Fruits of success
Three young men took the risk of growing papayas, only to become path-breakers for many farmers in Assam’s Kamrup district
Thirty-seven-year-old Krishna Boro could be easily called the pioneer. The young farmer, in 2010, switched over to cultivating papaya in a small portion of his land, replacing other vegetables that he had been growing. The results were thrilling...a return of Rs 80,000 in two years from a piece of land that was just a quarter of an acre.
Two other farmers, 36-year-old Rajkumar Rabha and 30-year-old Rajib Boro, joined in to reap the benefits. As Krishna Boro looked to expanding his papaya cultivation, the other two also helped out in looking for land.
Today, the trio grow the fruit in an eight-acre plot at Bhogdabari near Boko in Assam’s Kamrup district. They have so far earned Rs 10 lakh from the sales of papaya from two and half acres of their leased land.
“We expect to get Rs 3 lakh more within three months from the same two and a half acre plot,” says Krishna Boro. Their profit margin will be Rs 8 lakh after excluding the input costs of Rs 4 lakh. Their bank accounts will grow even more once they start growing papaya on the remaining four and a half acres of land in November-December this year.
The farmers plant around 400 saplings in each half acre of land using scientific methods. The results that the three adventurous farmers got has inspired at least 100 more growers in the region. “We are happy with the yield and its returns. But we are much happier that we have motivated other farmers in Boko," says Boro.
There's good reason farmers are turning to growing papaya. The high breed varieties of the papaya they cultivate are the Red Lady (Taiwanese) and Swapna. A single plant of these varieties produces 20 to 40 kg and they sell a kilo of ripe papaya for Rs 40.
Upbeat over the produce, the farmers have decided to extend the area of papaya farming to more than 12 bigha (6.7 bigha equals one hectare). They say that the demand for the fruit is so much that farmers are having a difficult time meeting the requirements. In quick turn, they are now preparing the seed beds and readying it to plant saplings.
So high the demand is that they don’t even need not go to the market to sell their produce. They claim bulk buyers, including women from Guwahati, are coming in hordes to their farms. Buyers from various parts of Lower Assam, are arriving to procure the fruit. “Our farming camp has virtually become a marketing hub. We are sorry many had to return empty handed," says Rabha.
The rising demand for papaya is good for farmers. Despite being perishable in nature, they hardly suffer any post harvesting loss because of the timely arrival of the buyers. If there is one negative aspect, it is that buyers are unwilling to believe that the fruit for sale is naturally ripen. They are suspicious chemicals were used to ripen the papaya. They prefer selling the fruits at the ripening stage to raw fruits because of the price factor. One kg of raw fruits fetches them Rs 10 while the same amount of ripe fruits get them Rs 40.
But that’s the flip side of the success story. For the farmers of Boko, papaya is bringing them their first riches since the year 2000. They tried their hands at other fruits and vegetables, like strawberry, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin and even banana of the famous Malbhog variety but it was papaya farming that has worked out the best for them.
A visit to the cultivation area shows that the farmers have learnt the technique to get the best results from papaya cultivation. Poly sheets are used to maintain the moisture content of the soil. They, however, urgently need drip irrigation facility for uniform distribution of water to every planted material during the lean season. Water is not a problem but between December and February, there is scarcity, they say. So they pumped out water to tide over the crisis.
The State Government too is now helping out. Nawab Indad Ali, District Agriculture Officer of Kamrup, says a proposal for drip irrigation has already been submitted. The department is also trying to establish marketing linkages. Farmers in Kamrup will soon be linked to the Farmers Producer Organisation. Three Farmers Producers Organisations have already been set up -- for pineapple at Boko, orange at Sonapur and for flowers at Hazo. “Now, with the extension of area under papaya cultivation to three villages, the FPO for papaya will be set up at Boko,” says Ali.
The FPOs, an initiative of the Union Ministry of Agriculture to promote and strengthen member-based institution of farmers, help in supply of inputs like seed, fertiliser, machinery and training, networking, financial and technical advice.
It’s only going to get better for the farmers of Kamrup. For people like Dhananjay Rajkumar Rabha, who tried for six years to get a government job, papaya cultivation has come as a boon. There are many more like Rabha who have benefited.
Christopher Columbus called papaya “the fruit of angles.” It surely has become “the fruit of success” for the farmers of Kamrup.
Photo and text - Kishore Talukdar
(Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )