Innovation does not necessarily need fancy academic qualifications. It is an incisive mind that spurs a human being towards being creative. Farmer Prabhat Ranjan Dey of Umapur Village in Phulia, Nadia District, West Bengal, is an excellent example of how a streak of creativity can help face challenges. An authority on fruits and vegetables, he has worked hard to popularise them among farmers and the local people
Prabhatbabu has just about one bigha (traditi-onal term used in mea-surement of land; four bighas equal one acre) of land to farm on. “My family used to own 25 bighas in the past. But frequent divisions of the land among the various offspring has left me with very little,” he says. Often, he leases land from others to grow his crops. But that has not deterred him from experimenting with new varieties of fruit and vegetables.
Awarded the Gene Savi-our Award in 2013 by the Government of India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority for having produced the Sujata mango by cross-pollinating Langda and Himsagar varie-ties, Dey has also produced many new varieties of jackfruit, bael (Bengal quince or golden apple), and ladies’ fingers (okra/ bhindi).
Dey’s first experiment with mangoes goes back to 1989, when he cross-pollinated the blooms of Himsagar (a popular Bengal variety) and Langda. The seven saplings he so produced yielded fruit six years later. Prabhatbabu named his mango after the milkmaid, Sujata, who had offered a bowl of kheer (rice pudding) to Buddha, breaking his long fast as he gained enlightenment. Unlike the known varieties, Sujata yields well every year, and may often have two fruits per stalk. The mango has a greenish yellow skin, smells like a Langda and is reddish yellow inside, like Himsagar. The general weight ranges from 170 gm to 200 gm. Sujata mangoes ripen around the first week of June; that is, ten days or so after the Himsagar variety. Generally, a 12-year-old mango tree yields around 60 kg worth of mango. Not only has Prabhatbabu developed this and other varieties, but he has worked hard to popularise them among farmers and the local populace. For instance, he has freely distributed Sujata saplings to several farmer friends, persuading them to cultivate it.
Prabhatbabu, even otherwise, is an authority on fruit and vegetable varieties. However, he rues that many traditional types of fruit are getting sidelined and lost due to rampant commercialisation. “Unconventional taste or smells do not appeal. Take the case of Piyara khuli, a mango variety that has a guava-like peculiar taste. My family disliked the fruit; the markets do not accept the mango. Often, such trees get cut down and then, subsequently, get lost in favour of more acceptable varieties,” he tells me. An expert on mangoes, he has succeeded in grafting a single mango plant in ten different ways.
Prabhatbabu has also been working on black pepper, water chestnut (singhara), jackfruit, bael, and other crops. With the help of the Agricultural Training Centre, Phulia, he has been collecting and conserving traditional rice varieties such as Radhatilak and Khejurchhadi. He has been trying to popularise the Assamese ladies’ fingers (bhindi) variety that grows on 15-foot trees and ripens in winter, unlike the local Bengal variety. He has been working on jackfruit, and his varieties are in great demand at the wholesale jackfruit market in Mahishadal Town. In fact, the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vidyalaya had invited Prabhatbabu over, to work on jackfruit saplings, and he produced a hundred varieties through various grafting methods. He has recently developed a special variety of ladies’ fingers called Lata Kasturi, which has a slender stalk and fragrant seeds, and is never attacked by pests.
Prabhatbabu’s innovations do not merely centre on growing new varieties of fruit and vegetables. He has also devised ways and means of saving them from small and big pests. For instance, to save bananas from langurs (monkeys) who are major pests in the Bengal countryside, he has invented a method wherein a duck egg mixed with water and sprayed on banana leaves prevents langurs from feasting on the fruit. Since langurs fear snakes, a plastic snake kept in a pot with bananas, he has found, helps prevent the monkeys from venturing near the fruit.