Chilhaki Bigha, a small village in Bihar, is a drought-prone zone with just 60 households. The village is known for traditional rabi, wheat, pulses, mustard, and vegetables. Despite agricultural opportunities many villagers often migrate because of slim profits from their land.
What might surprise you is that this village, neither a hill station nor a fertile land, has succeeded in producing sweet strawberries. Neighborhood farmers, agriculture experts, and traders throng this village to see this unusual success. This has not just increased profit margins for villagers but has also increased employment opportunities for farmers in the underdeveloped area.
Man behind the change
The change was brought by Brijkishore Mehta whose son, Guddu Kumar, worked in a farm in Hisar, Haryana. When he asked his son about his work in Hisar, he told him about strawberry farming. “Though I didn’t know what a strawberry looked like, I decided to grow them, so that my son could make a living in our village itself,” Brijkishore told a website.
The climatic condition of Hisar was similar to their village. Brijkishore thought of giving it a try. He consulted the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Aurangabad, before taking risks. He was suggested to visit Central Agricultural University in Pusa of Samastipur district where the agriculture scientists told him that growing strawberries in Bihar is impossible. “I was upset and disappointed,” he said.
Doing the impossible
However, Brijkishore was adamant to take the risk. He travelled along with his son and met farmers in Hisar. Finally, in 2013, he brought seven plants of strawberries and planted them in his farm.
Eventually, those seven plants turned into whopping 500, proving even the agriculture scientists wrong.
After seeing his success in strawberry farming, all the villagers started seeking help from Brijkishore who suggested them to grow strawberries, too. The change started resonating all over the village and neighbour locations, boosting the local economy. Villagers who migrated to other places due to low income started coming back. “I am happy to earn Rs 7,000 per month locally,” Premanand Kumar, a local youth said.
Today, Brijkishore and his three sons employ 15 permanent workers and nearly 30 temporary workers. Along with their two bighas of land, they grow strawberries in extra six bighas of leased land.
Many daily wagers, mostly women from neighbour villages got a job in this village. “I earn Rs 200 and get lunch for picking a strawberry. It provides seasonal jobs for women like me,” said Sushila Devi, a neighbourhood villager.
However, a few farmers were afraid of taking risks, as strawberry cultivation requires huge initial investment right from the land preparation. If done properly, it also provides great returns. Initially, the distribution of strawberries from this village had challenges, as the buyers could not believe that it was from Bihar. When the volume increased, the traders refused to buy.
This hopeless situation forced farmers to sell them at a slashed fare. They sold a kilo for Rs 200 locally and Rs 300 for wholesale traders. Finally, after a lot of struggle, traders extended their support to this village.
“More than 10 traders from Kolkata’s wholesale fruit market stay in thatched sheds in the field in Chilhaki Bigha, to send fresh strawberries daily without interruption,” said Manawwar Irfan, one of the traders camping in the village for over a month.
The sweet strawberries cultivated from this village has a huge demand in and around the area. It is a cash crop and benefits the villagers a lot. The farmers earns between Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 lakh per bigha in less time.
A concept that never even existed in agriculture practice or theoretical research papers made its way directly to the record of local agricultural universities. The local KVK started training a few more villages with the Chilhaki Bhiga model to produce sweet strawberries. They are also planning to provide irrigation and other possible support to farmers in this cultivation.
Hope is the seed that blooms the way of unimaginable possibilities. Chilhaki Bhiga village is an inspiration to the farmers across the country to take the necessary risks to reap the benefits which even science says impossible.
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