Going Bananas, truely

It’s exciting meeting a weekend farmer who has made a success growing a crop not tried earlier in the neighbourhood. That’s in short is the story of a practicing physiotherapist Dinesh Shankar Rao Gujar of Ambeshiv village in Badlapur (19.15°N 73.262°E). For ages people have harvested paddy, ragi and vegetables from the red soils of Badlapur.
Lying on the Central Railway corridor, Badlapur in recent years has attracted many families to set up their homes due to the affordable real estate prices. Incidentally, there is a movie named after this extended suburb which had stars like Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddique. In fact, if you google it’s very likely you will get scores of entries about the flick and not about Badlapur, the place which gots its name as Maratha warriors changed (badla) their tired horses here on their forward journey.
Introduced through another weekend farmer-friend I wait for Gujar at an eatery close to Badlapur station on a weekday morning. “I’m late, I had to leave my daughters to school,” apologised the 43-year-old native of Wardha as we drive to his farm in a grey-coloured Ertiga which serves both as a family car and a pick up van for carting fertiliser, saplings etc.

Gujar with wife Jaishri share a pic with a banana bunch
Gujar with wife Jaishri share a pic with a banana bunch

Originally from Dhanodi village of Aarvi tehsil in Wardha district, Gujar made Badlapur his home in 1997. “We are from a farming family and my father was a school teacher and in our 15 acre plot we have grown cotton, jowar, turdal, soyabean and wheat for years now,” he tells me as we take the six km. long drive to his farm along a dirt track which has become muddy due to the rains.
Having completed his BAMS degree he moved to Mumbai to do a paramedic course and soon started his clinic in Katrap, Badlapur East treating patients suffering from paralysis and arthritis. “Ever since I started my practice I’ve been receiving patients who were either farmers or farm hands who spoke to me about farm-related things which reminded me about my childhood days dirtying my hands doing all sorts odd jobs like digging, making bunds, sowing, harvesting and travelling to the ginning mill,” says Gujar.
Though people address him as ‘doctorsaheb’ at heart Gujar remains a farmer. He feels concerned about climate change, is against cutting of trees, poisoning of the soil by overuse of chemicals and loves having his occasional drink sitting under the shade of a banyan tree in his farm which is around 50 or 60 year-old. May be more.
In 2006 after lot of searching around, he acquired a six acre plot at Ambeshiv village which had never seen a farming tool. In later years he fenced the plot, acquired a power connection and planted fruit and timber trees. “In 2013 my neighbouring farm plot owners who are originally from Jalgaon, India’s banana belt, told me that they were planning a banana crop and inquired whether I would be interested too,” remembers Gujar.
They sourced Banana Tissue Culture plants, namely G9, from the Jalgaon-based Jain Irrigation Systems, with each plant costing Rs 16 which included cost of transportation. “I planted around 1300 plants in an acre after having ploughed the land with a tractor in October 2013,” informs Gujar.
The distance of the plants and the rows were kept at 5ft by 5ft, between the rows and the saplings. A mixture of 4kgs of dry cow dung, 100g of single super phosphate and 50g of Follidol was used during planting. The irrigation was through drip. A spray of Monocot Phos was done too. For the next three months a drip of urea, around 250g per plant, for vegetative growth was given too.
“Fruiting began in April and by June I had sold my first bunch at Rs 10 a kg to the local dealers who picked it up from my farm,” says Gujar. “An average bunch was around 25kgs.”
He also delivered couple of bunches to the local banana chips makers at Badlapur for Rs 17a kg. Gujar’s total output was around 26 tonnes from an acre. “While my total expenses were around Rs 35,000 I made a neat profit which I have invested in digging a rainwater collecting pond at the edge of my farm,” says Gujar.
Thanks to the collecting pond he is now assured of good water supply which is required for a banana crop.
The physiotherapist cum weekend farmer believes that if one desires to follow organic methods one should go for leguminous cover crop or use green manure like Gliricidia and instead of chemical spray use a concoction called Brahmastra (made of leaves of neem, custard apple, guava, lantana camella, papaya, white dhotara and pomegranate) to get good results. “Green manuring will not only help in nitrogen fixation of the soil but also inhibit the growth of weeds,” says Gujar.
Tissue Culture Banana plants have a window of three years after which new plants have to be planted.
Thanks to Gujar many others in Badlapur are planning a banana crop this season, your Sunday Farmer included.
“Ever since I acquired the farm plot my wife, Jaishri, a practicing homoeopath, has complained that I have put huge amounts without any results but the banana crop has brought a cheer on her face,” concludes Gujar adding “that’s like winning half the battle.”

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