traditional vocation was “nightmarish” to him.

Anil, a resident of Samda Chowk village under Basantpur block of Supaul district, around 350km northeast of Patna, today owns a spanking motorcycle, a decent house to live in, smart clothes to wear and, more important, has money that is adequate to educate his two children.

All this, thanks to the farming of sunflower that he started nearly three years ago.

Anil’s prosperity is effectively the gift of the high-profit cash crop that sunflower — a popular oilseed in demand in Bangladesh, China, Japan besides all over India — has turned out to be.

“A cottah of land yields around 80kg of sunflower. It fetches Rs 2,400 per cottah at the rate of Rs 3,000 per quintal. It requires an investment of barely Rs 900 to produce the oilseed worth Rs 2,400 in four months — the time for the crops to ripe and be harvested,” Anil explained.

Anil said he had been selling sunflower worth Rs 8.1 lakh produced at an investment of about Rs 3.03 lakh on his 10 acres (270 cottahs approximately) of farmland. “In spite of owning over 15 acres of land, our family was poor. My father and grandfather produced only wheat, gram and barley that required more labour and money and yielded no profit. The farming of sunflower on a major portion of our land has changed our fortunes,” Anil said.

It is actually the seeds of the sunflower are sold. The chain of traders in the local markets buy the seeds directly from the farmers and subsequently sell them to oil millers across the country. Oil mills in Gujarat are big buyers of the sunflower seeds grown in Bihar. Dalkola, the part of Bengal between Kishanganj and Purnea, is a big centre of trade from where agricultural produce is exported to many parts of the country and abroad.

Anil is not the only one in his village who is tasting prosperity through sunflower farming. Samda Chowk — home to nearly 50 farmers — has undergone a sea change. The flood-ravaged village now has concrete houses equipped with tractors, granaries, all built within the last three to four years. The credit for the villagers’ prosperity goes to the new generation changing the crop pattern — by replacing wheat and gram with sunflower farming.

A journey through Supaul, Madhepura, Saharsa, Khagaria (all in the Kosi region) besides Purnea and Katihar (in the Seemanchal region) revealed the fast changing crop pattern. The shining yellow flowers of the oilseed on the vast tracts of land in the Kosi and Seemanchal regions easily caught our attention.

Pawan Kumar Singh, an agriculture official at Basantpur block, said: “Each year the area under sunflower production is growing. It is more profitable, hence the farmers prefer it. The credit should go to the government too for it has employed kisan mitras (friends of farmers) in almost all the blocks to make the farmers aware of the new techniques and crops. Besides, the government has put in place a mechanism at the grassroots level to help the farmers under its agriculture roadmap.”

Then chief minister Nitish Kumar began appointing kisan mitras sometime in 2009. These people were picked up from among agriculture graduates or science graduates with basic knowhow about farming. They are provided training in agricultural techniques, new variety of farming, new seeds, use of manure etc and then deployed in the panchayats and villages to make the farmers aware about the new ways of farming. The kisan mitras are paid a fixed remuneration for their service.

Till about four to five years ago, the flood-ravaged region — consistently inundated by the river Kosi and its tributaries originating from Nepal during the monsoon season — was infamous for poverty, starvation and large-scale migration of labourers. Its farmlands seldom produced kharif crops — mainly paddy — for they stayed inundated during the kharif season (July to October/November). Of course, the region produced rabi crops — wheat and gram — but these crops seldom yielded profit for the farmers.

The distinguishing feature of sunflower farming is it is sown and harvested during the rabi season — November to June. Thus, the flooding never comes in the way of the farmers growing sunflower.

“We have not given up on paddy and gram production. But we limit sowing of paddy and gram to the family’s requirement. We use most of our lands for producing sunflower and even maize — another high yielding crop,” said Babban Singh, primarily a farmer who has opened a grocery shop on the road at Samda Chowk. “The profit from sunflower farming has led us to venture in business too,” said Babban.

The criteria to earn profit from sunflower farming is one must own adequate lands to do the farming. Obviously, the farmers who own adequate lands are fast turning prosperous because of the farming in sunflower. But the landless in the region remain as poor as they were. The fragrance-less flowers have hardly added aroma to the life of the landless villagers who too abound in the flood-ravaged Kosi and Seemanchal belt.