Displaced diamond workers reap rich farming harvest

February 17th, 2009 - 12:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Feb 17 (IANS) Hit by recession, thousands of displaced diamond workers in Gujarat are returning home to rediscover their farming roots. And the cash crops they are growing in a matter of months is bringing some sparkle back to their lives.

“When the diamond industry flourished I earned about Rs.60,000 per year. Now I expect to earn Rs.1.6 million after harvesting nearly 800 mounds of cumin seed,” said Rajesh Dabhi of Sangasar in Ahmedabad district.

He was working in a Bhavnagar diamond factory until five months ago. Originally a cotton farmer, he had left home as cultivation was a losing proposition at that time due to scarce water supply.

But thanks to check dams and ponds built in large parts of Saurashtra - comprising areas like Bhavnagar, Amreli and Palanpur - over the last seven years, the water situation has improved. And that’s just what many diamond workers are finding out.

“I am happy to say that with check dams and farm ponds that have been built with government help I could cultivate the cash crop cumin in my 40 bighas (over 13 acres),” Dabhi told IANS.

“I and my partner have reaped a rich harvest of nearly 800 maunds. This comes after a hard labour of four months and I would be getting the money in the next 15 to 20 days.”

The global meltdown has dealt a hard blow to the diamond industry, mainly concentrated in Surat and Ahmedabad, leaving its workers to fend for themselves. As a result, many of them have gone back to cultivating their lands.

“Two million diamond workers have been affected and it is now a question of their survival, as many of them are now on the streets,” said Ashok Punjabi, vice president, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) and in charge of the Congress Ratna Kalakar Cell here.

Nearly 60 percent of the one million diamond factory workers of Surat were once associated with agriculture. Today 50,000 Surat diamond workers have already returned home to Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar districts to cultivate their lands.

Another 50,000 are set to migrate after the exam season is over in March-April, said a state government official.

Trying times seem to have inspired many diamond workers of Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar districts to re-assess their ties with agriculture.

Dhirubhai, another farmer from Sangasar, said: “I sold my cumin crop at Rs.2,500 per 20 kg and earned Rs.165,000 and there is still some more crop yet to reach the market which will give me an additional Rs.60,000.”

“With many water harvesting schemes launched by the state government, cultivating cumin means a farmer can earn as much as Rs.200,000-300,000 per year. All this was made possible mainly due to the strong support from our farming community when we had returned home disheartened from Surat,” Dhirubhai said.

Many farmers are happy that once water is available for cultivation, all that is required is hard work to get the full benefits.

In Ahmedabad district last year, 21,000 hectares came under cumin cultivation with overall production being 15,011 tonnes while this year 30,233 hectares were used for cumin cultivation.

During the current fiscal, the cumin production of Ahmedabad district has been pegged at 21,163 tonnes worth Rs.2.11 billion. For many of these farmers cultivating cumin was a first time affair and yet they have been fairly successful.

“As a result of water management there has been a change in our lifestyle,” said farmer Dhavnat Suva of Kakhi Jalia village who is into cultivating sugarcane.

“Today we are prosperous. Twenty years ago, water scarcity forced me to venture into business. Now I am back to cultivation and happy,” he said.

“Earlier getting water for even one crop in a year was difficult. Now thanks to round-the-year water harvesting facilities we are able to have three crops,” said Maldebhai Bodar of Pachcham village of Ahmedabad district who owns 50 bighas.

In 2001, 12,000 check dams were built in Gujarat and today they number over 100,000.

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