Grassroots heroes lead Bihar’s rural revolution

Contemporary Bihar is not all about Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. In recent times, the resurgent state has thrown up many unlikely heroes who have emerged as role models.

Bihar’s resurgence begins at the grassroots level. For many years, villages in Bihar saw their youths migrating to other states in large numbers in search of livelihood. It was left to the minuscule minority of do-gooders to stay back and contribute their mite towards a silent agricultural revolution in the state.

Leading the pack of achievers are five young and doughty farmers from Darveshpura village from Nalanda district who recently created a new world record in paddy cultivation. Sumant Kumar had a bumper yield of 224 quintal per hectare which was enough to eclipse the world record set by a Chinese farm scientist Yuan Longping. Four of his friends from the same village – Krishna Kumar, Nitish Kumar, Ramanand Singh and Sanjay Kumar – also had extraordinary produce. So proud was the chief minister Nitish Kumar of the achievements of the young farmers from his home district that he not only felicitated them at their ancestral place but also asked them to motivate other peasants in the state.

These farmers had opted for an unconventional way of paddy plantation known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which requires less water and seeds than the traditional methods but helps procure far greater quantities.

Interestingly, it was a Dalit woman Jyoti Manjhi from the Naxal-infested Gaya district who first popularised this technique in Bihar by cultivating paddy on the barren land and converted many villages in Fatehpur block of the district into a veritable rice bowl. She has since become a Janata Dal-United MLA, thanks to Nitish who offered her the party ticket in the last assembly elections because of her achievements in the field of agriculture.

Manjhi is not the only woman who tilled her land to fame. Bihar has another role model in Rajkumari Devi, a woman farmer from Muzaffarpur district, who set up a self-help group of 360 underprivileged women to make them financially independent through farming alone. Her image of riding a bicycle through the dusty lanes of her village is the most enduring symbol of women’s empowerment in a state known over the years for its feudal mindset.

Another farmer from Muzaffarpur district, 40-year-old Manoj Kumar too has become an icon for the youths of the state. He motivated the farmers in and around his Mustafaganj village to embrace organic farming and use vermi-compost on a large scale. A gold medallist in geography from Bihar University, Manoj has set up a band of about 350 farmers in his area who use latest farm techniques and grow two to three crops at the same time. Another remarkable aspect about Manoj’s village is that the people plant ten saplings of Semal (silk cotton trees) to meet the expenses of the weddings of their daughters in future. This is, of course, akin to Dharhara village in Bhagalpur district where the villagers have, for long, been planting fruit trees on the birth of every girl.

It is because of these agrarian heroes living in the backwaters of Bihar that the state can hope for another green revolution in future. They may not be the familiar faces as yet but they are the ones who are working silently to make the most of Bihar’s agricultural potential. In a state shunned by large investors and industrialists, they are the unsung heroes whose untiring efforts may ultimately lead to the revival of Bihar’s crippled rural economy.

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