Mohit Mehra

Stockbroker, Farmer

Going Bananas

In August 2019, I planted 1200 banana saplings in a Jharkhand village.  

The banana plants are spread over 2 acres and have grown in number to 1500. But the plants have caught the Panama wilt disease. They still bear edible fruit but the growth will be stunted for the plants themselves. In other words, they won’t produce as much fruit as they could have. There are some learnings from this experience that might be useful while planting more trees in the village land. 

Papa has built this temple in the village. The temple complex includes two cow sheds (home to 40 desi cows), a school building, a clinic for conducting medical check-ups and four buildings for the residence of the temple staff and visitors.

Panama wilt affected plants

The temple complex also includes 50 acres of vacant farmland. The soil is fertile and there’s access to adequate stream water for cultivation of crops or planting forests.  

Why is the farmland vacant?

My parents and I live in Calcutta (about 450 km from the farm). Over the past 30 years, there have been multiple attempts at Farmville-esque agriculture with a singular realisation:

पूत बाढे पिता के धर्मा और खेती बाढे निज के कर्मा। 

If you’re not available at your farm, it’s unlikely you’ll find success in the agricultural activity you’re attempting. But then, maybe the idea only holds if you’re trying to earn a living from agriculture. I only wanted to use the land to plant more trees, which seemed like a reasonable ask. 

Here is the plan I came up with:

  1. Identify and procure the trees I want to plant
  2. Assign the responsibility to take care of the trees to a new farm help
  3. Use 2 acres of farmland to run this experiment
  4. Wire-fence the land parcel
  5. Monetise the activity so that I can fund the next batch of trees from money made here

Why Bananas?

I considered Permaculture, Miyawaki forests as possible routes to take to add green coverage. But these seemed to have many variables to consider. I wanted to get started with a single plant forest and it would help if the planted trees could also be monetised easily. That’s when I thought about banana trees. I reached out to Keventers company head to procure the bananas. 

The company head, Mayank, helped me connect with people in his team who came to the land, ran tests and shared a feasibility report. Soon I had the saplings and began the planting activity. Over the next thirty months, I realised the plants didn’t do really well. I didn’t manage the farm activities very well – elephant grass was running wild in the land parcel, irrigation was erratic and the trees that caught the disease first weren’t pruned. I still see this as a success. 

We can put most of a banana plant to use – flowers, stems, fruits and leaves. If the objective is to grow something that can be put to use even if the plants don’t fruit well, then this fits the bill. They’re well suited to the climate and soil. Alexander discovered bananas (and apples) when he came to India and that led to the introduction of bananas to Europe & the rest of the world. 

Dulaal Bhaiya in the banana field

The bananas I’ve planted are from the Cavendish family – most of the world now grows & consumes this variety. Unlike the native wild Indian varieties, these aren’t as resistant to diseases. So, next, I’m planting wild bananas. 

Indian wild bananas

Why not move to the village?

I work for a Bangalore-based stock brokerage. Although I work remotely, I need access to good internet and telephone connectivity to do my job.

I haven’t been able to get reliable internet connectivity in the village yet. Also, the telephone network is patchy for the most part. We run a small school in the complex that would also benefit from having internet access. Over the next couple of months, I will get a reliable wired internet line set up. Getting the wires laid might turn out to be expensive since the nearest internet wire node is 5 km away. 

Recent updates and more on the school here. 🙂