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FARM AFRESH

Bihar's record reapers make hay while the spotlight shines

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BUMPER SEASON: (Left) Rakesh Kumar of Sohdih village in Nalanda district has created a world record in potato production;Sumant Kumar of Darveshpura managed to harvest 22. 4 tons of paddy per hectare in 2011-12

Farmers in Nalanda district are digging up record-breaking harvests of paddy and potato by using innovative techniques.

In the spotlight for creating a world record in paddy production, 35-year old farmer Sumant Kumar has come to realise that too much publicity from the national and global media is adversely affecting his farming.

In 2011-12, the farmer from Darveshpura village in Nalanda in Bihar sweated it out and produced 224 quintals of paddy a hectare (22. 4 tons) using the system of rice intensification (SRI), which is based on principles of nurturing the roots, enriching soil and giving plants more space to grow. Using these methods, Kumar shattered the world record of 194 qt/ha registered by China's 'father of rice' Yuvan Longping.
China has not accepted Kumar's feat. Longping, in an interview to China News Service, trashed the claim that his record had been beaten by saying, "It's 120% fake. He (Kumar) said they had lots of rain and little sunshine that year, but high yields would be impossible without adequate sunshine. "

Kumar said he never talked about little sunshine. "The Chinese travel to Gaya and Rajgir which are largely barren and possibly Longping thinks Nalanda is also barren, " said the Kumar, who is now Nalanda's most recognisable face.

Every day, he has to meet visiting media people as well as officials from the agriculture department, representatives of fertilizer companies and many more. "It is our privilege to receive them in our village. Earlier, we only heard about records in the cricket. Now, we are told that records are made and broken in farming too, " said Kumar's farmer father Ramanuj Pravin, who records each new person's visit in a diary.

On the list in Pravin's diary is a team from China's CCTV news channel, who visited last week. They quizzed Kumar about his farming techniques, the dispute over his record, and why his field failed to produce a record yield the following year.

In 2012-13, the yield was only 135 qt/ha and Kumar blamed insecticides and fungal disease. "I laboured hard on the one acre of crop. It was so good that other farmers would come to see it but unfortunately tragedy struck, " he said. "I didn't take proper care at the fag end due to other engagements. If I have to travel more, farming gets less attention, " he said.
Kumar received the Krishi Karman award on January 15 with a citation and Rs one lakh in cash from President Pranab Mukherjee. Kumar, who has been farming since 2007, said he experimented with SRI in 2010 for paddy after government gave incentives and received special training.

Rajiv Ranjan, who trains farmers to use SRI, said government started encouraging farmers on SRI from 2007 but there were few takers. SRI was originally used to improve rice cultivation but has been adopted successfully for wheat. Cultivation is taken up in a biologically enriched environment. Yields increase by 50 per cent to 100 per cent with a reduction in plant population, use of less water, no chemical fertilizers, said Ranjan. Aerated soil conditions are maintained to rediscover the potential of synergy and symbiosis.

Kumar is not the only farmer of his village who has used this technique successfully. His friends - and competitors - Sanjay Prasad Singh, Nitish Kumar, Krishna and Bijay also grew more than 190 qt/ha of paddy the same year. "More young people are taking up farming full time and there is growing sense of competition. This is good, " Kumar said.

Nalanda has traditionally been a hub for agricultural activities but in recent years the region - to which Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar belongs - has emerged as a green belt due to organic farming of rice, wheat and potato.

About 30 km from Darveshpura is another farmer who has grabbed the world record for potato production. The farms of Rakesh Kumar, 36, of Sohdih yielded 1, 088 qt/ha of potato this year. Sitting on a mountain of potatos, he said, "I have developed a different pattern of plantation that is usually used in tomato. The result is exciting. "

Rakesh broke the world record of a Darveshpur farmer Nitish Kumar whose potato yield last year was 729 qt/ha, taking the record from a Dutch farmer.

Rakesh has also become an international figure with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz visiting him a couple of months ago. He has been selected to attend the International Horticulture Conference to be organised by Griffith University in Australia later this year. Rakesh has been using only vermicompost for vegetable production as an alternative to chemical fertilizers. Rakesh is now trying to replicate the potato success story with onion in the same field.

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