Deogarh: Surrounded by dense forest and hills, Soda gram panchayat under Tileibani block on the outskirts of Deogarh district was notorious for ‘Red’ Rebels. The same gram panchayat is presently known for its ‘red’ vegetable- tomato.
At the turn of millennium, the gram panchayat was a source of headache for the district administration and state government alike for being a hub of Maoists activities. The area was then deprived of all the basic facilities such as communication, health and education. And, the Maoists had made the best use of the absence of such facilities to endear themselves to the innocent people and had a strong support base in the area.
The main source of income of the people living here had been goat, hen and pig rearing. They also used to collect minor forest produces and sell them in nearby markets. Cultivation on the sloppy and stony areas which is also quite a distance away from irrigation facilities had been near impossible.
Towards the end of the last decade, the seed of present day’s success story was sown by two siblings of Kalochipodadiha village. Ganduru Mi and Gosein Mi started growing a variety of tomatoes that can grow in rainy season in a trial basis.
For initial two to four years, they went on with their efforts without caring for profit or loss. During those years, most of the plants would begin to wilt at fruits bearing stage. The remaining ones would have fruits, but not of the desired size and amounts.
They held discussions with the agro scientists at the district agricultural science centre and employees of the horticulture department, and eventually found the solution to get rid of the issue. Eventually, their efforts started bearing fruits and the amount and quality of the yield started to be envious.
Taking a cue from the brothers, other framers too shifted from their traditional farming to growing the same variety of tomatoes. “As this variety of tomato grows in rainy season, we did not need to water them. And since the rainy season is an off season for tomatoes, we did not have any issue finding a market for our produce. We started to make profit by selling tomatoes in local markets,” boasts Ganduru Mi and Gosein Mi.
Later farmers of nearby villages like Biriam and Soda too tried this variety of tomatoes and tasted success. Agro scientists made frequent visits to these villages and guided the farmers to better yield.
Now tomato is being grown here on about 100 acres of land and the yield has reached 80 to 90 quintals per acre. The farmers are now implementing modern techniques at different stage of growing the vegetable. These days, three to four trucks of tomatoes are harvested and sent from Soda panchayat alone to various markets. Apart from Deogarh, Soda tomatoes have created a market for themselves in neighbouring Sundargarh, Sambalpur and nearby districts.
Tomato cultivation has uplifted the financial condition of farmers here. According to Manoj Lakra, Dilip Lakra, and several other young farmers, earlier they used to migrate out of the district in search of work. Now the situation has changed. They have become self sufficient.
Tomato cultivation has paved the way for our success. We feel happy to know that the ‘Red Rebel’ sticker associated with our place has been replaced with the fame of our red vegetable, they added.