Mokama Taal’s farmers claim that soaring profits of grass pea have made the crop an obvious choice for them. (Picture courtesy: Rahul Singh)
Mokama: For a farmer mired in endless worries, with minimal hopes in sight, an 18,000 rupees difference in income from two different crops in a year can be a significant incentive to decide the future course of action. At least, this is how a 68-year-old farmer from Bihar's Mokama, Jagdish Yadav, expresses his feelings when he describes how the decision to cultivate grass pea, also known as Khesari dal (botanical name: Lathyrus sativus) has proved beneficial for him in recent years.
'Last year, I made around Rs. 48,000 selling the grass pea produce sown in three bigha area, whereas the lentil crop (Masoor dal) fetched only Rs. 30,000 cultivated in another three bigha farm. In truth, the damage to the lentil yield was compensated by the benefits made by the grass pea harvest,' says Jagdish who has been farming for decades in the area and hails from Tartar village in Mokama Taal region. The elderly farmer adds that this year he expects 2.8 quintals per bigha harvest of grass pea as against 1 quintal of lentil crop. Because the Khesari dal yield is always much higher by nature.
Profit higher in Khesari dal cultivation
Mokama Taal’s farmers claim that the cultivation of grass pea has got organised in the last 2-3 years and soaring profits have made the crop an obvious choice for them. Consequently, the shift from lentil farming is catching up in the entire area.
Gopal Yadav, from Paijna gram panchayat in the Ghoswari block of the Patna district, is another farmer troubled by the falling productivity of lentil crop who is now seriously looking for an alternative. Speaking to 101Reporters, he elaborates his problems, 'post-monsoon rains affect lentil cultivation adversely. Ten days ago, west wind dried up the pods reducing their size. We have been suffering alike for the last 10 years.'
Mokama farmers Gopal Yadav and Jagadish Yadav (right), troubled by failing lentil crops, are looking to Khesari Dhal to bolster their profits (Picture courtesy: Rahul Singh)
Mokama Taal region consists of 106200 hectares of agricultural land across 14 blocks of Bihar's four districts: Patna, Lakhisarai, Nalanda and Sheikhpura. The area is called the 'bowl of lentils', producing around 1.5 lakh tonnes of it annually. During the monsoon, most of the farming land gets submerged and the Rabi crop is sown only after the drainage of water. October 15 to 25 is considered the best time for lentil seeding. The farmers maintain that earlier they used to grow 6-8 quintals/bigha lentil without fail.
'That was the time when farmers made huge money from lentils and their social status boomed, but now they are looking for other options, the situation has changed completely,' says Sanjeev Kumar Singh, a member of the Agricultural Development Committee in the neighbouring Barahiya town.
Prolonged drainage a cause of concern
Now the farmers are distressed due to the prolonged drainage of water because a delay of 10 to 15 days reduces the yield by one-third. Anand Murari, convenor of the Mokama Tall Development Committee and environmental activist, spells out the reasons behind it blaming the swelling silt in the Ganges basin for the slow drainage. He says due to the silt the river’s water level has risen, which has reduced the catchment area.
A farmer from Tartar village with Anand Murari (right) (Picture Courtesy: Rahul Singh)
'In the entire Indian subcontinent, Mokama Taal like topography was rare to find, where water would naturally drain out after the monsoon. But over the years, it has gone awry,' says Hemant Kumar Singh, a resident of Outa village in Mokama. The farmers demand that cleaning the silt in the river the natural source of water must be regenerated for systematic drainage.
Khesari dal boon for farmers
In a drastic situation like this, Khesari dal came to the rescue of the farmers in the region since its cultivation is easier and the yields are substantial. Khesari is tended as a rabi crop as a rice fallow produce. Its lower cultivation cost is a big boost for the farmers.
Notably, the production and sale of grass pea were banned in India in 1961 because it contained a neurotoxin that caused diseases like paralysis, paraplegia and muscular weakness. However, in 2016, the restrictions were lifted after its consumption in smaller quantities was reported safe by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Since 2018, the Government of India has been encouraging its cultivation under the Department of Biotechnology's Biotech Farmers Hub project urging farmers to sow two varieties of grass pea, namely Ratan and Prateek Khesari, in which Hazardous Level is low.
Mokama Pulse Research Centre (Picture Courtesy: Rahul Singh)
Dr Ravindra Kumar Sohane, the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Bihar Agricultural University in Sabour, tells 101Reporters, 'In Mokama Taal region, Khesari farming is being done on around five thousand hectares of land, and, in the last three years, the farming area has been expanding. We have been promoting crop diversity among the farmers.'
He said extensive research is underway cultivating the less hazardous variants grass pea on 500 acres of agricultural land in three districts of Bihar (Patna, Lakhisarai and Gaya).
According to a report of the Revival of Grass Pea Cultivation, Khesari dal is cultivated extensively in Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In Bihar, grass pea and gram are the most widely grown pulses after lentil, which is produced in 1,47,914 hectares of area, while Khesari and gram are cultivated in 50,452 and 56,477 hectares respectively.
But despite recent leanings for grass pea, 90 to 95 per cent of the farmers in the Mokama Taal area are still dependent on lentil, growing the crop on 1.06 lakh hectares of agricultural land.
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