The villages in Ramgarh block, district Alwar, Rajasthan, face a huge challenge – scarcity of water that can be attributed to a number of factors: a semi-arid region with low rainfall spread over a fewer number of days because of climate variations, increase in water salinity and depleting groundwater levels. Farmers cultivate crops such as cotton, wheat, mustard, onion, among others, owing to the good prices these fetch; however, these cash crops demand high irrigation resulting in a catch 22 situation.
One of the solutions lies in crop diversification that can sustain good revenue generation. Sehgal Foundation, an NGO, with focus areas on good rural governance, water management, and food security helps promote model orchards as a solution among farmers in the region.
Arvind Rana, programme leader, Agriculture Development, says, “Setting up model orchards is a workable solution. The foundation is promoting these actively. Now, one may ask, what, exactly, are these orchards? Often the challenge that farmers face is the intrusion of wild animals into their farmlands causing damage of crops. Hence, fencing is one of the pre-requisites of this concept. Secondly, we provide farmers high-quality saplings and with the help of effective irrigation systems like drip irrigation and fertigation, which is a combination of application of fertilisers along with irrigation.”
“Thirdly, farmer are informed on the newest agricultural methods through visits to Centres-of-Excellence in their immediate vicinity, which helps them acquire more knowledge and gain expertise through interaction with experts and fellow farmers. All these components intertwine to evolve the concept of a model orchard,” Rana adds.
The concept, introduced in July 2017, bear fruits by 2020. In the meantime, farmers are advised to cultivate high value root crops such as beetroot, carrots among others within the model orchard in order to ensure sustenance too.
Rameshwar Dayal, one of the farmers who has adopted the concept of model orchards, talking about his journey, says, “We all understand the importance of water management and sustainable agricultural methods. Against an initial investment of Rs 35,000 – 40,000 that is required for setting up a model orchard, the savings in terms of irrigation costs and the revenues generated thereafter have helped me think bigger. I now plan to allot another 1-2 bighas of land to orchard.”
The concept of model orchards may not necessarily be a new one, but it encompasses the essentials of cost-effectiveness, sustainability and ease of replication. All that is now required is generation of awareness, initial handholding during the set up and being on the top of new developments.
(Sarah Berry is the Communications and Media Consultant with SM Sehgal Foundation. The views expressed in the article are author’s own)