Agri-clinics set up under a Ministry of Agriculture scheme are providing expert advice to farmers and employment to agriculture graduates

Farmer Munshi Lal Saini from Sirka village calls up an agri-clinic at Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. The leaves of the chilli plants he had sown are wilting and he wants advice from Yashpal Singh, who has set up the agri-clinic and agri-business centre.

With almost every farmer owning a cell phone these days or at least having access to telephones, seeking advice on phone has become a norm. An M Sc. in Agriculture, Yashpal gets a number of calls from farmers every day seeking information or checking availability about fertilisers or soil health, cropping practices or sowing and harvesting related information and technology and the pricing of the crops. Many farmers also visit the clinic to update themselves on the latest schemes for farmers.

Two farmers, Ashok Singh and Devendra Singh, have come from Jagrampura to Yashpal’s agri-clinic. Ashok wants Yashpal to organise a demonstration of vermi-composting in his village. Both the farmers are keen to use organic manure as the soil, they say, is becoming less fertile by the day due to the over use of chemical fertilizers. Devendra feels that in addition to the agri-clinics, the old system of village level workers who used to go from village to village updating and advising farmers should be revived.

Yashpal’s clinic caters to about 100 villages in a 20-25 sq km range around Rampur. As the ‘doctor’ at the clinic, he advises farmers on agri- inputs, visits farms, organises agro fairs and holds classes for farmers and takes them on tours to agriculture exhibitions. Last year before the kharif season, he held what are called ‘farm classes’ that are visited by experts in the field and also took the farmers to the Dhamora Krishi Kendra for agriculture fair and ‘kisan goshthi’. “This is necessary to build trust,” Yashpal says.

Wheat, paddy, sugar cane, mentha, water melon, sweet melon and a variety of vegetables and fruits are grown in this area. For over a decade now, cultivation of poplars has been getting very popular. One can see rows of poplars with yellow mustard fields dotted in between on the way from Moradabad to Rampur.

Yashpal is among thousands of graduates and post graduates who pass out from agriculture universities every year but there are not enough jobs to absorb them. On the other hand, agricultural extension services for farmers have been shrinking. It was against this backdrop that the ‘Agri Clinic and Agri Business Centre Scheme’ was launched by the Ministry of Agriculture a decade back in association with NABARD and in coordination with the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) and the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE); its guidelines were revised 2011. The scheme is open to agricultural graduates in subjects allied to agriculture like horticulture, sericulture, forestry, veterinary science, animal husbandry, dairy, poultry, agri-engineering, food technology and other allied activities.

Under the scheme, unemployed agricultural graduates are provided training at designated training centres and successful candidates can later apply for loans to start their agri-clinics and business centres in any specified venture. They do not need to deposit collateral security for loans up to Rs. five lakh. The loan period can vary between five to ten years depending on the activities.

The objective of the scheme is to supplement the efforts of the government extension system, make available supplementary sources of input supply and services for farmers and to provide gainful employment to agricultural graduates in various areas of the agricultural sector.

Yashpal belongs to the small village of Thakurdwara ka majra gadai kheda. Son of a farmer, he wanted to do a job and even worked in a pesticide company for two years. But frequent transfers and other pressures led him to seek other avenues. Then he saw an advertisement about agri- clinics and agri-business centres. He applied for it and took two months’ training. Later, he took a loan and started his own clinic.

CORRECTION: In Sarita Brara's story on women train drivers, 'Realigning the tracks' (January 8, 2013) the person referred to as born in Bihar was Priti, another woman train driver, and not Mumtaz. The error is regretted.