“Listen, remember to bring Chamatkar when you get home.”
Ram Singh gives these instructions to the caller and disconnects the phone. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he began to think of the bumper potato crop that Chamatkar would likely need, a chemical fertilizer.
The 59-year-old does not know that Chamatkar (a miracle) has already arrived at his home. It can be totally seen, felt and smelled as he stands on his six-canal grounds in the village of Jarjir under Bihar Jaswan Panchayat in Una District, Himachal Pradesh.
This piece of barren land, close to potato fields, was razed and made arable in June of this year. Now Ashwagandha and Moringa plants grow here. Not a penny was spent on leveling the land, working fees, buying seeds and planting. Everything was taken care of under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as an initiative of the district administration to promote medical agriculture.
Herein lies the exclusivity. “Medical cultivation under MGNREGS is being done at two places in Himachal: one is under the supervision of Bihar Jaswan Panchayat in Unna district and the other is in Kangra district. This is happening for the first time in the country. Earlier, the cultivation of aromatic plants was done under MGNREGS in Sundargarh district of Odisha,” says Dr. Arun Chandan, Regional Director (North), National Council of Medicinal Plants.
There is more in Singh’s story about the miracle. While wild animals have destroyed the moringa plants two or three times, the ashwagandha plants have not been destroyed at all. All plants are chemical free as use KNESHOW KHAD, Desi fertilizer. Less watering and less hard work – this is another benefit. Water the potatoes after five days and the medicinal plants after 15 days if the weather is hot or once a month if the weather is good. He admits that he didn’t have to bother much about the other care work required for the plants.
If it was a win-win situation for Singh, why shouldn’t he get so excited? Because he is doing medical implants for the first time and he is worried about the result. NREGA labor lagi thi. Maine aur Meri gharwali ne bhi kaam kiya. Paise nahin lage aur kaam bhi ho gaya. Singh said.
There are 20 other farmers who share Singh’s concerns. They also do medical cultivation. One of them is Yshbir Sahuta, who grows ashwagandha and moringa plants near his home. This two-canal land was barren and adjacent to a children’s cemetery. He sowed seedlings at the end of June and watered them only until the onset of the rainy season. After the rains, the plants were on their own. Hamare yahan paani ki samasya hai. Maine paudhon ko paani Barsat ke baad nahin diya. Phir bhi yeh achchhe se lag gaye hain (We have a water problem here. I didn’t give water to the plants after the rainy season. Despite that, they had good growth), “says the 28-year-old.
Surinder Paul, a resident of Bihar Bethal village under the leadership of Bihar Jaswan Panchayat, went even further. Not only did he water the seedlings soon after they were planted, but also continued to give them water between showers in the rainy season until they took root. After that, he did not water them at all. These plants grow on four canals that were formerly my “neglected land”.
Dr Chandan adds more clarity: “The soil here has more sand content; it is sandy loam. Water availability is a constant problem. In such a situation, medicinal plants are a good choice because they can thrive even in rainfed conditions. Moreover, they can Survive the danger of monkeys and wild animals.
Paul, also a Punch, proudly shows the lush green Moringa tree that Deputy Commissioner Raghav Sharma planted on his land, and talks about the time when these little trees were just seedlings and innovative ideas were just seeds. I was asked by the district administration to persuade two farmers to do medicinal cultivation. It prepared 18 farmers but 17 of them withdrew at the last minute. Then I spoke to another group of farmers who agreed and went ahead with the cultivation of medicines. Later, a few who had pulled out earlier also returned.
Dr. Amit Sharma, Additional Deputy Commissioner, recalls the initial phase. “We held workshops and talked to farmers individually and persuaded them to participate in the diversification of crops. We also organized their interaction with experts and their visit to the nursery. The Covid period did its part to highlight the importance of medicinal plants. That’s how this whole thing took off. Dharamshala,” he says.
What is happening in a group of villages here is related to Kangra. “Earlier, I was appointed as an additional deputy commissioner in Kangra. I received a proposal on medical cultivation and got involved in this project. When I was transferred to Una, I thought of doing something similar here,” says DC Sharma.
When everything was in place, 21 farmers began intercropping ashwagandha and moringa. A total of 77,400 seedlings – 62,950 ashwagandha and 14,450 moringa – have been distributed under the district administration’s Sanjeevani project operating in two villages of Bihar Jaswan Panchayat, Sanjeev Thakur, Deputy Director and Project Officer, Provincial Rural Development Agency, says. Each farmer was entitled to a subsidy of Rs 1 lakh – 60% for labor and 40% for materials – under MGNREGS. The quantity varied from one farmer to another according to the area of land chosen for cultivation. A total outlay of Rs 14,33,365 has been incurred so far.
“Usually the focus under MGNREGS is to create paid employment opportunities. But our efforts have been to generate a source of income in the future,” says Thakur.
Thakur has more interesting stats to share: Thanks to this project, Behar Jaswan Panchayat has produced 104 percent more than last year. DC Sharma has comparative numbers ready: “There is an AYUSH scheme that provides support for medicinal farms but it is for only six reported plants in the Una region, while we cover planting material, land development cost, wages for farmers, and all medicinal plants under MGNREGS.”
Unlike Singh, Sharma is not worried about the outcome. Rather, he is optimistic. “We have arranged buy-back for the farmers. We will not leave them in a difficult situation. Also in the next financial year, they can avail the same benefits according to their eligibility,” says DC Sharma.
According to Thakur, they are moving towards the direction of value addition and will do “farm tenure”. “We will put them under the National Rural Livelihood Mission and provide them with more financial benefits,” he says.