Date of Publish: 15 February, 2017
Kishore Talukdar –
Akhay Kalita was only 12 years old when his father had to sell all his 12 bigha land for a song in 1975. The decision of his father to part with the entire land resource of the family left an indelible impression so deep on him that it continued to haunt him even after he had grown up. As a grown-up boy Akhay went to Garo Hills in search of greener pastures. He started supplying ginger and chilly from there. However, the bitter childhood memory of his family losing its land continued to haunt him and he desperately wanted to do something about it.
So, he returned home with a dream of becoming a successful farmer so that he could one day cultivate on his own plot of land. He started as an apprenticeunder leading farmer of Rani Chapori char (sandbar) of the river Brahmaputra near Azara in Kamrup district. Rani Chapori spreads over 700 hactres of sandy area along the course of the river Brahmaputra where farmers of nearby villages including Dharapur, Garal, Bhattapara, Kendukuchi, Agchia, Majirgaon, Kuhabori grow different variety of crops.
54-year old Akhay, who hails from Dharapur, learnt the basics of farming during his apprenticeship with the farmer for six years from 1992 to 1998.
In the last part of 1998, he planted the kitchen-herb mint (mentha) locally known as Padina on 1 lesa plot of land and the yield was superb. Encouraged by unexpected production Akhay expanded his area of mint farming. He had no idea that the mints would grow so much profit for him to realise his dream of becoming a successful farmer and buying adequate land on his own and also make him the pioneer mint farmer.
“The apprenticeship earned me enough money to purchase a plot of 1 bigha land at Char Naheli, a part of Rani Chapori. Today, I own 16 bigha of land and I am happy that my long-cherished dream has come true,” an elated Akhay tells nezine.com.
Akhay now grows mint on 3-bigha plot of land.
From a 2-katha plot under mint a farmer can earn about Rs 30,000 excluding the input cost of about Rs 20,000. “Post plantation management is key to realise optimal benefit in farming of this leafy vegetable. Perbigha land under mint cultivation needs 5 labourers to keep the plot neat and clean and also for timely harvesting,”Akhay says. It is all about watering twice a week, application of cow dung and weeding to reap rich yield. Each harvesting is done after 25 days. Throughout the year, farmers harvest maximum 12 times. Fungal attack is common during rainy season which can be prevented by the farmers with proper treatment in time.
Akhay’s success had a rippling effect. The number of mint farmers in Char Naheli has now increased to 30.
Agriculture Development Officer, Dharapur Circle, Robin Talukdar, says these 30 farmers supply 90 percent of mint in the state where Guwahati consumes the lion’s share.It is also supplied to Shillong, Silchar and Bongaigaon. Apart from the meeting the demand of individual buyers these farmers are catering to the huge demand of the Hotels. During the wedding season they run out of produce as the demand for mint shoots up during this period. The market lasts from November to first two weeks of April.
Subhash Kalita ( 45), one of these mint suppliers, also grows this medicinal mint on a 3-bigha plot. He cultivates various crops in rest 12 bigha-land. “From mint, I earn Rs. 4 lakh every year excluding the input cost,” Subhash says. Agriculture Department provided him 50 per cent subsidy to buy a carriage van in 2012-13. Subhash also purchased a four wheeled car August last year.
The farmers carry water from the Brahmaputra for irrigating their fields. They use kahi grass, a local grass vareity, to bind the small bunches of mint. They prefer using vermi-compost and cow dung, cow urine to chemical fertiliser. “Soil health will deteriorate if we apply chemical fertilizer too much and we are very cautious about it,” says Narayan Das of Garal.
They also make the best use of every inch of all the land resources without wasting the precious water resource. The plots under mint cultivation are demarcated by earthen bunds. Usually, the bunds are left unused. But they cash in on the bunds by planting this leafy vegetable. This practice of growing mint in the bunds serves two purposes. Firstly, unwanted vegetation can’t grow in the bunds. Secondly, excess water which percolate from the main plot to the bunds do not go waste.
Ajit, Sridhar, Govinda, three siblings, who cultivate about 30 bigha of lands,say the mint growers need at least five tractors for transportation of the produce of all farmers to reduce their workload by relieving them from carrying it on shoulders. They have to undertake 2 to 4 km arduous walk from their plot to the bank of the Brahmaputra by carrying their harvested crops on shoulder. “If we can transport our produce by tractor we can save our precious time and reduce daily carrying pains,” they say.
Title Picture: Kishore Talukdar