Back to roots...

Back to roots...

If ever going back to the roots has a deeper meaning, we see it in Dr Vasanth Kumar Thimakapura, the brain behind Green Lifescience Technologies Pvt Ltd. A son of the soil, he has  come a full circle, to work with the farmers on the field again. He shares his experience of the importance of understanding tobacco, the farmers’ psyche and how important it is to communicate to the ryots, with N Niranjan Nikam.

The interaction with a group of horticulturists led by a high ranking official was not at all going along expected lines. The leader of the team was actually taking down points, making the right remarks and more importantly was lending his ears to what the expert on agriculture was talking about.

“In all my years in the field both as an academician and working in the industry, have I had a person that too from the government, listening to me carefully and later telling me that they are willing to join hands with the private industry. The dream of reaching to more farmers, I am sure will now be realised,” said Dr Vasanth Kumar Thimakapura, even as he shook hands with the team of horticulturists and bade them good bye.

His whole purpose of coming back to Mysore and setting up his technology driven agribiotech company was to come a step closer to the farmers. Hailing from the rural hinterland near Periyapatna, the place where 50 per cent of tobacco is grown, Vasanth told City Herald, “I am not for tobacco crop.”

Almost 80 per cent of FCV (Flu Cured Virginia) tobacco is exported to foreign countries. It is grown mainly in the four taluks of Periyapatna, Hunsur, H D Kote and Arkalgud taluk in Hassan district.

What Vasanth saw was the gap in cultivation. “The production has not increased, only the area of cultivation has expanded. The tobacco is a licensed crop. There is a rule that a certain quantity of crop has to be grown in one hectare. I studied the nursery and found that if the seedling is not good then the crop will also not be good,” he said.

Unlike the other seeds which require just one month in the nursery, it takes two months in the nursery for tobacco seeds to grow. Mean time the seeds will be prone to disease. There was no treatment given for the seeds here in the first month, which was the gap Vasanth recognised.

The disease which the seeds are struck with is called Anthracnose disease (kiri kaddi roga). “However, since the tobacco board is involved, the credit is the buzz word for farmers. Even if an organic product has to be used to treat the disease, the farmers strongly believe that only if it is given on credit will they take it,” he said.

Vasanth took a risk and then went to a bank and asked the bankers to give his product on loan to the farmers and he would cover the risk. Only if the farmer pays back will the bank return him the money after taking a five per cent commission. This was for the first time an entrepreneur was taking a risk to help the farmer which even the MNCs were not prepared to do.

There is a ban on tobacco growing by 2020 and 150 countries in the world have signed the agreement. The only alternative to replace tobacco is growing vegetables. “We have to follow what we in agriculture parlance call GAP (good agriculture practice). We need a holistic approach to encourage the farmers to bridge the gap. But tobacco is the only cash crop which is rain-fed.

All other crops need irrigation. The reason why we are advocating growing vegetables is because there is lot of vitamin deficiency among rural women and this is mainly because they do not consume vegetables. If the farmers also start growing vegetables as an alternative crop, then they will not get into bad habits, their health will improve and my dream of making Mysore district a California will be realised,” he said.

Another major reason the farmers can turn to vegetable cultivation is because, a major producer of vegetables Kolar district is gradually slowing down on this cultivation. Mysore district has fertile soil and road connectivity is good. The only problem is how to sell the vegetables after it is grown. This is where the intervention of the government and the initiative for a public private partnership gains importance.

“Unlike in the university where I worked and would have made more enemies if I had to become a vice chancellor, here with my global experience and interacting with giants like the father of green revolution Norma Borlaug, I am planning to set up a pathology lab, a first of its kind in the country free for farmers to get holistic solutions,” said Vasanth.

He strongly feels that what the Indian farmer needs are generalists who understand the problems in its entirety. If this is achieved then his returning to the roots will have achieved its purpose.

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