Trellis cultivation catches Bastar farmers’ fancy

Several farmers in Darbha block of the district are growing creeper vegetables by building machans with wood and wires. The farmers who have taken up the trellis method of vegetable cultivation are finding it a profitable venture, writes Deepanwita Gita Niyogi

The tribal village of Madarkonta in southern Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district has earned popularity both in tourism as well as agriculture. Several residents here have taken up the trellis method of vegetable cultivation in a big way, attracting farmers from nearby villages wishing to learn this unique method.

Last month, about 1,500 women farmers belonging to the Tirathdhara Mahila Krishak Utpadak Samuh, an agriculture production cluster based in Darbha block of Bastar, arrived in Madarkonata on an exposure visit to learn how creeper plants like bitter gourd, sem and barbati (long bean) were being grown by farmers supported on vertical wooden poles tied together by iron wires.

As the women queued up near the trellis structure of Sanku Ram, the latter explained to them about the method. In 2020, Ram had earned up to a lakh by selling vegetables in the nearby local market. This year during monsoon, he again turned to the trellis method for profit and set up his structure in June.

“The trellis system assures me of high productivity in creeper vegetable cultivation such as bitter gourd. Others in my village have also taken it up. Just before the onset of monsoon, I spent Rs 20,000 on making the structure. I have already recovered the amount through selling my produce in July and August. I sold off a huge quantity of bitter gourd in the local haat (rural market),” Ram said.

The farmer in mid 30s, whose family consists of his wife, two children and his father, only used to grow maize which fetched him Rs 5,000 annually before embarking on vegetable cultivation. “The women farmers appreciated my trellis and seemed interested to try it themselves. It is easy to set it up as wood is available in forests. This winter I will try to grow Chinese okra or torai. Before many of us took up the trellis system of farming, vegetable cultivation was almost absent in Madarkonta.”

Turning to vegetables

In plot after plot measuring less than an acre in Madarkonta, the trellis method has found favour among many aspiring to earn a decent income. On an average, it costs a farmer anything between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 depending on the land size. Farmers usually purchase jaggery and gram flour to prepare beejamrut for seed treatment, mesh wires, ropes and mulching sheets. The latter are used to cover the ground and prevent the growth of weeds and grass.

Farmer Hirma Kawasi, a Gond Adivasi, is a pioneer here when it comes to trellis. He set up the trellis structure six years ago on half an acre when others did not even know about it. “The trellis is a profitable venture. Last year, I earned Rs 1.5 lakh from selling vegetables. Creeper plants like gourd and bitter gourd grown using a trellis system have less water requirement and give me an assured supply. Farmers in the village are dependent on monsoon. But next year, we will get the lift irrigation facility where water from the nearby perennial Kanger nullah will be diverted to our plots. The government has laid pipelines. This will help us grow veggies all year round,” Kawasi added.

Across the entire Darbha block of Bastar, growing vegetables was not a popular choice with most farmers depending on seasonal paddy and maize to supplement their family income. During the off seasons of summer and winter, many used to migrate to cities for labour work. Unfortunately, Madarkonta is not suitable for growing paddy with just 10 percent lowland area, informed Dinesh Jaiswal, who works in PRADAN. “The organisation trained its staff for promoting trellis cultivation in several villages of Darbha. One of the best things about trellis is that it reduces the risk of vegetables getting spoilt by excessive rainfall as they do not touch the ground,” he added.

Aggregation centre for farmers

Initially, many farmers were sceptical about the trellis intervention when it took off four to five years ago, admitted Kawasi, who used five packets of bitter gourd seeds this year costing Rs 450. But things are changing. Sonu Ram Kashyap started the trellis method last year on a small scale after being inspired by his neighbours. This year, till August his income touched Rs 15,000.

PRADAN area coordinator in charge of Darbha, Sonadar Mandavi, said after attending thorough training sessions, discussions take place with farmers on what they should grow in vegetables. With many of them, bitter gourd is the most preferred crop. “As karela or bitter gourd is safe to grow and gives an assured supply, it has been made compulsory in trellis. We try to convince farmers slowly that they will make huge profits. To help farmers sell their produce, there is an aggregation centre in Chidpal village where farmers bring their produce weekly. After that, their produce is sent to urban markets,” Mandavi explained.

Though trellis farming has succeeded in Madarkonta, there are challenges too. Many villages in Darbha block still do not grow vegetables as farmers claim lack of time. But the truth is that they get more involved with paddy and maize, Mandavi pointed out. At present, in Darbha trellis is going on in 34 villages and some 1000 farmers are involved in it.

Most trellis plots in Madarkonta are on 15-20 decimals of land. It is a good sign that women from all over Darbha paid a visit to the village as next year expansion will take place thanks to the lift irrigation facility. Apart from creeper plants, farmers are also growing brinjals and tomatoes. “There is no doubt that in Darbha, the trellis method has given a new identity to small-scale farmers who only looked forward to maize for family income,” said Preetam Gupta, who heads the PRADAN team in Bastar.