FIRST LOOK AT AJANALE
Ajanale (population approximately 5000) is a village in the hot and arid zone of Solapur. The blazing sun and rocky land characterize the landscape of this region. Aside from thorny bushes and that occasional yellow desert flower there is very little that meets the eye on the plains that forms Solapur. The transition from the neighbouring district Satara, where our teams were placed earlier, to Solapur was like walking from the mist into the hot sun. And yet, as we entered the village Ajanale we were greeted by long green patches of pomegranate shrubs. Small crimson flowers and round ruby fruits dotted the fields as our vehicle drove past the dusty village road. Several minutes off the main road our eyes finally met the village that was Ajanale, one of the most progressive villages in Solapur, especially known for its pomegranates.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE POMEGRANATE VILLAGE
The Gram Panchayat of the village Ajanale was established in 1951. Till 1972, the villagers were largely shepherds. Their main income came from the employment guarantee scheme implemented by the government then. In 1972, this village was selected for the scheme titled ‘Krushi Pandhari’. Under this scheme, certain select villages were given aid in agriculture by helping them conserve water. This was especially needed in a drought prone region like Solapur. Under this scheme, Ajanale saw the construction of several bunds and percolation tanks. “Paani Adwaa, Paani Jirava” (stop water, help water percolate) was the slogan to promote percolation of water in this dry region. This started the process of raising the water tables in this region.
|A Percolation Tank|
In 1997, the village also received the Adarsha Gaav Puraskar (Ideal Village Award). The criteria for the award were: an addiction free environment, clean village with appropriate water facilities for drinking as well as other uses, availability of basic primary health care facilities, implementation of most applicable government schemes, sophisticated farming practices, among others. In the early 1980s, the then Collector Ratnakar Gaikwad adopted the village for overall development. He promoted total sanitation of the villages by promoting and aiding the construction of toilets. The entire village land was levelled to aid cultivation and bunds were built in and around every farm free of cost so that water may stand in the farm area rather than flowing away from it. All of these efforts were to stop the burning of land in the summer sun and facilitating agriculture with a view to increase the yield of the farm lands.
Around the same time, in 1982, in the neighbouring village Ekhatpur, a farmer called Prabhakar Chandane experimented with pomegranates for the first time. He was in fact awarded the prestigious Krushi Bhushan title for it. In 1984, Rajaram Tukaram Patil and Dharmaraj Yelpale of Ajanale took up the cultivation of the Ganesh-7 variety of pomegranates. Although pomegranate requires less water, water was nevertheless a problem in this dry zone. There are no rivers in and around Ajanale. There are some streams that have found their way close to the village but these have water only during the monsoons. The percolation tanks had some water but not enough to aid the survival and quality fruiting of pomegranate trees. The water table was then and is even till date as low as 500 – 550 feet. Keeping this in mind, bore wells were dug in several places. But one of the most important and efficient technological know-how added to this effort was that of the drip irrigation system. These two farmers experimenting with pomegranate installed drip irrigation systems in 1985, becoming the first adopters of the drip system in the village. In 1985, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, focused the state agricultural schemes on promoting horticulture. Pomegranate farmers got 100% subsidy for the entire process of planting and growing the crop. There was 100% subsidy for even drip sets then. Between 1984 and 94, 50% of farming population started cultivating pomegranates. Today every family that has land cultivates pomegranate. Those without land work as labourers on pomegranate fields. So the entire village is dependent on pomegranate for their livelihood. Drip too arrived because of pomegranate. In short, pomegranates and adequate water management has led this village to prosperity.
Ajanale's land lacks soil. It has many rocks and pebbles that makes agriculture almost impossible.
|Land in Ajanale|
But the pomegranate tree is a thorny shrub that grows in the wild. It cannot grow in fertile soil. It needs rocky soil like that in Ajanale. More so, since it is a wild fruit and does not need a lot of water and nourishment, a drought prone area like Ajanale could grow this fruit. This clubbed with the fact that pomegranates fetched a lot of income in urban markets across the country added to the prosperity of the farmers of Ajanale. Thus, what was Ajanale’s weakness was converted to its strength. Today the case is such that out of the total village area of 3860 hectares, 1436 hectare area is under pomegranate cultivation. Although other crops like capsicum, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe and marigold are cultivated here, pomegranate is the main crop
A LITTLE ABOUT POMEGRANATES
|A Pomegranate Field|
A pomegranate sapling takes 2 years after its planting to bear fruits. A pomegranate tree bears fruit all year round. But the market for pomegranates does not last all year long. So the farmers nurture the tree such that it gives good quality fruits only from February to April. This process they call as ‘bhaar uchalne’ that literally means ‘lifting the burden’. After April, the arrival of the king of fruits, the mango the market rate for pomegranates drops. Hence, during this time, the farmers reduce the water supply to the pomegranate fields. They provide just enough water for survival. This goes on till August. With the arrival of August, the farmers spray the trees with a chemical that makes the leaves of the trees fall. They then chop the branches of the trees at the nodes and apply medicine at the wounds thus created. They then loosen the soil around the roots, apply manure, build small bunds around each tree and water the trees. Then by October the trees start sprouting new leaves. And after about 4 months, it starts bearing good quality fruits, although it depends on the variety of seeds used. As of today, 4 different varieties of pomegranates are cultivated here namely, Ganesh, Bhagva, Aarakta and Ruby. The Ganesh and Aarakta variety starts bearing fruit after 4.5 – 5 months of the sprouting of new leaves whereas the Bhagva and Ruby variety take around 6 – 7 months. One acre of pomegranate field that consists of about 300 trees can give about 7 – 10 ton of pomegranates fetching the farmer somewhere around Rs. 7 – 10 lakh annually. This too depends on the variety of the seeds. Ganesh variety, the best one available, gives around 20 tons per acre where as Bhagva gives a lesser average.
GROUP FARMING – A SOLUTION TO CROP DISEASE
Pomegranate is susceptible to the Bacterial Blight Disease (BBD) that the locals call telya due to the oil like spots that mark the onset of the disease. BBD spreads easily from one field to the other thanks to the airborne nature of the bacteria. The horticulture department of the government recommends group farming as a practice that reduces the incidence of these diseases and minimizes the damage. The slogan for the same is ‘Ek Bhaar, Ek Gaav’ i.e. ‘One burden (referred to in section POMEGRANATE), One village’. The farmers in Ajanale have started group farming of pomegranate about 2 years ago. This means that they use the same kind of fertilisers, pesticides and medicines. They even start spraying of the leaves-falling chemical together. Thus, the farmers of Ajanale get a similar quality in yield at the same time. The disease statistics too shows a positive turn. Although the neighbouring villages have all been affected by the disease in the past 2 years the crop failure going as high at 90%, they had 50% recovery in the first year and almost no incidence of the disease in the second.
WATER MANAGEMENT AND DRIP
Water is a major problem in the village. Although the Krushi Pandhari programme ensured water enough to bring land in the village under agriculture, the success of commercial farming was yet far away. With about 48 percolation tanks, 110 CC bunds (over farms) and 7 KT bunds (to stop water from streams and canals) in the village, water was still insufficient to use land available to its fullest capacity. People spent lakhs of rupees to bring water to the village from Maan river in Pandharpur about which is 35 – 40 kms away from Ajanale. The recurring cost of electricity was additional. That is when the concept of a farm pond entered the village. Today there are about 30-40 farm ponds in the village. These are private ponds and are not built under NREGA.
|A Farm Pond under construction|
|Completed Farm Pond|
The ponds are on an average 45 feet deep, 200 feet long and 180 feet wide. Each tank can store not less than 3 crore litres of water. This water can provide for 1500 trees (5 acres) for 6.5 months but through drip. The percolation tanks in the village help percolate water. This percolated water flows through various channels and rises up in wells during monsoon. The water from the wells is then pumped into these farm ponds. These ponds are lined with a kind of polythene fabric of 500 micron that stops the seepage of water into the soil. The quality of this fabric is a decisive factor in the success of the farm pond. Vijay Baburao Yelpale built the first farm pond in the village in the year 2000. It failed then because he used a fabric of 250 microns. But seeing the effort several others picked it up with great success. The first successful farm pond was built by Mohan Mahadev Karmude in 2002. The latest one is being constructed by Shivaji Dhondoba Yelpale. On an average the construction of a farm pond costs about Rs. 13 lakhs out of which Rs. 6 lakhs are for the polythene fabric alone. When the monsoons pass and the wells run dry, the water from the farm ponds is filled as required in the wells using a vacuum and gravity system that does not require electricity.
|The valve that turns the vaccuum and gravity system on|
If there is a leakage that needs to be fixed, it requires a person to dive into the water in scuba diving gear complete with an oxygen cylinder and mask, find the exact problem and fix it under water. This becomes a costly affair going over Rs. 10000. If at all there was to be a leakage in the fabric, the pond is constructed with a slight but definite slope. The leaked water will then flow to one end of the pond where a sieve is prepared using sand and gravel. The water seeps easily through this and passes through a pipe that leads to the well. Thus there is no loss because of leakage whatsoever. From the well then water is pumped through the drip pipes onto the field. With 14 LPH drippers, an acre of pomegranate field needs about 1.5 hours of watering everyday during the flowering and fruiting season and lesser otherwise. Thus, drip and water management have made cultivating pomegranates possible and pomegranates have made the people of Ajanale prosperous.
Women in the village are as active as the men are on the fields. Women of every landed household ride the scooter and are independent. They do their grocery shopping, drop and pick up children from the school and also work in the farm. They supervise all the labourers working on the farm. Aside from this, they take part in most social activities in the village and participate actively in most socio-political events.
ECONOMIC PROGRESS AT THE COST OF SOCIAL PROGRESS
Pomegranates and effective water management has made the farmers of Ajanale very rich. Each has a house in his own farm. Although water to the household is less, there is always water on the farm. The yield of pomegranates is very high. The quality too is superior. This is the reason why now they do not have to send their produce elsewhere, but the markets themselves come here. They get excellent rates for their produce from the comforts of their own farm house. In fact, marketing of pomegranate has become such a good business that several youth in the village have entered it. They not only produce pomegranates but also deal with markets outside and sell produce from several farmers in the village to urban markets. As business grows so does the employment opportunity within the village. Villagers do not shy away from hard work. Hence, landed and landless, alike, are rising up the socio-economic ladder gradually but definitively. Balasaheb Mahadev Yelpale, a farmer from the village, has been awarded the Sheti Nishta award by Government of Maharashtra. A few farmers from this village were invited to make a presentation on development of horticulture in World Bank conference held in Pune in 2010. They presented in Marathi which was then translated to English. Thus, there is every evidence of individual prosperity here. And the farmers arrive at a consensus that this is possible only because of effective water management and the drip system.
However, as a politically active and aware citizen and farmer, VBY was not very satisfied with the social development of the village. Solar street lights (JAIN Jyot) are seen in different locations in the village public places like the temple and the village square, which could be considered as an evidence of social responsibility and prosperity. These came out of the MLA fund of MLA Salunke Patil and not from the level of the village itself. Although VBY might sound a little cynical at first, as he shed more light on the issue, one realises he has given it a lot of thought. The following is in his words, verbatim:
“A village with very rich individuals has very poor social progress. This is because focus is on one own self. In 1972, Ajanale survived on Employment Guarantee Scheme. At that time, the entire village would come together for the smallest of things. Every village level problem was dealt with together. All were involved in protests and ceremonies alike. Today no one has the time to be actively involved in any of these things. The temple, the school, the college needs maintenance for which people have neither time nor the inclination. Yes, it is true that there is support for all activities in the village but only passively. Earlier there were fairs, yatras and wrestling competitions. People would come together for all this. Today however, the villagers are ready to contribute monetarily to all these activities but there is no one to actually organise them. Ajanale today lacks initiative. This is perhaps the negative side of economic prosperity.”
“Another drawback of this prosperity is that there are only a handful youngsters in the village who pursue education after higher secondary. Most come back to their farms, take up farming and enter into the business of agriculture. This is a bad thing and a good thing; bad because there is lack of educated youth in the village; and good because youngsters enter farming. There is almost zero out migration. Even the landless earn around Rs. 250 – 300 per day for working for 5 – 6 hours. Even those who have done graduation come back to farming. What they might earn in 3 years in a job they will earn in a year in agriculture. Also the living expenses are not that high in the village as compared to if they were working and living in a city. Educated people, no matter what degree they have pursued, have had some amount of government financial support at some level. And these same educated people leave the country and contribute to the development of another country. What does our country benefit from this? I would say then that what is happening in this village is much better than what is happening in cities. Every person present here has a secondary occupation. But the primary and main occupation that earns a living for their families is agriculture. In short all are progressive farmers, affluent by the strength of their own wrists and the sweat of their brow.”
PERSPECTIVE ON AGRICULTURE AND FARMERS
VBY was also very vocal about the paradigms towards agriculture and farmers:
“Stay where ever you want, but undermining a farmer and considering him inferior is a sin. This is a dry area and yet it has progressive farming. Ajanale is a proof to the fact that if a farmer gives up laziness and procrastination he will be prosperous. There is nothing that can stop him from rising up the social ladder if he makes those efforts. We also have cases of some farmers who have 100 acres of land and yet do not cultivate it to the fullest capacity. There are cactus and weeds all over the fields. This attitude does not earn farmers respect or recognition.”
“But it is important for the government also to recognise the risks involved in farming. If state level agricultural planning were to be done by Sharad Pawar, farmers would be in a much better position. We are here only because of him. (These were mostly supporters of the Nationalist Congress Party, members themselves.) (Sarcastically) If we study the histories of the Agriculture Ministers before Sharad Pawar we will know why farmers are in the conditions they are in now. The urban population is largely ignorant about rural realities. The media is to be blamed too. The journalists and readers of most newspapers are higher class people. They are not really bothered about the farmers. When the rates of onions went up the media created a great hue and cry about it. No one wrote about the farmers who were for once getting a decent price for their months of toiling in the hot sun. When the rates went down, no one wrote about it. No one wrote an article or had a discussion about how the fall in rates had affected the farmers. You researchers have been roaming in the sun in this village for 2 days and you are already tired of the heat. Our women toil in the sun for years together. Do you think the skin on their backs is scaled like that of a Komodo Dragon?! The temperature is very high. The cost of farming too is high. The risks involved are even higher. Fertilisers cost about Rs. 50,000 acre. Spraying of medicines for telya disease costs Rs. 10,000 per acre. And if the crop is destroyed, everything is destroyed. The farmer invests all that he has in his fields. If there is crop failure, he has nothing to fall back on. Nor does he have any capital to start all over again. (Sarcastically and cynically) The risk a person in service faces is limited to his salary arriving on the 6th of a month instead of the 5th. But Sharad Pawar knows the farmer of this country. He has given Rs. 45,000 grant against every acre of the pomegranate failure due to telya disease for every year since 2007. Farmers are about to rise up again after falling because of this grant.”
“Only 2 – 3 % of youngsters are highly educated. Others are not even graduates. Mandesh Education Society looks after all the education needs of the village. They have only recently started a college for higher secondary. But if there is any programme, lecture, workshop related to agriculture we all come together. If there is any workshop or talk on Israeli agricultural technology we ensure that we attend it. We like gathering more knowledge on agriculture. There are serious farmers in this village. A farmer learns most of what is taught in an agricultural diploma in his 1st year on the field. In that way, our farmers are well informed and experienced. Two farmers from the village, namely Rajaram Tukaram Patil Yelpe and Bapusaheb Yelpale, were sent on a tour of India to see all the different agricultural practices in the villages of the country. Along with the knowledge of farming, cattle is another wealth that the people of this village hold. 90% people of this village are also involved in the milk business. No one buys milk in this village. They get at least enough milk for their own consumption.”
On the day we bid our farewell to the village, we passed the ancient Shiva temple belonging to the Hindu orthodox Shaivite sect ‘Hemad’ in the village.
It is said that while Afzalkhan was on his way to meet Shivaji, the meeting where Shivaji was to take his life, he destroyed every temple that came in his way. This village is said to be in that path and this temple bears evidence to that destruction.
There was a mention of and an invitation to a fair that is setup in this village in the name of Lord Khandoba. It takes place in the Hindu month of Chaitra. All villagers come together for it. Preparations for the upcoming weekly Wednesday market had begun. We were fortunate enough to see this market on the day we arrived. As we left the village down the dusty rocky path, we witnessed the vast pomegranate fields on either side of the road in a new light. A massive land mass of rocks and pebbles where pomegranate was sown for the lack of options, and that converted Ajanale, the village of shepherds, into a rich village. We also saw Ajanale itself in a new light, as the village that converted its misfortunes into its greatest strengths.
INTERVIEWRS: Mayuri Utturkar, Ratndip GangaleNOTE-TAKER: Satish Ahire
1. VBY: Chairman, Solapur District Milk Federation
2. PSK: Member of Gram Panchayat
3. AMK: Deputy Sarpanch
4. SPY: Milk Businessman
5. Prof. HK: Head of Department in a Science Degree College in Sangola
6. SBY: Marketing of Agricultural Produce
7. VVK: Pomogranate merchant
8. SBY: President, Farmers’ Forum
9. BSP: MBA