At a time when droughts and inconsistent harvests trouble Indian farmers, experts suggest that farmers should diversify farming to focus on commercial crops such as Papaya. However, papaya cultivation has not yet taken off as a mainstream farming option, especially among traditional farmers in North Karnataka, due to its water-intensive nature. Papaya cultivation is also prone to post-harvest losses due to fungal diseases, physiological disorders and mechanical damage.
The Deshpande Foundation, with inputs from local farmers, identified the need for a sustainable model of water access for farmers. The Foundation identified farm ponds as an innovative and affordable model for harvesting and storing water to serve irrigation needs of farmers.
The idea for the papaya cultivation project was born out of the Foundation’s initiative to popularize farm ponds. It emerged that farmers could utilize the excess water stored in farm ponds, for irrigation in papaya farms.
In order to increase the farm productivity and per capita income of the farmer, the Deshpande Foundation is piloting the growth of commercial crop of Papaya with 17 farmers in 27 acres of land in Navalgund in North Karnataka. Key offerings of the Papaya Cultivation initiative include land preparation, agricultural best practices, regular inputs on package and market linkages.
Papaya farming is being popularized by the Foundation in the following initial steps: Farmers purchase papaya saplings, funded by the Foundation that also provides technical guidance across the supply chain from planting to procurement. The Foundation visits farmers in their villages, organizes meetings to create awareness of the benefits of dedicating one acre of land for papaya cultivation. Farmers are also taken on exposure visits so that they can witness the benefits first-hand.
A farmer from Navalgund said, “’I incurred a total cost of about INR 22,000 on the crop (cost of saplings, labour, maintenance, and fertilizer). But I made an earning of INR 60,000 with my first harvest. I expect my one thousand trees to continue yielding for the next 16 months and that will assure me an income of between INR 6 lakh to INR 9 lakh for a total harvest of 100 tonnes of fruit.”
Encouraged by the response it received from farmers, the Deshpande Foundation team is constantly at work, discovering new ways for farmers to benefit from the program at an optimal cost. With the inauguration of its new campus in Hulgur, the Foundation now nurtures papaya seedlings, bringing down the cost for farmers. Efforts are also underway to empower farmers to independently manage the entire process across the supply chain with the establishment of a farmer-governed producer organization that makes the farmers self-sufficient and creates room for the Foundation to scale its programs.