COVID-19 impact: Man tries to revive farming in Palghar; left with 4 tonnes unsold watermelons

Updated: Mar 30, 2020, 07:59 IST | Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

A youth on a mission to revive farming in a Palghar village is left with four tonnes of unsold watermelons; starts barter system to prevent the produce from rotting away

Rohan Thakare with his watermelon harvest
Rohan Thakare with his watermelon harvest

Out of the 100 families at Ainshet village in Palghar's Vada taluka, around 25-30 have owned farming land for generations. "We are surrounded by the Vaitarna River on three sides and the Vada city on the other. Until 20 ago, we grew vegetables and fruits like chikoo, mango, coconut and bananas," said Rohan Thakare.

Twenty years ago, with liberalisation, each home saw the rise of government servants and contractors, and farming took a back seat. Thakare, too, moved to Thane in 2007 to study management and now he runs a security company with technology partners in Israel.

The barter system he started to help the villagers during the lockdown
The barter system he started to help the villagers during the lockdown

"A lot of my work took me to Israel. We use their technology for smart city solutions, cyber security and command and control centre," said Thakare, adding that his partners there are also into farming. "Every time I visit Israel, they take me to one of their farms. They have a very systematic approac; they segregate and pack the produce on the farm itself and know in advance who their buyers are," the 32-year-old said. He was inspired to revive the farming practices in Vada and began spending his weekends working the farms again.

Compared to 25 years ago, only four farms are actively growing produce today. The first challenge was youth moving to the city for work.

"I understand that not everyone wants to do farming. So, we set up a BachatGadh (trust fund) and got them to take over the marketing and distribution of what we would grow," says Thakare. He even took a bunch of them to Israel to observe their farming techniques.

Last December, he harvested organic watermelons and this March they saw a crop of 12 tonnes that sold locally for R18-20 per kg. He sold most of it, but four tonnes are lying on the farm due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. The price has dropped to R11/kg. "We had tied up with OOO Farms to transport the leftover produce to the city, but we couldn't. It would have easily sold for R30-40 per kg in the city. We are now distributing it to the locals for free as it will rot otherwise," said Thakare.

Come April end or early May, their next batch will be ready for harvest, but with this lock down, he might have to discard the entire crop. "This is a learning curve for us, we will see what happens. We had also decided to apply for a loan," he said. For now, he has started a barter system where villagers exchange fruits and vegetables. "We know how much our produce costs. So far, I have exchanged my watermelons for veggies, dal and fruits."

He is also inspiring villagers to do it among themselves. On Sunday, they are planning to set up a barter market. "We will try and implement this on a regular basis, not just during the lockdown," he said.

Thakare is also eyeing on making watermelon syrup that is used for drinks and flavouring. "For now, it comes from Malaysia. The plan is to make our own."

Under Thakare's vision, the villagers have also agreed to build Ainshet village tourism. "We are going to make traditional huts where people can come and stay by the river, take part in farming activities and try our local cuisine. One pilot hut is already ready. The architect we hired uses vernacular architecture that utilises natural and locally available material like stones, bricks and lime," he said.

Rs 11
Price/kg the melons had dropped to

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