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The Papaya Man

The Papaya Man

Author: Mahesh Chandra Donia
Publication: India Today
Date: November 8, 2004

Introduction: The fruit made him famous, but his entrepreneurial spirit has recreated agriculture in Uttaranchal

For three landless sharecroppers of Dhamora village in Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh, life was a hard grind, but after meeting Sudhir Chadha, it looks promising. They are set to earn Rs 1 lakh from their 2.6 acre rented papaya farm. Chadha's initiative has brought them new opportunities.

Chadha's tryst with papayas began in 1979, when he first grew 40 papaya plants on his father's 45-acre farm in Kaladhungi near the Jim Corbett tiger reserve. This sparked an interest in plant breeding-a course trod by few as it demands the expertise of a scientist and the skill of a seasoned farmer. But Chadha was successful and in 1986, he developed a dwarf papaya variety.

Christened Farm Selection-1, the variety's popularity soon spread. Fame followed closely behind, earning Chadha the sobriquet "Papaya Man" and the 1991 Innovative Farmers Award from ICAR. "He tests an idea with scientific precision and, after its viability is proven, goes about propagating it with a missionary zeal," says Professor Harihar Ram of G.B. Pant University of Agriculture, who taught him plant breeding. Today, 48- year-old Chadha is one of India's most successful papaya growers, selling 700 tonnes of the fruit and 300 kg of seeds yearly.

Papaya, however, is not his only calling card. First to introduce concepts like intercropping and green-house technology in Uttaranchal, Chadha has also gained expertise in other areas. He cultivates ornamental flowers, off-season vegetables, Taiwanese sweet corn, and herbs like safed musali. Respected by agricultural scientists, he plays a perfect mentor to farmers by providing them input, training and R&D support.

"Agriculture has to be run like a manufacturing unit to achieve economy of scale and profitability," says Chadha. In 1993 he set up Plantiss Agro in partnership with the state government. It was Uttaranchal's first stride into modern agriculture. No wonder Chief Secretary R.S. Tolia considers him an architect of modern agriculture in the region.

Chadha is now motivating households in the predominantly Dalit village of Dhapla to cultivate custard apples. "It is through building entrepreneurship among farmers like them that Uttaranchal can tap the immense potential agriculture holds," envisions Chadha. He is truly sowing the seeds of self-reliance as he uses his gift to bring the possibility of success to others.

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