Organic farming not a hot potato, meet Nalanda man who set world record!

Rakesh Kumar now swears by organic farming — in three years, he has maximised yield and minimised input cost

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | February 20, 2013


Rakesh Kumar (in white shirt) stands between two scientists, along with other locals, on his farm after the crop was harvested on February 17
Rakesh Kumar (in white shirt) stands between two scientists, along with other locals, on his farm after the crop was harvested on February 17

If Rakesh Kumar is over the moon — and he has every reason to be, having just set the world record in per-hectare potato harvest — he does not show it. An unassuming man, the 35-year-old Nalanda resident smiles when you mention his record but for both Kumar and his family it’s not a new phenomenon. After all, he had set the world record only last year — that time for onion, having produced 660 quintals of it per hectare.

On Sunday, February 17, scientists from the Harnaut-based Krishi Vigyan Kendra and Horticulture College in Noorsarai oversaw the potato harvest at Kumar’s field in Sohdih village. It came to 108.8 tonnes, or 1,088 quintals per hectare. The figure was head and shoulder above fellow Nalanda resident Nitish Kumar’s yield in 2011-12. Nitish, a farmer from the district’s Darveshpura village, had produced 72.9 tonnes (729) quintals per hectare.

Having joined the family profession immediately after clearing Intermediate (or class XII), Rakesh Kumar did have his doubts in the initial years. But it all changed three years ago, when he took to organic farming. “Now I am getting better results each successive year,” he told Governance Now. “Organic farming has improved fertility of my land.”

Having invested in new techniques to gain maximum yield, Kumar said he could achieve this new milestone with the help of eco-friendly vermin-compost, poultry manure, organic manure and biozymes. Bio-pesticides like Trichodermas and pseudomonas was used to treat potato seeds to save it from harmful fungus, as also because “this technique makes seed healthier and more productive”.

While swearing by organic farming, Kumar also used chemical fertilisers like NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). “The idea is to provide nutrients to soil. We advise farmers who have adopted organic method to use a little amount of chemical fertilisers like  NPK for soil management.  Using 1 kg NPK per katha (approximately 1,300 square feet), however, does not mean farming is not organic,” said Dr Vijay Agrawal, scientist and horticulturist from Krishi Vikas Kendra at Harnaut, Nalanda.

"Foliar spray is the most important part of organic farming, as most pesticides and insecticides are dangerous and harmful and leave residual effect as well. They eventually are a great health risk for humans,” Dr NK Singh, a Nalanda-based scientist expertising in plant protection, said.

Rakesh Kumar said he used Azadirectin, a product of neem, which acts as insect repellent.

"Azadirectin, trichodermas and pseudomonas (the latter used as used as foliar spray) are used as bio-pesticides, and Rakesh used them judiciously,” plant breeding scientist Dr Anand Kumar said.

"In the 1990s we used to produce 400 quintal per hectare with chemical fertilisers, and yield, too, was decreasing every year,” Kumar said. “It was a disturbing trend — we all started using chemical fertilisers and harmful chemical insecticides and pesticides in abundance with the hope to increase yield.”

Three years ago, he said, some farmers in Nalanda, including him, took up organic farming with scepticism — “we had no faith in the district agriculture department's advice — but were surprised by the yield. “As the harvest increased, with lesser investment in organic manure, so did our confidence and belief in the department’s advice for organic farming,” he said.

DN Mahto, the district horticulture officer, said it was not easy to convince villagers about the benefits of organic farming. “They were not ready to listen to us; some even abused us. But a few, like Rakesh, half-heartily trusted us and started it on 15 acres,” he said.

Kumar said organic farming increases shelf-life of vegetable crops like potatoes and onions. “Earlier, we had to eliminate rotten potatoes every month to save the rest of the crop. But organic potatoes can be kept in godowns for five to six months without any extra care on storage. Thus, we save storage fare of Rs 5 per kilogram since we do not have to rush to cold storages.

Kumar was also astute, having applied the high-density methodology in his farm, Purushottam Kumar, a technical assistant with the agriculture department, said. now a ideal among small marginal farmers as he has.

“Normally, seedlings of potatoes are sown in a line, with a few inches left between two rows for better irrigation. But Rakesh used this vac cant space as well; no wonder he had a record yield,” Purushottam Kumar said.

Nalanda has emerged a new trendsetter in farming, as farmers like Sumant Kumar has created a world record in paddy, producing 224 quintals per hectare and overtaken Krishna Kumar, also of Nalanda. Others like Surendra Prasad and Janardan Ram have also created a national record in wheat production.

But for Rakesh Kumar, the journey has just begun. He now plans to spread the lessons he learnt the hard way to others in the district by teaching them the benefits and nuances of organic farming.

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