Raising farm income through pigeon pea

Arhar or toor dal cultivation is now a profitable venture in Jharkhand across 12 districts, thanks to the adoption of crop intensification methods to increase yields, writes DEEPANWITA GITA NIYOGI

Shanti Devi, aged 26, has 60 decimals of land on which she grows paddy, arhar or toor dal and maize. Devi is also a krishi mitra or farmer’s friend helping other farmers in Mukka village, which is in Latehar district of Jharkhand.

“Krishi mitras help farmers who grow paddy, arhar and vegetables. Sometimes people like us show demonstrations in the field. Earlier, cultivators used to sell unprocessed arhar crop right after the harvest outside the village but failed to make good profit. Now, there is a processing machine to help women farmers instead of the traditional jatta mainly used to process millets which takes a lot of time,” Shanti Devi said.

Another farmer, Somari Devi (35), said most farmers in the village are from the Oraon tribal community. She pointed out that the machine does the processing quickly than the jatta and the task becomes less arduous. As a result, people have taken to arhar consumption in the village in a big way now cultivated scientifically. Farmers from other nearby villages also use the processing machine. Most of them have lands ranging from 50 decimals to three acres.

Arhar is a kharif crop sown in June. Cultivated in the traditional way, the yield is three quintals per acre in Jharkhand. But with the pigeon pea crop intensification system in place since 2017 in Latehar, the yield has touched nine quintals per acre. This has been brought about by global development organisation Digital Green, along with the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) which comes under the state government’s rural development department.

“Both Digital Green and JSLPS planned to work on the value chain approach. We identified some crops and one of them was pigeon pea. Another crop identified was potato. We piloted with about 700 farmers in Latehar in 2017 and reported 300 percent yield increase as compared to the traditional method of growing arhar. As earlier farmers never got good yields, they never considered arhar a priority crop,” Ritesh Kumar, deputy programme manager at Digital Green based in Ranchi, said.

Scaling up arhar cultivation

After initial success, the pigeon pea initiative was scaled up to include about 12,000 farmers in the second year. In the kharif season of 2020, 41,000 farmers were covered in Jharkhand. This year, the target is 50,000 farmers. Processing units were set up for the benefit of communities, and mostly women farmers, as part of the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP), under the Centre’s National Rural Livelihood Mission.

According to Kumar, as part of crop intensification, seeds are treated with bio fungicides like Trichoderma and Rhizobium.  “Two other highlights include line sowing with intercropping and nipping or removing the upper part of the plant twice, once after a month after sowing and then after two months. This results in branching out of the plant. These practices were not followed earlier,” he added.

Shanti Devi admitted that farmers started getting more yields by following all these methods. Before their adoption, we somehow used to cultivate arhar and the yield was not satisfactory.

Farmers like Barti Devi, Jaso Devi and Jeeto Devi take care to maintain distance in line sowing and keep a gap of one metre between two plants. They all agreed that it helps to grow other crops like potato and garlic and the pigeon pea plants spread out well. The nipping is done usually with scissors or a blade. “As arhar is full of protein, all of us eat it regularly. Farmers usually get yields ranging from 50 kg to 200 kg. Each branch yields about 2 kg of the crop,” one of them said.

Why pigeon pea?

Pigeon pea is a climate-resilient crop and needs less water compared to other crops. As it is known to withstand drought too to an extent, it was promoted along with paddy. In Jharkhand, paddy is the top priority among Jharkhand farmers. However, arhar is a long duration crop ranging from seven to nine months depending on the variety.

Kamal Jaiswal, technical support officer, sustainable agriculture, JSLPS, said arhar cultivation has been scaled up in 12 out of 24 districts of the state. “In the second year six districts were covered and later 28 blocks across 12 districts were targeted. Besides Latehar, Ramgarh, Ranchi, Giridih, Simdega, West Singhbhum and Hazaribagh are some of the districts where arhar cultivation has been promoted,” he added. Jaiswal pointed out that as part of MKSP, value chain intervention was started and a few crops like tamarind, potato, oilseeds and arhar were selected.

Arhar was taken into consideration after taking into account the rainfall pattern and topography of Jharkhand. “All our community cadres are women. Even after the success, we found that farmers were not consuming arhar. So, we brought technology at the field level and launched processing machines. “The first machine was established in Latehar. Women started processing arhar, took to its consumption and sold off the excess. Raw toor dal stands at Rs 50 per kg right after the harvest. After processing, it is anywhere between Rs 75-100 per kg in the market,” Jaiswal added.

“About 78 farmer producer groups buy arhar from farmers. These groups have registered under the Latehar

Krishi Farmer Producer Company

Limited having 4,500 members. Thus, arhar farmers are saving precious time as well as money which they earlier spent in going to the market some eight km away,” Ankit Kumar, block programme officer in Latehar Sadar block, JSLPS, said.

The year 2016 was the International Year of Pulses. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared that pulses can play an important role in nutrition and food security and their by-products like husk can be used as cattle feed.