Striking Gold At 1800-180-1551
Agriculture has struck gold with this number. Yes, the Agriculture Pavilion at the IITF 2012 received the gold medal for the best pavilion award in the state governments’ and central departments’ categories. Designed and curated by the extension division of the Ministry of Agriculture, it showcased the best of technologies from drudgery reduction tools, which shifted the load from the head to the shoulder for a meager Rs 400 to an air-conditioned tractor for Rs 14 lakh (largely for export markets). This is just to illustrate the range and the scope: farmers could also get information on breeding techniques for their cattle, get their soil tested free of cost, understand the nitty-gritty of micro-irrigation and protected cultivation, see live models of controlled atmosphere storage and take a look at models of integrated farming development—poultry, horticulture, aquaculture and bee-keeping working in tandem to improve livelihoods and incomes. Then of course, there were exhibits and live demonstrations from the ICAR institutions and the various boards and organisations under the Ministry from the Coconut Board to the Bamboo Mission, Nafud, Mother Dairy, NHB team. It was also very farmer friendly at least for the visitors from the Hindi-speaking regions and they constituted the bulk of the non-business visitors to the fair.
However, the USP of the Agri Pavilion were the three live street plays on the theme of the Kisan Call Centre. Whoever saw these plays came back with the call centre number etched deep in their memory. The first of these was based on a court room scene, in which two warring brothers seek to resolve their dispute. One accuses the other of having caused income disparity and social discord in the village by the latter’s use of new technologies and the visits of ‘aliens’ to their father’s sacred lands. It turns out that one of the brothers had taken the assistance of 1800-180-1551 to seek expert advice on soil tests and best possible crop options, invited the KVK scientists to visit his fields, (who in turn brought a team of visiting foreign experts to the village), taken up High Density Plantation of Guava with support from NHM in part of his land, and sold his produce to an aggregator from a nearby market yard. This had raised his disposable incomes and set in motion a virtuous cycle, which had taken him out of the quagmire of poverty. However, this did leave the accusing brother quite upset to see income and yield gaps from the land, which till a few years ago had been tilled together by both of them under their father’s guidance. One had moved with the times, the other did not!
The second play was a take on Amitabh Bachchan’s KBC show. Here a, progressive farmer who has already crossed the preliminary hurdles, and sitting on Rs 20 lakh is faced with four questions on soil health, micro-irrigation techniques, rural credit and choice of seeds. Needless to say our protagonist won the KBC with a Bachchan’s look-alike creating the usual suspense and melodrama around each question. Here again, when the winner is congratulated on his grasp on the subject, he gives the credit for his victory to the magic number: 1800-180-1551. Any and every query on agriculture can be discussed in the regional language or Hindi (in most places).
The last play also the most interesting is called Romance ka Number 1800-180-1551. The setting is a village in the Hindi heartland where the son of a marginal farmer (Rajesh) with just one hectare of barren land falls in love with the daughter of the village landlord (Seema). While the young lovebirds are busy with their song and dance, the landlord gets the boy beaten up by his goons. However, when the village panchayat comes together to discuss the matter, and decide on the future course of action and tells the landlord to reconsider his decision, he throws a challenge to the young lover: make your land productive, show me some income to take care of my daughter, and I will accept you as my son-in law!
Easier said than done. What should Rajesh be doing now? But by this time the audience also knows the magic number—1800-180-1551. And so when a skeptical Rajesh calls this number, he is surprised to hear a pleasant response asking him about the details of his land. Rajesh then visits the local KVK, who advises him a soil test, and determines that his land is good for potato. He then gets good quality potato tubers, and follows the right agronomic practices and is happy to see the plants grow. But then like all Bollywood movies, there is a twist to the tale. There is a pest attack, and the plants start to wilt. Rajesh is dejected all over again—but Seema calls him and reminds him of 1800-180-1551. He follows the advice, and saves his crop. He calls them again for advice on which mandi he should take his crop for sale, and strikes gold in the bargain!
Back to the village panchayat, the landlord is suitably impressed, and wants to know the magic number that has transformed the profile of Rajesh but by this time, the entire village and the audience, in unison yell out with glee—1800-180-1551!
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)