Pointing towards an old dilapidated house, Dharma Singh Rana tells me that he has spent his entire childhood and adulthood under that thatched roof. He vividly remembers that his house was devoid of basic necessities like electricity, drinking water and sanitation facility. But now beaming with confidence he exclaims how his perseverance has led to the construction of his new and big concrete house which has all the basic facilities. Being an illiterate himself, Dharam Sing sent his two sons to an English medium school, he has a personal vehicle and a sustainable saving to meet his future expenses. Similar to Mr Rana, there are many alike him in his village who have seen a drastic transformation in their lives during last decade. But more than the growth, there is an intriguing and unheard journey behind these success stories, which for many can be highly inspirational.
Tucked at the remotest corner of Naugaon block of Uttarkashi district, Naini village is a testimony of unravelling agricultural potentials in hilly terrains. Endowed with rich natural resources and soothing climate, Naini is a small village of progressive farmers located at 2 km from Naugaon main market and takes around 15 minutes of drive. Moving from a subsistence level to market, the villagers have defied all the old stereotypes which fostered the belief that agriculture is a complete failure and non-profitable in the hilly terrains. For farmers in Naini, agriculture has become the main source of earning in this village. It has transformed their living style.
But just a decade back these farmers had a different story to tell. They were living in their ancestral houses, agriculture was practised to nourish themselves and their families. On daily basis, the locals traversed long distances just to look for odd jobs to earn a living. Most of them seasonally migrated to cities and town, when there were no agricultural activities in the village. Generally, the villagers were indulged in odd menial works. Discouraged with area’s backwardness and unavailability of basic amenities, some of the families permanently settled in cities. For education, the locals were dependent on regional government-run schools which were located at a fair distance from the village. These schools had a severe dearth of quality teachers. Pankaj, a young man in his twenties recalls that “School main koi padai nahi hoti thi. Teachers ate hi nahi the school. Ek teacher 100 bacche padha raha hota tha. Kon padhta aisi jagah, isse badiya admi do char rupaye hi kama le”.
In the early 2000’s Himalayan Action Research Centre (HARC), a voluntary organisation choose Naini as a part of their project. HARC scripted an entirely new chapter in the history of Naini. Initially, in their intervention, they tried to organise the community meetings to raise awareness about the potential of agriculture profitability in their region. With no prior experience in this region, they met with resistance from local people. Initially, it was difficult for the locals to trust this new organisation, hence very few actually paid attention to these meetings. But with the persistence of HARC and its volunteers, they managed to persuade the local community. Thereafter the HARC embarked onto the next level in which many pieces of training were organised over certain intervals to enhance the agricultural skills of the farmers. The farmers began responding to the calls of HARC and frequent meetings were organised to disseminate information to empower farmer.
To develop a cash crop in the region, HARC promoted tomato. Naini had the perfect climate and resources for tomato farming. Within few years people began reaping benefits from their hard work and dedication. Even though the tomato production was increasing every year but still the farmers lacked a good market linkage to sell their products. HARC once again intervened and encouraged the local farmers to form a big federation, which increased their collective negotiation power. Further with expertise from HARC, the federation started supplying tomatoes to Mother Dairy, New Delhi. Mother Dairy saved the transportation cost of farmers and provided door step service to the farmers. Apart from Mother Dairy, the product is being sold at Roorkee, Saharanpur and New Delhi Mandi.
Over the years the farmers have had a profitable return from tomato farming. To increase their profit, the farmers have started diversifying their crops. They are now growing other cash crops like capsicum, ginger, cabbage, brinjal and pea. With constant support from HARC till date, the farmers have been encouraged to further diversify their sources of earning. They have been encouraged to practice floriculture (growing flowers) and increase fruit plantation of Apple, Pomegranate, Apricot and other wild fruits.
With such a diversified income sources, the lifestyle of the villagers have increased in the recent years. The younger generation now have access to modern gadgets, quality education and conveyance facility at their doorstep. There is nothing that these people wish and don’t get. The years of dedication locked in the form of savings in their banks speaks volumes for their prosperity. Due to the strong financial endorsement, the younger generation is moving out for higher education to cities. Some of these farmers have started setting up non-farm businesses like tourist cottages, confectioneries, transportation business etc. All credit goes to their high yielding farm activities.
As it is famously said that development comes at a cost. The villagers of Naini have also paid their fair share. The use of chemical fertilisers for increasing the crop yield especially for tomatoes have started haunting the villagers. The land which once incubated high yields is now confronting with the threat of turning barren and infertile. To further aggravate their problem, the climate change is posing a great danger to their crops. The unpredictable rainfall and frequent hailstorms are doing a dreadful damage. Though the village is not facing any immediate threat of water scarcity but if no proper measures will be taken then it can become a major issue.
Maybe the challenges are real scary but the determination of the local villagers deserves a big salute. To prevent grave consequences of climate change, the farmers have started experimenting with the climate resilient farming. In association with HARC team, the farmers have turned the game in their favour by harnessing the change in climate to their benefit. Now they are planting water resistance crops and other crops which were earlier not conducive in the region due to low temperature.
The aforementioned case contradicts the common notion in the hills about agriculture, which considers agriculture as a curse and liability on a farmer. The villagers of Naini have turned this curse into bliss and have proved that you only need to start and keep your head strong for the hurdles that you’ll encounter along the way, as they will teach you a million of lessons and once you learn from your mistakes, you’ll surely prosper.
Note: This article is written by Rajendra Singh Bisht