The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge. A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things. - E. F. Schumacher
When I heard about UP's Rampur district, during my first meeting with Read India I was curious to know more about the place which remains in the news for many reasons. Starting from political melodrama to poverty, this district has always been in lime light. The recent development related to Rampur Town, which was selected from the 13 other cities of Uttar Pradesh for the Smart City project, increased my curiosity to know more about the agricultural development in the district as I had heard that most of the people here do farming.
I was going to visit few villages where a UK based charity organisation had launched a pilot project called Practical Answers providing knowledge based service.
We crossed wide spread green fields on both the sides which was an evidence of agricultural improvement in this part of the country after we started off from Delhi. Our companion Shivam from the Read India, an NGO which works with the farmers closely and implements the work of Practical Answers in Rampur, told us that people are keener on agriculture oriented in Rampur and nearby areas. He also mentioned that these places are way too fertile and 2-3 crops are possible in one year in many places. It took around four and half hours from CR Park, Delhi to Rampur covering a distance of 206 km. While thinking about agricultural innovations and the importance of farming as well as the current scenario of the adverse condition of farmers, it reminded me the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi "Of course the farmer is the father of the world. But it is his greatness that he is not aware of the fact."
After we reached Rampur we first went to the village of Aliganj-Benejir and the local field coordinator from Read India Anoop Singh was our escort. The roads were wide and clean. It seemed as if it's a proper planned town and we were heading towards our first destination. It was just 7 Km from the district headquarters on the main road which was well built with cement and concrete we reached the village where villagers were waiting anxiously. We held the meeting on a verandah. By the time we started the discussion there were 15 odd young farmers plus a few elderly people who seemed to have just come back from the field. It was too hot and sweaty, however I was feeling sorry for them as the meeting timing was not very convenient.
We were welcomed with water and later hot samosas were served to everyone and I had two of them. My colleague Arun started discussing some issues with them and I was listening silently as I had very little idea about the project. But what I learned from the discussion made me quite positive and also started joining in. The best part of the village was, many young and mid aged people are keen on farming and they were well informed about a lot of technological advancements and quite outspoken during discussion.
To my surprise, when they shared, I got to know that before Practical Answers started working through Read India, villagers were short of information on good practice. Be it farming or fertilizers or use of pesticides or taking care of livestock it was the local shopkeeper and his little knowledge which they used to rely on. He used to suggest medicine and other things which were expensive and not very effective, shared Sonu Tomar, 28 year old farmer who has been a beneficiary of Kisan Gyan Seva (Practical Answer's knowledge service) through mobile vani (A service where farmers get their queries answered with an auto answered phone call). He also shared their helplessness before this knowledge sharing service. Earlier they were dependent on the so called local experts who are primarily the shopkeepers for any assistance in terms of farming or issues they face in the farming. The remedies suggested by these shopkeepers were expensive or not much effective which he realized only later after having benefited by the service.
Similarly Brijesh Kumar Gupta, another energetic young man from the crowd started sharing his story. He hailed from the nearby village of Singham Kheda. Most of the people in his village were having issues which were never solved permanently. They had no access to expert service and hence, farming was not much profitable in comparison to current scenario.
Our field coordinator Anoop, who is from Aligunj, shared that, under this Kishan Gyan Seva, the local agricultural scientist has been suggesting and answering regular queries by the people. Many of the queries related to pest management, which led to changing practice in the project area, resulting in a decrease of crop diseases, and thereby increasing the production and productivity. According to Anoop there have been lot of queries coming up from the field which are not recurring in nature and which Kisan Gyan Seva has effectively answered. This way of answering the practical problems has made their lives better and have attributed to financial benefit to local farmers.
After the meeting when I returned to Read India's centre which was in the city, I saw a full page advertisement on a front page of a national newspaper which was about the manifold developmental activities in the state by the government. While looking at the news I was very apprehensive about Aligunj-Benejir and other villages, despite being on the main road of the city, these villages hardly get 2-3 hours electricity in a day. But the only satisfaction was, though we have systems like Krishi Vigyan Kendra which are defunct in most of the areas, these kinds of Kishan Gyan Seva has become a saviour for such farmers. This has resulted in checking the migration of young energetic guys from their native.