Monday, August 27, 2012

Good Harvest : Zamindara Farm Solutions’ pay-as-you-go model helps small farmers avoid a debt trap

"Explaining the economics to 40 farmers converts just five. They ask us what our political agenda is" —Vikram Ahuja , Founder, Zamindara Farm Solutions
Good Harvest
Zamindara Farm Solutions' pay-as-you-go model helps small farmers avoid a debt trap
Zamindara Farm Solutions
  • Started April 2005
  • Initial investment Rs 10 lakh
  • Working with Small farmers
  • Social impact Small farmers get access to modern farm machinery/implements at lower cost. They need not buy a costly tractor and spend rest of their life repaying loans.
Pakistanis reached until here during the 1965 war," says a local waving his arm around. "The border is just about 4 km away." This close to the India-Pakistan border in Punjab's Fazilka district, boundaries get fuzzy. Farmers cross into no-man's land to tend their fields, with passes issued by the Border Security Force, and tall tales of war and opium smuggling are dusted off for the entertainment of any newcomer. But soon enough, the conversation shifts to debt and farmer suicides.
Neighbouring districts like Sangrur and Bathinda may have grabbed the headlines but Fazilka is no stranger to farmer suicides either. But the state government and Centre don't recognise Punjab as a suicide-affected state and there is great disagreement over the number of deaths — the numbers quoted by various agencies range from 50,000 to 90,000 in the past 20 years. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, 65% farmers in Punjab are in debt with an average per acre debt of Rs 18,000. Clearly, the country's bread basket is crumbling. And it's taking the small farmer with it.
For several years, Vikram Ahuja was a mute spectator to the crumbling. Born in a land-owning family of Fazilka, his family successfully ventured into selling tractors and farm equipment in the 1960s. Ahuja joined the family business after completing his education; 20 years later, he decided he could no longer just watch from the sidelines. "Small farmers are neck deep in debt; the size of holdings is not viable, yields are stagnant, water table is receding and labour costs are headed north," he lists.
Renting a tractor will cost Rs 1,200 a year per acre whereas owning it means spending about Rs 83,000 every year on interest alone
Ahuja may not be able to solve all that ails Punjab but he made a start by setting up Zamindara Farm Solutions in 2005. "If you want to fly to Mumbai, do you buy a plane? If you want to read a book, do you buy an entire library?" he asks. "That's the folly small farmers commit — buying the equivalent of an airplane." Zamindara (from the Punjabi word for land husbandry) is Ahuja's version of an implement bank, quite like a library. His workshops house 170 machines: tractors, harrows, JCBs (excavators), rotovators, seed sowers, harvesters, fodder choppers and many more. Farmers call to hire equipment for as long as they want, paying a daily rental. Where needed, operators and know-how is provided. It's convenient and cheaper than owning the machinery: for instance, a farmer may need a tractor for a week during sowing, which will cost him about Rs 14,000. That's less than half the cost of replacing a tractor's tyres (Rs 35,000). In fact, the average rice or wheat farmer needs a tractor for just six hours every year for each acre of land. Renting the machine would cost Rs 1,200 a year per acre whereas owning it means spending about Rs 83,000 every year on interest alone. So unless a farmer owns 70 acres of land, it doesn't make financial sense. The average land holding in Punjab, though, is just 1.75 hectares (4.3 acres).
Revolution baggage
Punjab's farmers are weighed down by the legacy of the Green Revolution. The high-yield grain introduced in the late 1960s came at a cost — it requires intensive use of irrigation, fertilisers and machines. Anu Nagpal, director, Zamindara, explains that just a tractor and its accessories costs Rs 6.5 lakh. But, "Farmers like to own a tractor — even if they die of the debt — because they think a farmer isn't a farmer without one," says Kulvinder Grewal, a farmer with 18 acres of land. But he concedes that maintenance is costly. "I prefer Zamindara's services. God knows how the others manage."
The company organises meetings at gurudwaras and distributes pamphlets — even the logos on the machines have been replaced with Zamindara's to build brand visibility. But convincing farmers remains a challenge. "Explaining the economics to 40 farmers converts just five," laughs Ahuja. "They ask us what our political agenda is." In the past seven years, 6,000 farmers in a 300 km radius around Fazilka — including Ferozpur, Mukstar and Sangrur in Punjab and Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh in Rajasthan — have availed of this service. There are implement lenders in the unorganised sector but few offer the expertise that Zamindara does. Which is why Ahuja's Rs 10-lakh investment has grown to a Rs 6-crore business.
Tweaking the model
Ahuja started Zamindara with a simple business model. The company would borrow from banks to buy machines. The hourly rent was arrived at by taking the 13-14% bank borrowing cost, and adding depreciation, operating expenses and margin of 5-6%. "This way, an implement breaks even in three years," says Ahuja. There were several hurdles: borrowers used the machines roughly, switched new tyres with old…. The company introduced a better checking system, but the biggest change came from engaging farmers as partners. In 20 villages, Zamindara brought on farmers as co-owners of machines — they invest Rs 30,000 and get a cut from the rent received. More importantly, they ensure the machines are in good repair and the local partner becomes a hub for nearby villages.
At Taliwala village, 23-year-old Parminder is one such entrepreneur. He joined Zamindara after having been a customer for a few years. He's impressed by the economics of renting. "If you have 4 acres and spend Rs 9 lakh on machines, you will end up in a debt trap," Parminder says. He hires out tractors and keeps 10% of the rent as his cut. "We need thousands of Parminders to solve India's agrarian problems," says Ahuja. Meanwhile, a start has been made.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In this village, cancer is a way of life

DanGarkhera Disease claims 11 lives, 30 more diagnosed

Cancer patients — that is what Dangarkhera in Balluana constituency of district Fazilka is infamous for. In the last two years, 11 patients have died in this village because of cancer, while more than 30 others are suffering from the disease.

No specific reasons have yet been identified for the large number of cancer cases in the village and there are not even any properly detailed health records of the patients, despite the Health Department having organised a health camp twice there in 2010. The village cultivates cotton and paddy in rotation through the year, and uses pesticide sprays on its crops, though villagers admit to have reduced their use in recent years.

With time, the villagers themselves have learnt to detect and act on early warning signs of the disease. Bihari Lal, whose wife Tarawanti is suffering from breast cancer, says, "We have minimised the spray in the fields and we even take special care in the rearing of cattle. I have got an inverter installed for my wife because after radiotherapy, she cannot bear the heat, and power cuts are common these days. Though an RO system has been installed in the village recently, we are going to install our individual RO system at home. We do not want to take any more chances now."

Tarawanti tells the tale of villagers like her. "I was diagnosed with breast cancer about 3 years ago when around 7 other women had also been diagnosed, and we all got our treatment done from Jaipur Hospital. All of them have passed away and only I am alive. No one knows what has brought so many cancer patients to our village," she says.

The RO was installed in this village only a few months back, when the water samples in our village were found unfit for drinking. Before that, the villagers drank water from the canal or made their own arrangements. Recently, a pond renovation project was also started, after many demands by the village panchayat. The filthy village pond is being cleaned with NREGA funds after more than two decades.

Parmeshwar Devi, another breast cancer patient, says, "Who knows what is the reason for the cancer cases? So whatever is being done, is for the best. The drains still need to be strengthened so as to make the village cleaner."

Parmeshw'r Devi's father-in-law had also died of cancer few years back. Another villager, Shanti Devi, was left with no means of livelihood after her husband Krishan Lal died of throat cancer last year. 'rishan's mother was also a breast cancer patient and had died two years ago. "I have five daughters and two sons and now only my sons are studying in government schools and my teenage girls are working in the fields as labourers to earn money."

Roshani Devi and Chandravali - two other breast cancer patients - also died about a month ago, while a third, Vidhya Chand, is suffering from breast cancer. The patients in the village who are still alive have learnt extra caution with regard to cleanliness and drinking water. Dewan Chand, Vidhya's husband, says, "We are far more aware now, but still no one knows the root cause."

Registering cases: Pvt labs not cooperating

The cancer registry programme has been badly hit in Punjab due to lack of cooperation by diagnostic centres, private labs and hospitals, as they are not sending data to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), sources said on Friday adding that information was being held by private institutes for their own vested interests.

Manjeet Singh Bal, Principal Investigator of Population Based Cancer Registries of Punjab, confirmed that ICMR had received 40 per cent of information of cancer patients.

He said many private institutions in remote areas of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Ferozepur, Patiala were not cooperating and there was a need to create more awareness about the programme.

"Data gained after the state government initiated steps to facilitate a Cancer Atlas, is throwing up new patterns of cancer among people," he added.

"So far, the department of pathology, Government Medical College, Patiala has registered 3,900 cancer patients in the past three years," he said.

Meanwhile, ICMR has written to Punjab to mobilise private diagnostic labs, hospitals to report details of cancer patients.

The project officer of National Cancer Registry Programme of ICMR, Bangalore, A Nandakumar has urged Punjab to call a meeting of health officials who have been regulating private diagnostic labs and hospitals in the state.

The Punjab government had issued a notification in October which made it mandatory for all public and private hospitals and labs to report online details of cancer patient within a week of diagnosis or suspicion.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Job fair at Fazilka, 750 get offers

After having passed his Class XII in 2010 and unable to pursue further studies due to his family's financial condition, Fazilka resident Sambhav Mittal had been idle at home for nearly two years. All that, however, is set to change as Sambhav is now spoilt for choice after receiving job offers from various companies at the first-ever Fazilka job fair on Monday. The companies have offered him a salary in the range of Rs 5,000- 7,500 a month.

Mittal was among 750 applicants, who received offers at the job fair, organised by Fazilka MLA and Forest Minister Surjit Kumar Jayani.

Around 1,340 people had turned out for the fair, of whom, 1,100 were shortlisted. Of these 750 received jobs including 90 women. The applicants possessed education qualifications ranging from Class VIII onwards to MBAs and engineers.

"The majority of the youngsters recruited by the companies are the skilled workforce who will work as fitters, electricians, welders, foreman, while a few with MBA degrees have got jobs in the human resource and finance departments," said Kashmir Singh of the state labour department. Around 30 companies from Punjab (a majority from Ludhiana) had turned up at the fair.

Company representatives stated that they were in dire need of skilled workers and hence were more than happy with the response. They added that Class VIII and Class X pass applicants, who received jobs, will be trained by the industries.

"It is a welcome step that Punjabis are coming forward to work as we were dependent on unskilled workforce from UP and Bihar," a company representative said. Meanwhile, Forest Minister Surjit Kumar Jayani promised another job fair for professionals after three months.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

‘Village Of Addicts’ Cries For Its Sons

FAZILKA – After reporting seven deaths in the past almost a year, Alliana village of Fazilka has become infamous as 'Hamlet of addicts' in this part of the region. Having a population of around 1,200, the village saw the latest death due to drug addiction three days ago.
Pappu Singh (28) fell prey to the menace on Rakshabandhan. A marginal farmer owning three acres of land, Pappu had left for his fields in an inebriated condition early in the morning, says his wife. As he did not return by noon, his family members got worried.
His three married sisters, who had come to tie a 'rakhi', started looking for him frantically around the village. Their search ended with the recovery of his body. He reportedly died due to drug overdose. Never had the sisters thought the auspicious occasion would turn tragic.
Weeping inconsolably ever since, his wife has been left to fend for herself and their two daughters, aged three and five.
Pappu's is not the solitary case in the village, situated 21 km from Fazilka. Six more youths — Darshan Singh, Chhinder Singh, Mangat Singh, Balwant Singh, Gurdev Singh and Manjit Singh — die in a similar fashion. All were below 30. "Of the seven victims, six were married. The condition of around 10 more youths of the village is the same," says Iqbal Singh, an elderly.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fazilka district in a shambles

FAZILKA: This newly carved 22nd district of the state has recently celebrated its first anniversary. 

Even after completing one full year of its inception, the district lacks everything, from infrastructure to officials and staff for its different departments. 

The vital requirement of posting a civil surgeon, medical staff and other programme officials of the health department has also not been met till date. 

With the city accorded district status, the 100-beded hospital is also upgraded as a district hospital, but the government seems to have forgotten to appoint the required medical and para-medical staff. 

What to talk of appointing additional staff, the district hospital has no medical specialist, surgeon, gynecologist and pediatrician, while the posts of ophthalmologist, radiologist, blood transfusion officer and seven medical officers are lying vacant. The hospital, which handles over 400 OPD cases daily and conducts nearly 200 delivery cases, including caesarean operations, every month, in the absence of required medical staff, including a gynecologist. Call it a miracle, but it is sorry state of affairs of the district civil hospital which was being run without the services of specialist doctors and staff. 

According to official data, out of the sanctioned posts of 20 doctors in the district civil hospital, 15 are lying vacant. Posts of two medical specialists, a surgeon, a pediatrician, a gynecologist, ophthalmologist, radiologist, psychiatric and seven medical officers are lying vacant. Out of 24 sanctioned posts of staff nurse, 12 are vacant. Only two sweepers are working in the hospital out of sanctioned strength of nine. The blood bank of the hospital is also functioning without a blood transfusion officer. 

Different welfare programmes launched by the Union and state government such as family planning, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and school health scheme have been hit hard by the absence of trained staff. 

In the absence of required medical staff, a number of patients and medical emergencies remain unattended. Many needy patients who cannot afford costly private treatment are the worst hit. 

"The affairs of the new district have become messier and worse than before, because some of the officers holding dual charge are seldom available. 

The civil surgeon is sitting at Ferozepur and the common people feel difficulty in getting their official work done because they cannot go to Ferozepur and their work remains incomplete here too," said Raj Kishore Kalra, president of social welfare society, an NGO. 

Dr SP Garg, senior medical officer, Fazilka civil hospital admitted that the hospital was facing shortage of staff. "We try to cope with the rush of the patients. The higher authorities had been apprised of the situation and urged them to fill the vacant posts early," he added.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sisters to get saplings as Rakhi gift in Punjab - Times of India

Dinesh K Sharma, TNN | Aug 2, 2012, 02.57AM IST

FAZILKA: This Rakshabandhan, sisters in Fazilka district of Punjab will get saplings as gift from their brothers. As part of a novel campaign to spread awareness about environment, a city-based NGO - Graduate Welfare Association of Fazilka (GWAF) - has invited all brothers in the region to take part in this 'green mission'.

According to Navdeep Asija, GWAF secretary, all sisters will get saplings as gifts on Thursday (Rakshabandhan day). A free call centre has been set up for the purpose and people can order saplings free of cost on phone by calling one of the green ambulances (No. 9915184000), he said.

"You need not worry about the saplings, gardener and plantation. We are here to take care of everything. Rickshaws will take saplings to the houses of people who ordered the plants. The men pulling rickshaws are trained green warriors, they will help you plant the trees," said Vikram Ahuja of Zamindara Farm Solutions, which is providing the technical know-how for the campaign.

The men with green ambulances will plant the saplings and take an undertaking from the recipients on protecting them.

Rita Nagpal, a teacher, said it's a unique initiative taken by the GWAF for the protection of trees. "I would love to receive such a memorable gift from my brother on this Rakhi. I will take care of the sapling so as to keep the bond of brother and sister intact for years to come," she said.

Ridhima Chuchra, a student, said people are aware of the need to protect the environment but too busy to plant trees.

Meanwhile, the third Anand Utsav, an annual environment festival organised jointly by GWAF, Punjab forest department and Zamindara Farm Solutions, will start here on Rakshabandhanday. This year the organizers hope to plant 10,000 saplings. The GWAF had planted nearly 4,000 saplings in the past two editions of Anand Utsav.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

फोन करो और रक्षाबंधन का उपहार पाओ

अमृत सचदेवा, फाजिल्का : भाई-बहन के प्यार का प्रतीक रक्षा बंधन का त्यौहार इस साल फाजिल्का में पर्यावरण संरक्षण को समर्पित होगा। एनजीओ ग्रेजुएट्स वेलफेयर एसोसिएशन व जमींदारा फार्मसाल्यूशंस इस रक्षा बंधन के मौके पर फोन पर पौधे मंगवाकर घर के बाहर लगवाने की मुहिम 'डायल-ए-ट्री' की शुरुआत कर रही है। दोनों संस्थाओं ने सभी भाइयों से अपील की है कि वे रक्षा बंधन पर बहनों को दिए जाने वाले उपहार के तौर पर पौधा भेंट करें।

देश में सबसे पहले फाजिल्का में घरों तक निशुल्क पौधे पहुंचा लगाने की ये मुहिम 2009 में शुरू हुई थी। ग्रेजुएट वेलफेयर एसोसिएशन के सचिव नवदीप असीजा व जमींदारा फार्मसाल्यूशंस के निदेशक विक्रम आहूजा ने बताया कि वर्तमान में फाजिल्का का अर्बन क्षेत्र 10.4 वर्ग किलोमीटर है। लेकिन यहां वन 0.5 प्रतिशत ही हैं। उनका लक्ष्य शहर व आसपास के गांवों में वनों का रकबा बढ़ाना है। इस साल 10 हजार पौधे लगाने की मुहिम के तहत जमींदारा फार्मसाल्यूशंस पर बनाए कॉल सेंटर पौधा लगवाने की इच्छा का फोन आने पर 24 घंटे के भीतर पौधा लगवाएगी। फोन लाइन 99151-84000 पहली अगस्त से खुल रही है। दो अगस्त से पौधे लगने शुरू हो जाएंगे। पौधे लगाने की शुरुआत शहर की बाधा झील पर वन मंत्री सुरजीत ज्याणी दो अगस्त सुबह 10 बजे करेंगे। 13 अगस्त को मुहिम का समापन नई आबादी में सांस्कृतिक कार्यक्रम 'आनंद उत्सव' के साथ होगा।


लगाए जाएंगे छायादार पौधे

फाजिल्का : असीजा ने बताया कि मुहिम के तहत नीम, बकायन, अमलताश, गुलमोहर, जामुन, टाहली के पौधे लगाए जाएंगे। यह पौधे छायादार होते हैं और विशुद्ध भारतीय प्रजातियां हैं।


अब तक की उपलब्धियां

फाजिल्का : साल 2009 में मुहिम की शुरुआत के मौके पर लगाए गए 12 सौ में से छह सौ, 2011 के आनंद उत्सव में लगाए 23 सौ में से 16 सौ पौधे बढ़कर वृक्ष बनने लगे हैं।


बहनों में उत्साह

फाजिल्का : इस बार रक्षा बंधन पर भाई की तरफ से मिलने वाले पौधे के उपहार को लेकर बहनों में काफी उत्साह है। कांशी राम कालोनी की नेहा सेतिया, आदर्श नगर की तनु सचदेवा व कैलाश नगर की संदीप कौर ने कहा कि पौधे के रूप में मिले उपहार की वह खूब देखभाल करेंगी। पौधे बढ़कर वृक्ष बनेंगे तो पर्यावरण संरक्षण तो हो होगा ही, साथ ही उनका अपने भाइयों के साथ स्नेह और प्यार भी प्रगाढ़ होगा।

Love that grows: tree saplings as rakhi gift

On Rakhi, to protect the environment, the women in Fazilka will receive saplings as gift from brothers. The Graduates Welfare Association of Fazilka (GWAF) is behind this mission. "On Rakhi, all sisters in Fazilka will get a tree sapling each as gift from brothers," GWAF secretary Navdeep Asija stated here on Tuesday. "We hope it helps the community bond with the environment, besides family."

Third Anand Utsav, annual environment festival of the GWAF, Punjab forest department Punjab, and Zamindara Farmsolutions, will open on Raksha Bandhan. This year, its organisers plan to plant 10,000 tree saplings. The young trees are hauled on board two "green ambulances" or transformed cycle rickshaws that on Thursday forest and wildlife minister Surjit Jiyani will flag off from the Badha wetland.

Fazilka's total urban area of 10.4 square kilometres has a green cover of less than 0.5%. Of more than 3,500 tree saplings planted in the last two editions of the festival, 2,200 have survived, mainly on the outskirts.

Under the "Dial-a-Tree" project opened in Fazilka last year, people can order free-of-cost tree saplings on telephone by calling one of the green ambulances. The rickshaws take saplings to their door. "The men pulling the rickshaws are trained green warriors, carrying the knowledge of a variety of trees, besides manure, cutters, and trenching equipment," said Vikram Ahuja of Zamindara Farmsolutions. "They will even take care of your existing trees and remove any signs nailed into the trunk. The men will plant the trees and receive an undertaking from the receiver about protecting and take care of the gift."

Punch a helpline number and the tree is delivered within 24 hours of the request. "People are aware of the need to protect the environment but too busy to plant trees," said Dr Bhupinder Singh, patron of the GWAF.

"They also don't know from where to source saplings, manure, and manpower. The 'Dial-a-Tree' service is solution to that problem. Call us once and we bring the tree to you, provided you agree to protect it." The GWAF will seek help from the army for the mass plantation of trees in Fazilka.