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A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Last updated on: March 31, 2011 10:50 IST

Image: Hemchandra Dagaji Patil.
Manu A B in Mumbai

He dreamt of becoming a successful lawyer. Hailing from Jalgoan, it isn't surprising that his career was destined to be elsewhere.

Today, 40-year old Hemchandra Dagaji Patil has no regrets.

"The black coat beckoned me. I used to imagine myself in court rooms but finally my father persuaded me to stay back in the village as there was a drop in crop yield and there was no one to look after the 30-acre farm," says Hemachandra.

His father, a retired school teacher urged him to find a solution to the agriculture crisis. It was tough for him to take that decision, when a lucrative career was waiting for him.

But Hemachandra did not lose hope. He took it as a challenge and was confident that he could turn around the family's fortunes.

Part 1:  From Jalgaon to Harvard: A farmer's success story

Photographs, courtesy: Jain Irrigation

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Rajendra Patil (L) and Hemachandra Patil (R) with Bhavarlal H Jain, founder, Jain Irrigation.
The beginning

The initial days were long and tiring. Being dependent on flood irrigation, he had to spend several nights in the farm checking the water supply and controlling it.

But the yield remained the same. He started attending seminars to gain more knowledge on farming and modern techniques.

Finally, the big change came in 2000 when he attended a seminar organised by Jain Irrigation.

The company holds free demonstrations for farmers every year at Jalgaon.

"The company invites 40,000 farmers across India every year to its headquarters at Jalgaon. The expenses of the trip are borne by the company. Besides guidance and end-to-end solutions, Jain Irrigation also has a tie up with banks to help farmers switch to new technologies," says Dilip Kulkarni, president Agro Foods, Jain Irrigation.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Hemchandra Patil in his farm, being guided by an agronomist.
Technology triggers a change

"I felt good to hear about the drip irrigation system's success. I knew it would improve the farms and our lives as well. Drip irrigation along with fertigation brought about dramatic results," says Hemachandra.

Earlier, a lot of water and fertilisers were also wasted as they did not have a fixed limit for each crop.

The excess fertisers were bad for the crop and degraded the soil as well. With fertigation, the required quantity of fertiliser could be mixed with water and supplied. He could also cut down on the number of labourers.

The results were unbelievable.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Hemchandra Patil in his field with foreign visitors.
A good harvest

The crop yield was almost double compared to the previous harvest. "We got the highest yield per acre in four distrcts - 20 tonnes of bananas per acre. Micro-irrigation and fertigation helped us raise the yield and our financial position," Hemachandra explains.

The onion yield grew from 8-10 tonnes/acre to 18 tonnes while the banana yield increased from 18-20 tonnes/acre to 30-35 tonnes.

The earnings jumped to Rs 50,000 - Rs 60,000 per acre/year from Rs 20,000-25,000 per acre/year.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Hemachandra in the field.
It's hard work all the way

The profit figures are impressive. It is indeed the result of Hemachandra's relentless hard work. His day starts early at 6 a.m. Work goes on in the fields till 5 p.m.

"Labour problem remains a constraint. Another issue is the loss due to climatic changes, the temperature never used to rise above 40 degree Celsius. Now, the temperature rises above 47 degree Celsius," rues Hemachandra.

Hemachandra also tries to help other farmers in the vicinity. He shares knowledge and techniques so that they can also improve their crop yield. Everyday atleast 10 farmers come to meet him.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Drip Irrigation on an onion field.
Contract farming

Being a part of the contract farming introduced by Jain Irrigation, has been a blessing for farmers like him. Jain Irrigation has tied up with 5,000 farmers in Maharashtra.

"The contract farmers are offered a buyback guarantee. There is a miminum support price fixed by the company. So irrespective of the price fluctuations, the farmers get a fixed rate for their produce. The price fluctuations are shocking at times. Many of the small farmers are in deep crisis due to these fluctuations. When the price of essential commodities rise, people, media etc make such a big noise. But price rises, when there is a fall in the production. Today, onion farmers are in trouble. They are getting just Rs 2/kg for their produce. How can they sustain themselves?" asks Hemachandra.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Hemchandra in his field.
A trip to Harvard

His record breaking progress impressed the top bosses at Jain Irrigation, who selected him to take part in a seminar at Harvard. He had to speak about how technology has transformed the lives of small farmers.

Going to Harvard has been the most unforgettable chapter in his illustrious farming career.

"It was a special experience. After the presentation, we were asked many questions. I did not have an answer when they asked me, 'Why can't big companies in India help small farmers', I have often wondered why they can't lend their support in developing sustainable agriculture in our country," says Hemachandra.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Workers harvesting turmeric.
Innovation helps

While in India, people hardly bother about organic farming, the farmers in America told them that organic products constitute a huge market.

"The products fetch them good profits. Consumers get the best deals. Farmers also organise crop markets on their own, wherein they directly sell products to consumers. In India, middlemen and traders take away all the money," points out Hemachandra.

The new technology adoption is expensive and not affordable for small farmers. He has invested Rs 10 lakh in installing the drip equipment.

"I have also introduced innovative crop patterns and got good results. I started growing pomegranate and water melons as an inter-crop. This has worked well," he points out.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Hemachandra with his family.
Any regrets on not becoming a lawyer? Not at all, laughs Hemachandra, "A lawyer's job would get me money and respect. This job has given me more money, fame, respect and satisfaction.

I could represent India at a seminar at the prestigious Harvard. Today, I can afford all the luxuries that I could have got if I were in a city."

My wife was initially upset with my decision to work in the fields. She had high hopes about my career. But today, she is happy with my success.

Hemachandra's children study in an international school. His elder daughter is an engineering student.

A lawyer-turned-farmer's inspiring story

Image: Greenhouse.
Future plans

Optimistic about the future, Hemachandra says, "I plan to build a polyhouse where the temperature can be controlled to grow crops. But this requires a huge investment. Banks are not willing to support his venture. I also want to focus on horticulture. I hope I can earn enough to experiment and succeed.