The fortune of farmers in Paliganj block, around 65km northwest of Patna, has changed over the past 10 years with increased yield and some valuable advice from APJ Abdul Kalam.
One of them, Alok Kumar, has installed a direct-to-home satellite service for his 57-inch TV, moves around in an SUV and sends his children to school in Patna. Till about 10 years back, the 47-year-old resident of Pipardaha village spread 6,400kg paddy seeds on his one-hectare land. Now, cultivating 2,400kg seeds on the same land Alok has achieved three times more yield. Thanks to Kalam's tips on scientific farming and cultivating cash crops in the off-season, he is bringing home more profit.
Balmiki Sharma, the secretary of Paliganj farmer distributor committee, said: "I was looking after the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (Tifac) project in Paliganj around 2001. The council was researching scientific farming in the block to implement Kalam's 'Vision 2020'. On May 30, 2003, then President Kalam visited the block and realised we were involved in traditional farming of paddy, wheat and mustard. He called six of us (farmers) to New Delhi in June that year and advised us to start producing cash crops in the off-season."
Kalam advised the farmers to cultivate cash crops such as Japanese mint, lemongrass, java citronella and basil.
He also told them how to leave space between two crops, use less fertiliser and urea for healthy crops, said Sharma.
Although, the then President's tips took time to percolate down to the farmers in the region, now at least 15,000 of them are involved in scientific farming in the block.
Karbinder Kumar of Ejada village in the block said: "Cultivation of cash crops is beneficial compared to traditional foodgrain. Lemongrass, used for used for making soap and shampoo, is sold for Rs 500 to Rs 700 a kg, while java citronella oil that is used for making mosquito coils is sold at Rs 700 a kg. Japanese mint is sold for Rs 1,500 a kg. When I started cultivating cash crops, the other farmers used to tell me I was wasting my time. But with time, my income has increased by three folds and I have bought two tractors."
Chandra Shekhar Sharma, another farmer in Bhagjoga village, has bought a motorbike with his increased profit. He said: "My living standard has changed with scientific farming. I also have annual savings of Rs 1 lakh. All of this has happened because of the tips given by Kalam Sir."
Agriculture minister Narendra Singh told The Telegraph: "Our government is doing a lot of work in the agriculture sector. We are the ones who invited Kalam to Bihar and I am happy that the farmers found his tips useful."