Reaping a golden harvest

For thousands of migrants returning home in the aftermath of Covid-induced lockdown, this could be an inspiration. A group of 20 migrant labourers along with some 30 others has reaped a golden harvest back home in Assam’s river island Majuli.

The youth from the poor Mishing tribe families have turned over 100-acre unused and sprawling land of their forefathers on the bank of the Brahmaputra into a mustard forest.

They will harvest their crops in January. Going by their estimates, each of them will become richer by Rs 1 lakh.

The success coming in just four months made the youngsters decide not to go back to cities but make a fortune back home. Most of them are Class XIIpass.

There are some graduates as well. Dipankar Kutum had worked at a company in Kerala’s Kottayam before the pandemic rendered him jobless. He says when many like him were staring at a bleak future; a few locals suggested we try our luck in agriculture. Soon, a vast swathe of land lying uncultivated for decades on the bank of the Brahmaputra was identified. “I worked for about a year in Kottayam, but the pandemic forced me to return home. Worried over the job loss, I contacted some locals of Sukansuti and Chataipur villages who came out with the brilliant idea,” Kutum says.

“I am not going back to Kottayam. If I can earn here more than what I did in Kottayam, there is no point living away from my dear ones,” the 25-year-old says. Debajit Pegu, another migrant worker, says flood and river erosion had forced their forefathers to migrate from the areas near the mustard field many decades ago. “It was perhaps the call of our forefathers.

When the pandemic made our lives hell, we thought of growing something that most of us never did before,” says Pegu, 37, father of two children. He worked in a Calicut factory that supplies oxygen to hospitals.

By filling up the cylinders, he earned Rs 12,000 a month. But now, like Kutum, he too, says he will not go back to the south Indian city. The ‘Merbeel Miri Pathar Management Committee’ was constituted to prepare a roadmap and execute the plan. As it decided, the youth had, on average, contributed Rs 10,000 each.

“They were demoralised after losing their jobs. We thought if they could be motivated to work in the field, they could earn a living,” says Dilip Kutum, a teacher and village elder. Around Rs 5 lakh was raised from the youth and a lot of it was spent on hiring tractors for cultivation and barricading the field by erecting a fence. It was done to keep the cattle at bay. Kutum says the land for cultivation has not been measured, but it could be at least 100 acres.

“The work started in September with the support of villagers. We don’t have a market here, but we believe we would get in excess of Rs 50 lakh by selling the produce. The youth are excited, waiting for the harvest.

The other day, they organised a feast,” Kutum says. The villagers will next cultivate paddy, but thereafter for three-four months, the land in question will be under floodwater. “Two crops will be enough for them to sustain. Those who worked outside have said they will not leave the island,” Kutum says, adding, “we want the effort of the villagers to come to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s notice.” It has already drawn the attention of Assam’s Agriculture Minister Atul Bora.

He was effusive in his praise of the youth. “I am extremely delighted. I will soon visit Majuli and meet them. Many migrant workers of Assam have taken to cultivation post pandemic. Others can replicate their endeavour,” Bora says. The government and the state’s agriculture department are trying to help the migrant workers through financial support from banks so they can start a venture. Stressing that the land in Assam is fertile and the state’s economy is agrobased, Bora says this sector has a huge potential. Agriculture can help boost rural as well as the state’s overall economy, he said.

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