ROURKELA: Phagu Minz strikes a reassured and optimistic pose, sitting on the verandah of his Indira Awas Yojana house at Bhatipada village in Balishankara block of the tribal-dominated Sundargarh district while talking about his mainstay profession agriculture.
The small farmer owns around four acres of land, most of which is under paddy cultivation. But, this time he is keen to change that. He is set to allot more of his land area to crop diversification and take to vegetable farming in a big way.
At the root of his change of thought is a simple cost-effective innovation called 'Sabji Cooler' that has alleviated his major worry about storage of vegetables and saving them from perishing.
Minz and 49 other small and marginal farmers in Balishankara, Tangarpali and Kuanrmunda blocks have got the Sabji Coolers for free over the past several months under an experimental project of the district administration.
Sharing his experience, the farmer said, "We were compelled to sell our vegetable immediately after harvest to fetch proper price. Unsold vegetables would invariably get lower price as they did not remain fresh due to lack of cold storage facilities. A substantial chunk of the produce, if left unsold, would perish in a couple of days. All these look a thing of past now, thanks to the Sabji Cooler."
"After installation of the cooler in our village, our fortunes have changed. We can now keep vegetables fresh for days and fetch good returns. I feel the Sabji Cooler has impacted my earning by 30-35 percent. I have earned Rs 8,000-9,000 from vegetables in the last crop season," he added.
In a state like Odisha where lack of cold storages is a major hurdle for vegetable farmers, the Sabji Cooler initiative promises to be a game changer. Foundation for the project was laid in December, 2019, when the district administration signed a tripartite agreement with Mumbai-based technology partner RuKart Technologies Pvt Ltd, which has developed the system.
Under the MoU, the Deshpremi Producers' Group (DPG) has been entrusted the job of installation and maintenance of the coolers in villages, while identifying beneficiaries and creating awareness.
Implemented under the Odisha Livelihood Mission, 50 farmers of Balishankara, Tangarpali and Kuarnmunda blocks have been provided with the Sabji Coolers free of cost with initial sanction of `80 lakh from the District Periphery Development Fund. Efforts are underway to include 50 more farmers of these blocks.
The vegetable cooler is a covered chamber-like storage unit made of brick and mortar. It runs on the principle of evaporative cooling with water application at least once a day. It does not require electricity or solar power to bring in the cooling effect. One such cooler is capable of storing about 100 kg vegetables for a week.
"The Sabji Cooler can be a game changer for the farmers in Sundargarh. By installing a cooler in their backyard, they have been able to preserve their vegetables and reduce losses from farm to market. We want to include more farmers of the district soon and support them under this initiative," Collector Nikhil Pavan Kalyan said.