Digitisation set to change farmers’ life

Suhendra Sahu

When most parts of western Odisha continue to reel under extensive crop loss triggered by massive pest attack shooting up farmer suicide cases, a youth of Bargarh district has decided to take on the menace riding the wave of digitisation.

The confidence exuded by 23-year-old Subhedra Sahu, a resident of sleepy Nileswar villager, is infectious. He attributes his success to Reliance foundation Information Services (RFIS) and expects a bumper harvest this kharif season despite erratic monsoon rains.

Sahu, now known as a success story, at the beginning had no option but to wind up his studies at the age of 17 and take to farming to meet his father’s medical expenses who was suffering from heart ailment. At that time it was difficult to arrange a square meal each day for his family members, said the agriculture entrepreneur recalling his dark days.

Subhendra said cultivation never caught his fancy to begin with even as it was his family occupation. “But gradually it turned out to be a passion for me with passage of time,” said Sahu.

He has seen many lows with the harvest getting adversely affected by crop damage, pest menace and of course natural calamities like flood and drought like situations. But Sahu remained undeterred and decided to hang on.

It is during Dhanu Yatra, the world’s biggest open air theatre festival, in 2015, he stumbled upon Reliance Foundation toll-free helpline number (1800-419-8800) and registered his name with RFIS for voice SMS to get a firsthand knowledge on hi-tech farming methods of paddy and other vegetables.

With making regular calls on the toll-free helpline number, he could get all required information from the experts on proper application of fertilizer and pest management of paddy and advanced cultivation technologies.

It is not only the poor knowledge on use of fertilisers and pest control, the young cultivators today face a host of other challenges also, observed Sahu.

For instance, shortage of skilled farm hands has turned out to be the biggest problem for a present day farmer.

Here the RFIS services come in handy as most farmers cannot afford to replace farm hands with the advanced farming tools, feels Sahu.

RFIS is extremely helpful in keeping the farmers updated about crop insurance related to Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), direct benefit transfer (DBT), fertilizer, pesticide and seed availability and subsidies available for procurement of farm equipment like power tillers and tractors.

Sahu has managed to buy a paddy weeder machine recently with Government subsidy. “The toll-free helpline number that remains accessible between 9.30 am and 7.30 pm and the Jio chat channel that displays advanced farming technology and pest and disease control methods in multimedia form are of immense help to the enthusiastic farmers.

I connect to the experts in toll free number every alternate day, and watch the video module of applying fertilisers, pesticides and other farming technologies using Jio chat,” he added.

The young farmer pitched for using organic fertiliser and pesticides like neem oil to control pests in crops. “Neem oil is not only cost-effective, it is free of toxins too,” he added.

Sahu was growing only paddy earlier but now he cultivates multiple food grains and vegetables thanks to proper mentoring and information obtained from the digital platform.

His paddy production has saw 1.5 times growth against what produced earlier by his predecessors. He also grows brinjal, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, lady’s finger and marigold from the same patch of land (3.5 acres) which was earlier used only for paddy cultivation.

Sahu observes that youth these days are averse to farming as they face multiple hurdles in getting proper mentoring and guidance. They need to be informed about various technologies of farming for a better yield.

The knowledge on wheel programme and multi- location audio/video conference programme to manage soil health by the Reliance Foundation can go a long way in bridging the information gap, the youth are facing currently, according to him.

Last year, his kharif paddy production saw a rise from 67.5 quintal to 90 quintal while rabi production shot up from 86.25 quintals to 110.25 quintals. Thus he got an additional earning of total Rs.72,075 last year. Also he earned an additional Rs. 1, 900 from bottle gourd farming.

“I am so happy that I am now able to look after my ailing father besides meeting all the needs of my family. This year, I have been able to construct a 3- room pucca house with a toilet from additional income,” an elated Sahu said.

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