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Last Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005, 11:24 GMT
Farmer's drumstick beats drought
By Harsh Kabra in Pune

Mr Marale
Mr Marale and the drumsticks in his drought-prone village

For most people, the drumstick is simply a popular Indian vegetable.

But for Balasaheb Marale, a farmer from Shaha village in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, growing the green-skinned, stick-like vegetable has become a mission.

Mr Marale has cultivated the drumstick with remarkable success in a drought-prone village and is helping other Indian farmers to follow suit.

The 32-year-old school dropout has also written a book on drumstick cultivation and has his own website on the subject.

"Little research has been done on drumsticks and their commercial farming," says Mr Marale.


In a country where hundreds of debt-ridden farmers routinely take their lives after their crops fail, growing drumsticks may be a solution.

The drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) is one of India's most common with a vegetable crop of triangular, ribbed pods with winged seeds.

Drumstick fruit
The crops and products of the drumstick tree have many uses

The tree's bark, roots, fruit, flowers, leaves, seeds and gum also have medicinal uses including as an antiseptic and in treating rheumatism, venomous bites and other conditions.

Growing the drumstick makes eminent sense in a country like India with patchy and creaky irrigation systems.

The drumstick can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques. The yield is good even if the water supply is not.

While it takes only $110 to $130 an acre to farm drumstick, the returns from the crop easily range from $440 to $1,550.

The tree can be even grown on land covered with 10-90cm of mud.

The climate in Mr Marale's home state is conducive for drumstick cultivation.

But farmers avoided growing drumstick because it was thought the crop brought bad luck.

Inadequate knowledge

Mr Marale gave up his job as a machine operator in Pune in 1999 to take up farming in his village.

He was soon forced to look beyond conventional crops because his land was unfit to yield even a bag of grain.

There is a tremendous interest in drumstick cultivation now
Balasaheb Marale

Drumsticks first caught Mr Marale's attention at a local market.

Subsequently, he toured Maharashtra and met around 190 drumstick growers, most of whom had failed in their efforts due to inadequate knowledge about the crop.

Over the next few years, Mr Marale travelled to some southern Indian states where drumstick is grown.

"I grew convinced that drumstick was the ideal crop for dry regions," he says.

"I returned to my village with 15 varieties of drumstick seeds and a wealth of information."

Mr Marale applied for a bank loan to grow drumstick. The loan took a while to arrive because the bank knew little about the tree's commercial potential.

Mr Marale's family and fellow villagers thought he was mad to give up a job to begin growing drumsticks in a parched village.

But the drumstick man proved the sceptics wrong.

He cultivated drumstick on an acre of land, providing water once a week.

And when he earned nearly $900 after selling the crop in the first 14 months, many farmers took notice.

Mr Marale now grows drumstick on four acres with the same amount of water he once used for an acre.

"As ours is a low-rainfall area, I have devised my own water conservation techniques," he says.

He also exports his produce to the UK, Singapore and France.

'Tremendous response'

About three years ago, Anurag Kenge, the owner of a software firm, was exploring the option of growing drumstick on his farm at Lasalgaon, a town in Maharashtra.

Drumstick trees
Farmers had avoided drumstick as they thought it brought bad luck

He had tried it out earlier, but without success. After reading Mr Marale's book, Mr Kenge met him for tips.

He learnt that Mr Marale wanted to share his experiences with more farmers and seek out export opportunities.

"The internet was the best way to do it," says Mr Kenge.

The two joined hands to create a portal with information about drumsticks, their characteristics, farming techniques, recipes and medicinal usages.

"The response has been tremendous,'' says Mr Marale.

The website has received over 300,000 hits.

Mr Marale regularly responds to emails from India and countries like Sri Lanka, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Switzerland and Kenya.

Now he guides Indian farmers and delivers lectures on the virtues of drumstick farming. Hundreds of farmers from various parts of the country flock to his village.

Around 25 farmers in his village have brought more than 40 acres of land under drumstick cultivation and are targeting another 100 acres in the near future.

Farmers in his district have started eight group farming initiatives and are exporting around 500 tonnes of drumstick.

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