- NL Sena
Jai Prakash Singh is sowing seeds of hope for farmers buried under debt and failing crops
You’ve probably never heard of Jai Prakash Singh, from Varanasi district, but this man is quietly leading a farming revolution that may just be able to offer a glimmer of hope to desperate farmers buried under debt and failing crops. Four decades after his namesake called for a revolution, this JP hopes to usher a modest revolution of his own — one that he hopes will help his fellow farmers across the country and put healthier food on all our plates.
We found out from Singh how he became an agricultural innovator. He told us he was the third son in his family and that he dropped out of school after class 10 to begin working in the fields. His brothers had turned businessmen of sorts and earned well by selling seeds. They would often berate young Jai Prakash for not making any money as a farmer.
He, however, decided to stay on and work in his village Jakhini, in the district of Varanasi, and over the next two decades, Singh developed high yielding varieties of various crops. He claims he has created 480 varieties of rice, 120 of wheat, 40 of pigeon pea (arhar dal) and some of mustard, chilli and tomatoes. He’s also created a special variety of wood apple (bel), which yields 8-10 fruits in a single bunch. His crop varieties are being farmed successfully in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, parts of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. He now wants to scale up production and make low cost seeds available to farmers to save them from the expense of genetically modified seeds, chemicals and pesticides. Singh’s high yield seeds are now undergoing government trials.
All this work researching and developing high yielding indigenous seeds has earned Singh laurels like the Plant Genome Saviour Farmer award by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. He says he has also been felicitated by two former presidents of India for developing 460 varieties of paddy, 120 varieties of wheat, 30 varieties of pulses (arhar) and four of mustard seeds over more than two decades.
Singh develops indigenous, high-yielding and disease-resistant plants. He follows a process of multi-generational seed selection to enhance grain yield, pest resistance, nutritive value, flavour and fragrance. Today, Singh provides seeds to about one million farmers in seven Indian states, selling them for Rs 30-40 per kilo — a huge saving in comparison when you consider the fact that genetically modified (GM) seeds sell for Rs 200-300 per kilogram. The farmers that work with Singh are quick to realise his seeds offer better yield than GM seeds and also can be saved to be planted for next crop, which isn’t possible with GM seeds.
The power of nine
In 2005, Singh ‘adopted’ nine villages, which means farmers of these areas follow Singh’s cultivation techniques, which multiplies the seeds of certain crops. They grew and sold the multiplied seeds back to him. Among those villages was Jayapur, which shot to fame after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘adopted’ it in 2014. “Kabhi unse milne ka mauka mila to unko zaroor batayenge ki hamne Jayapur ko bahut pahle god liya tha aur hamaree fasal wahan kafee achee hotee hai.” (“If I ever get a chance to meet him some day, I will tell him that I adopted Jayapur long ago and our crops have a good yield.”)
Singh’s five-acre farmland at Jakhini village is just one kilometer away from Jayapur, He proudly showed Newslaundry the one acre plot where he bred 100 varieties of wheat.
Singh maintains the genetic diversity of seeds and this safeguards the sustainability of the land as well as the crop. He is concerned about the disappearance of crop diversity and extensive agro-ecological turmoil caused by short-sighted industrial interventions and mono-cultural cultivation techniques.
Following traditional methods of seed-selection and plant breeding, Singh has developed new varieties after selecting high yielding seeds and creating stable varieties. His seeds are in demand because they meet specific needs and preferences of the farmers.
Nectar for the soil
Singh practices green manure techniques by planting Sunnhemp (Crotalaria Juncea) and Dhaincha (Sesbania Aculeata) in his fields. The young ‘manure plants’ are later cut down are spread on those fields. Then, fresh cow dung is added over this layer and the process is repeated for ten days on the entire farm. Ten kilograms of cow dung are needed for one hectare of land and the 10-day process organically replenish the field’s nutrients.
Cow dung is also the key ingredient of a fertilizer formula that Singh has named Jeewamrit (meaning “nectar of life”). First, he mixes fresh cow dung, cow urine, molasses or jaggery with water. The mixture is stirred for aeration and after 10 days, it is sprinkled on plants. “Isko kise bhi jagah istemaal kiya ja sakta hai aur banana bahut asaan hai,” he claims. (“This can be made anywhere very easily and can be used everywhere”).
According to Singh, Jeewamrit can help the farmers of Vidarbha and he wants to share more farming tips with them. He believes they can sow arahar seeds next to their cotton plants and this could help them to save the crop.
In an effort to make more of an impact, Singh, encouraged by his village folk, contested in the Gram Pradhan elections. After losing by a small margin, he’s decided he is not meant for politics. All he wants is a little bit of support, so that he can upscale and make sure these seeds reach the farmers who need them most.