Muktamani Sinku, a resident of Iligara village in Hatgamharia block of Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, started a mango orchard on a 50-decimal (half an acre) plot of land during the peak monsoon months of July-August this year. Sinku, who got the saplings free of cost from the block level, said growing mangoes will ensure extra income.
“I used to grow paddy in a separate plot of land about a km away, but decided to try my hand at horticulture this time. As the mango saplings will take four to five years to bear fruits, I have carried out intercropping with tomatoes and cauliflowers to earn money in the meantime,” Sinku said. She is planning to increase the number of mango saplings next year under the Birsa Harit Gram Yojana, a five-year programme launched in the financial year 2020-21.
Another farmer, Parmila Sinku from Jairpi village, took up mango cultivation in 2018-19 on one acre of land with 112 saplings under another previous initiative, the Birsa Munda Aam Bagwani Yojana. “I used to grow urad (black gram) before, but it failed to give adequate yields after being eaten up by stray cattle,” she said.
Sagar Manjhi, who works as a consultant for non-profit PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) said that the organisation is giving technical support to farmers on
orchards. Along with mango cultivation, our workers are making farmers aware about the benefits of intercropping. Observation and learning point out that intercropping helps in better monitoring of mango saplings as farmers have to take care of vegetables grown as intercrops periodically, says Hasan Adib Khan, Pradan’s project executive based in West Singhbhum.
Intercropping was not mandatory when mango cultivation started in 2017 to augment farmers’ income, but the practice helps them earn anything between 900-1000 only for vegetables grown on one decimal plot of land. “Farmers are asked to do intercropping on 25-30 decimals. MGNREGA guidelines mandate only one acre per beneficiary for intercropping with mangoes and 30-40 decimals can be intercropped,” Khan explained.
Convergence with MGNREGA
The state-wide Birsa Harit Gram Yojana, which aims to achieve long-term sustainable development in all the 24 districts of Jharkhand, has been converged with MGNREGA. Arvind Kumar, assistant project officer for MGNREGA based in Chaibasa, the district headquarters of West Singhbhum, said the state government launched the programme with the help of the rural development department. In West Singhbhum, orchard activity along with timber plantation took place on 3,277.34 acres. For unskilled labour activities on the farms like pit digging, fencing, contour trenches and the creation of farm ponds, MGNREGA wages will be paid to labourers holding job cards.
“We distributed mango varieties like Amrapali and Mallika and guava saplings as well as timber saplings like Sal, Sheesham and Mahogany through funds available under MGNREGA. An acre of land supports 112 mango and guava saplings. On the border, we have advised the planting of 80 timber plants, which will act as wind breakers. So, in total there are 192 plants,” Kumar explained.
To monitor the orchard activity, bagwani mitras or those in charge of monitoring the orchards have been appointed. One such mitra has to look after five acres and will be also entitled to 194 as per day wage. Bagwani mitra Uday Chakamba from Kuira village in Hatgamharia block said that he oversees the digging work. For this work, Chakamba has been imparted training at the block level.
Another bagwani mitra from Jaipur panchayat in Hatgamharia, Babita Gope, said after a committee was set up at the district and the block levels, a few people like her were called from the village and asked if they wanted to monitor the orchard activity. “After my selection this year, I was told to look after the entire work. In Hatgamharia there are 248 farmer beneficiaries, and in Jaipur panchayat, there are 28 farmers covering 25 acres of land. If we do not go and oversee the work, farmers do not pay attention. We have been told to work for 20 days,” Gope added.
MGNREGA mate from Bindisai village of Hatgamharia, Gita Birua, said daily monitoring is mandatory as part of the orchard activity. The mate’s responsibility is to arrange for labourers holding job cards. Under the five-year plan, the total estimated cost for mango plantation stands at 359,000 per farmer per acre out of which the total estimate for unskilled labour is 262,094.
Farmer Ramesh Koda was inspired to grow mangoes after a visit to Gujarat where he witnessed orchards in hilly upland areas. He is a resident of Silphodi village panchayat in West Singhbhum’s Chakradharpur block. “I approached the gram sabha about wanting to grow mangoes and it consented. I had planted 136 mango saplings in 2017 and have sold fruits worth 8 quintals at 50 per kg. Now, I am doing it along with my brothers on three acres this year and planted 336 saplings. Before growing mangoes, Koda used to work as a migrant labourer in Mumbai. He admitted that even a few years earlier, migration was high.
Shishir Kumar Sahoo, team coordinator, PRADAN, said the MGNREGA cell is making payments for earthworks prioritised by the Centre and finalised by the state government. “Many farmers who planted in 2017 have sold fruits worth 50,000 to 70,000,” he said. West Singhbhum has seen a huge scale up and from just 147 farmers in the 2019-20 financial year, the number has gone up to 3,733 farmers in 2020-21. This year, every block has been covered. Last year, only four blocks were targeted.
Sanjeeb Kumar Sahoo, PRADAN executive, said mangoes grown on just 50 decimals of land give lucrative remuneration to farmers and help create alternative livelihood opportunities. “Earlier, it was being done with support from NABARD. There was a deficit of mangoes in Jharkhand and it used to get supplies from Bihar. After we thought of scaling up the activity, the MGNREGA staff had to be convinced.”
The state is well suited to grow mangoes. There are lots of uplands with slopes which are being left barren by farmers as they are more interested in paddy and gram. Due to the lack of interest in horticulture and cash crops, a lot of orientation happened to make farmers agree to it, said Tarak Nath Das, a PRADAN executive. Interventions mostly happened in upland areas with the creation if water bodies like jalkunds, which can hold 4,000 litres of water at a time. Currently, the number of farmers stand at 30,023 across Jharkhand in 2020-21 and the land area covered is 26,073 acres.