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Dadaji Khobragade, the man behind HMT Sona, is an inspiration to the peasantry around his village. Photo:nif.org.in

Soon class sixth students across schools in Maharashtra will learn about the achievements of Dadaji Ramaji Khobragade, a septuagenarian marginal farmer, who believes in sharing his knowledge and innovation for free for the benefit of people. Interestingly, Dadaji, who grew up in a small forest village called Nanded in Naghbid taluka of Chandrapur district, was forced to leave school after the third standard due to adverse economic conditions and also because his help was necessary in the farm.

Marathi daily Loksatta reported on 29 April 2016 that the lesson was included in the series on eminent persons, meant to introduce students to their achievements at an early age, and narrates the scientific temperament and research effort of Dadaji despite the hardships of a poverty-stricken life.

In 1983, Dadaji noticed three yellow seeded paddy spikes commonly called as ‘lomb’ in his 1.12 acres field, planted with the Patel 3 variety of paddy. He picked these three spikes, brought them home and stored them in a plastic bag. The next year he sowed the seeds of this yellow variety separately in the middle of his field. As his field was close to the jungle he planted the rice amid a fence of thorny bushes to protect it from pigs and other wild life. Observing the high yield of this variety, he preserved the seeds. The following year he cultivated the seeds separately and got nearly ten kilograms of husked rice. On cooking the seeds he found them to be tastier than the Patel variety.

In 1988 he sowed four kg of seeds in an area of 10 ft X 10 ft and produced 400 – 450 kg of rice. The next year 100 – 150 kg seeds were sown from which he obtained 50 bags of paddy and he sold the seeds (40 bags) to one of the traders at Nagpur. Since the name of the variety was not known, the trader purchased the seeds in the name of Swarna Sona. Soon he began distributing this new variety to local farmers on their demand.

In 1990 Bhimrao Shinde, a large land owner in Nanded, bought 150 kilograms of seeds and sowed it in four acres of land. He obtained 90 bags of yield and sold the same to a trader from Talodi. The trader gave the name HMT to this variety as HMT watches were very popular at that time and he had recently acquired a new one. Ever since the name HMT has stuck.

Dadaji contacted the paddy research centre regarding this variety, but they refused to recognize his farm research, as it was not based on scientific research techniques. But in 1993, the Gram Panchayat of Nanded passed a resolution in their meeting recognizing the work done by the farmer and acknowledged him as a ‘Paddy Seeds Producer’.

After publication of his work in newspapers, a letter from the district collector of Chandrapur to Punjabrao Krishi Vidhyapith at Akola finally got him official recognition. Now most of the farmers in the Vidharbha region have started growing this variety as it fetches them a better price and has improved their economic situation. As Dadaji Ramaji puts it: “Their thatched roofs transformed into tiled roofs – a sign of prosperity”.

The HMT Sona variety is now being marketed in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Pursuing this passion, Khobragade has selected and bred seven more varieties of paddy in the last 20 years or so, namely Chanaur, Nanded 92, Nanded Hira, DRK, Vijay Nanded, Dipak Ratna and others, apart from HMT. The average yield of all the new varieties is about 15-16 quintals per acre. Just as in childhood, he proudly displays each variety he has carefully framed and labelled.

However, despite finding his name in the Forbes list of top seven Indian rural entrepreneurs picked up by IIM-Ahmedabad professor and founder of the Honey Bee Network Anil Gupta, Khobragade remains an abysmally poor peasant, living in a cramped and dingy hut, farming a small patch of land.

But Dadaji, who is a twice recipient of National Innovation Foundation’s coveted award, remains an inspiration to the peasantry around his village. The old man’s unflinching research has continued despite the fact that he had to sell three acres of farm to treat his son, Mitrajeet, suffering from sickle cell anemia. Occasionally he works as a daily wage labourer to support his seven-member family.

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