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A diamond cutter’s hands take a shine to farming: From a migrant worker to producer

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This time when Ramjeet stepped down from the train at Gorakhpur railway station, there was neither any joy nor any built-up excitement of reaching home after so lo ng. The date was 13th May, 2020, and as he alighted from the Shramik Special train onto the platform, he jostled with many others like him. To him, they looked even more weary and sombre than he did, laden with bags and baggage, lugging all types of packages. Like thousands of labourers returning to their homes across the length and breadth of the country, COVID-19 pandemic had seemingly stilled the diamond cutting hands of Ramjeet. He was no longer gainfully employed, no more needed as an expert diamond cutter working on the brilliance of expensive stones. His company had closed down for an indefinite time due to the lockdown, and he had no place to go but home.

A diamond cutter’s hands take a shine to farming: From a migrant worker to producerRamjeet, 41, is a poor young farmer from Loharpurwa village of Campierganj development block in Gorakhpur district. He, like so many others, was caught unaware in Surat where he worked along with his friends. Struggling to come to terms with a swift and unprecedented calamity, he struggled to find his footing in this volatile, unfamiliar environment of COVID 19. And it took him 46 days to be able to finally return to his hometown Gorakhpur, a mere 1500 km from Surat, once the nationwide lockdown was announced.

Recalling that time, Ramjeet said, "When Janta curfew was announced by the Govt of India on March 22, 2020, little did I imagine that my life, like so many other daily wage labourers would turn so dark and dismal".

He wistfully added that, "the company owner had assured us that the factory would reopen after March 22". But, in view of the outbreak of the epidemic, a nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020, and the company like many others could not keep its promise. For Ramjeet and other wage labourers, it was the start of a livelihood crisis.

A diamond cutter’s hands take a shine to farming: From a migrant worker to producerRamjeet was a successful migrant; he had been staying in Surat for the last 26 years, and managed to save enough to build a small house there. But 45 days of sitting unemployed staring at an uncertain future ahead, with dwindling resources, and a shortage of money and food, soon compelled him to reconsider his life; and he was forced to take a decision to move back to his village in acute frustration.

Poverty and family responsibilities had ensured Ramjeet grow up quickly, become a man even though he was still a young boy. In 1996, at the tender age of 17, Ramjeet had migrated to Gujarat along with friends from his village. After wandering around for months, with a little help from his friend, he began to work in a private diamond cutting company in Surat, Gujarat, at a daily wage of Rs 400. Initially, he worked for 12 hours a day to earn enough money to survive and sustain his wife and two young children living back in the village. Gradually, his situat ion improved, and he decided to settle where his work was, and built his own little house in Surat.
Today, his children are grown up. After division of land between him and his brothers, he was left with 2.20 acres of land as an ancestral property. Of this piece, one acre remains submerged due to waterlogging. His older son worked on the 1.2-acre farmland at home, along with his education, and cultivated sugarcane and paddy, crops to fulfil basic food needs of the family.

Throughout the 36-hour train journey from Surat to Gorakhpur, Ramjeet couldn’t sit still. His thoughts turned again and again to the bleak and uncertain future ahead for him and his family. Sharing those feeling Ramjeet said “I was so worried. I had no inkling of what the future held for me. With no certainty of returning to my secure job in Surat, I wondered how I would manage to live off my farmland. But there was no other option open to me other than farming in the village. “He continued with a wistful smile, “God is kind! When he closes one door, he opens another one."

On reaching home, Ramjeet decided to make the most of the land he owned and began working on it immediately. He met Smt Nirmala Devi, a model women farmer, who had her fields close to his ancestral land. She is an active farmer of the DST Core Support Project, implemented by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG). She grows organic vegetables in her small farm using scientific methods and technology. After associating with the DST core support project, she scientifically maintains greenhouse /poly house on her 2-acre farm, cultivates vegetables through multi-layered farming techniques, and manages to earn up to Rs 70,000 annually by adopting innovative techniques.

Seeing the farm and income of Smt Nirmala Devi, Ramjeet decided to follow her lead, and cultivate vegetables using multi-layered farming techniques and organic manure. This was his first experience in vegetable farming, as traditionally his family had only ventured in rice and sugarcane. He began by growing Ivy gourd (Kundru) and colocasia root (Arvi) vegetables in his field on the advice of Smt Nirmala Devi. Both these vegetables are disease resistant as compared to other vegetables. Therefore, there is no need to add any kind of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

In addition, growing crops in combination with multi-layered farming technique reduces the input cost. While explaining the cost- benefits in vegetable farming, Ramjeet has learned much in the last couple of months. He has shown an acute sense of business in his new enterprise. He says, “If both the crops were to be in different fields, more land would be required and the cost of farming would also increase”. At present, it costs Rs 12,000 while utilising multi-layered farming techniques, whereas if he had to cultivate both vegetables separately then he would have to spend at least Rs 15,000.

Using organic fertilizer and multi-tier farming, Ramjeet has taken a good yield of Ivy gourd and colocasia root (Kundru and Arvi) from his 0.45-acre field. So far, he has earned Rs 8,000 from the combined production of both the vegetables. He expects to earn a total of around Rs 40,000 from these crops.

What is also important to note here is that continuous rains have had no effect on his vegetables because he has taken out colocasia roots from the field, and the plant is not much affected even if its roots are in the water. On the other hand, ivy gourd grows on a machan, a raised platform of bamboo, so the downpour has no effect on it too.

Today, Ramjeet is very content and happy with his decision and hard work. He says, "Now I will not leave farming in a hurry and go far away to earn." Excited, he adds “I will continue to cultivate vegetable on the remaining portion of my land. With all the technical support of GEAG I can’t help but turn my fields lush again”.

This blog has been written by GEAG as part of the Core Support Project of the Science for Equity, Empowerment & Development (SEED) Division of Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt of India.