Archive for the 'Crop' Category

Banana fibre in Bihar: the remarkable story of an industry and an entrepreneur!

Patna: Bihar farmers plant banana in around 28,000 hectares of land every year. The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant. The plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy and are often mistaken for trees, but their main or upright stem is actually a pseudostem that grows 6 to 7.6 metres (20 to 24.9 ft) tall, growing from a corm.

Each pseudostem can produce a single bunch of bananas. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but offshoots may develop from the base of the plant. Many varieties of bananas are perennial.

banana fibre arrangedThe relevant point here however is, the stem invariably goes waste. On the whole 22 districts in Bihar grow banana, some of them on a vast scale. Each acre of banana plantation may have up to 1300 tress. This may give you some idea of the banana waste output of entire Bihar. So what should be done?

According to standard data, not widely known in Bihar, a full 1 km of fibre may be extracted from 12-15 banana trees. A plantation thus with 1300 trees can give a producer 85 kms of fibre length. But what are the uses of the banana fibre? And this is where the producer may hit the jackpot.

banana fibre mats

Banana fibre is used in a variety of industries starting with high quality paper to weaving of saris in South India and Gujarat. The fibre also finds use in high quality security/currency paper, packing cloth, ship towing ropes, wet drilling cables etc.

India also occupies the largest area under Banana cultivation in the world covering approx. 11% of world area of Banana. Banana fiber can partially replace the consumption of Cotton and Jute fiber in India. It has excellent potential for export to Far-east Asian and South Asian countries like Singapore,Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Banana farmers and entrepreneurs in Bihar are thus sitting on a gold mine that they are not aware of. There is one person however who has taken the initiative in Bihar. Virendra Dayal who has a small scale unit in Bidupur, Vaishali took the trouble to get himself trained in the technique of fibre extraction before he put up his industry. He now says he has captive clients who pick up his produce and he doesn’t have to go chasing after them – a major advantage in the case of Bihar where farmers often find tough to seek markets.

Mr Dayal lays down a simple calculation to explain the profitability of the industry – one acre of land will give you 1200 stems approximately. Roughly 12 stems give you around 1 kilo of fibre. Companies willingly pay Rs 150-200 for a kilo of fibre. He started his industry with a machine he bought for the royal sum of Rs 80,000 and a large room as a factory. He is now planning to upgrade the machine with an investment of Rs 150,000. Does that give you an idea of the scale of investment?

banana basket bihardays

You can do the rest of the calculation yourself. Mr dayal does not forget to add that the banana stem juice may be processed into high value molasses as well.  So far we have thought of banana fibre from the entrepreneur’s viewpoint. Once you include the farmer and the local labour employed, you get a complete picture of the potential of this industry.


Bihar rejects field trials of GM crops

Patna, March 4, 2011: Farmers and activists today dared multinational seed company Monsanto to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops in the state, and claimed that Bihar was in fact fit to be declared totally GM free. “Our efforts have bore fruit as Bihar farmers are now aware of the dangers of the genetic foods. No farmer or his field is thus offering to be a lab rat in Bihar,” they told a press conference here. Bharitya Kisan Union representatives even said they will chase away anyone found to be engaged in such trials even clandestinely.

Bihar Farmers Commission Chairman and former Central Minister Upendra Nath Verma said that Bihar is the first state to have banned commercial use of Bt brinjal but the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee of the Central Government had permitted some open air field trials, some insect resistance management trials and seed production plots for GM Maize of Monsanto and GM rice of Bayer at seven places in the country, including two in Bihar – Begusarai and Bhagalpur. “We view it with great concern. When Bt brinjal was not approved by the government for commercial use why did it then allow conducting of trial of Bt maize etc?”

GM Free Bihar Movement’s convenor Pankaj Bhushan termed any such trials as “totally unwarranted, unnecessary, illegal and hazardous” and said he was in constant touch with officials of the state not to allow any such trials. “Such trials pose hazards of biological contamination as well as intentional leakage of seed as has been witnessed in the case of Bt cotton earlier in the country.” “Herbicide-tolerant crops like the GM Maize pose many socio-economic concerns in addition to health and environmental hazards flowing both from the increased use of agri-chemicals in the form of weedicides like glyphosate as well as from the genetic engineering process,” he said.

“Since the Bihar government had responded positively to our efforts against Bt brinjal, we had again approached all concerned by raising valid objections against any possible field trials in the state,” Bhushan said adding the campaign against field trials was bearing fruit.

He also said that herbicide tolerance technology will have irreversible impacts on farmers of the state where the poorest people survive out of employment generated through manual de-weeding in agricultural fields.

Commenting on the anti-farmer behaviour of Monsanto, farmer union leaders pointed out that seed monopolies are building up in Indian agriculture with lax regulatory regimes and seed prices are reaching unprecedented, exorbitant high levels. “Monsanto wants to strengthen their position of monopoly by bringing in GM crops where their seed as well as chemical businesses will thrive. Therefore, we will not allow any such companies to conduct field trials in Bihar. Rather, our government should find it appropriate to declare Bihar a GM Free state.”

It is pertinent to note that GM Free Bihar Movement had played a crucial role in raising awareness among the people in Bihar about Bt brinjal, the first GM food crop to have been considered for commercial cultivation in the country.

Both the Centre and Bihar Government then responded rightly to the constitutional, democratic and scientific voices all around and placed a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal on February 9, 2010.

According to Bhushan, multinationals were still conniving to push GM crops without sufficient research on the human health impacts, unscientific test protocols, absence of independent bio-safety tests, and  conflicting interests of  regulators. Besides, adverse results in experiments were also being masked by the crop developers and ignored by the regulators.

Drought hits Bihar maize farmers

Due to drought this year, the country might not be able to tap maize from the state’s three districts — Begusarai, Khagaria, and five blocks of northern Bhagalpur — whose maize yields are considered among the bests in the country.

While maize has 108 industrial uses, including in the manufacture of gun powder and cosmetics, over and above their use in fast food in metros and other towns, the merchants banking on lifting maize from the three districts have been left wringing their empty hands.

Incidentally, such merchants, for the last three seasons, have been setting up their maize-lifting centres at Maheshkhoot on National Highway-31 in Khagaria district, that is the central point in the zone. Even deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi used to mention this development with pride two years ago. Accordingly, farmers not only in the three districts, but also in neighbouring Purnia and Katihar, had been reaping huge chunk of cash from their maize yield.

Said Jayant Singh from Katihar district, “Last year, I had sold maize worth Rs 3 lakh. As a matter of fact, any farmer who cultivated maize had good return on the crop. But, this year, we are the losers.”

The impact of the drought on the mood and morale of the maize-growing farmers could be easily imagined. In fact, the leader of the Central team assessing the impact of drought in the state, Pankaj Kumar, who is joint secretary in the Union agriculture ministry, noted in his meeting with CM Nitish Kumar on Friday that maize plants had already wilted or dried in the drought-hit districts.

Incidentally, based on rainfall deficit and poor paddy coverage till July 31, the government declared 28 of the state’s 38 districts as drought hit. Both Begusarai and Bhagalpur figured among them. Now, on Monday, disaster management department (DMD) principal secretaryVyas Ji would assess the drought situation in the remaining 10 districts, which include Khagaria, Purnia and Katihar, through videoconferencing with the DMs concerned. Indication on the basis of the field reports was that the situation in the 10 districts was also grim. In effect, these districts would also be declared as drought-hit.

Its implication is that the damage to the maize crop, like paddy and pulses, has been substantial. Pertaining to the 28 districts, the state’s agriculture department had computed that the maize coverage in 2.31 lakh hectares worth around 2.07 metric tonnes had been damaged.

With the damage registered in 10 other districts, the loss of damage would be more. In result, both farmers and industries using maize from Bihar are the sufferers, and those who have the taste for various types of maize-based soup and pop corns would have to shell out extra bit of money to satisfy their culinary fantasies.

(Patna/Abhay Singh/TNN/Aug 15, 2010)

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