Written for and by farmers

BY suchitra| IN Community Media | 13/02/2004
A low- profile, but innovative and imaginative, farm journal is very popular among cash-crop growers in southern Karnataka and northern Kerala

Suchitra. M


When Ramakrishna Bhatt, a small areca farmer in Kasaragod district of  Kerala bordering Karnataka wanted to know how a particular type of pest could be eliminated, he didn’t have to think twice. Instead of approaching the agriculture officer in the local Krishi Bhavan, he penned his queries to the Adike Patrike. In the very next issue of the journal, there was a number of suggestions on how to tackle the pest--from farmers, scientists, professors and even from a retired entomologist. "I have full confidence in the magazine. It provides whatever information I need on new crops, farm technology or seed varieties," says Bhat. "It gives tips that have been tested by other farmers."  Apart from being a regular reader of Adike Patrike, he sometimes writes about his own farm experiences in the journal. 

That underlines the success of Adike Patrike, a low- profile, but innovative and imaginative, farm journal published from Puttur, a small town in southern coastal Karnataka. The journal, which is very popular among the cash-crop growers in southern Karnataka and northern Kerala, is now 15 years old, and has not so far missed any issue. A recent survey showed that a majority of Kannada farmers in these areas are regular readers of the journal and keep the back issues for reference. Also, many of them write about their farm experiences.

The journal’s uninspiring title (Adike Patrike means areca magazine) and seemingly narrow subject matter conceal an imaginative approach to farm journalism and its range of interests. The magazine pioneered the idea of developing farmers into writers and operates with the philosophy that farmers are more interested in reading about the experiences of other farmers rather than experts’ recommendations. "What makes Adike Patrike distinct  from other farm journals is its insistence that any new crop or management technique described in the journal must be verified by the farmers," points out Shree Padre, the founder editor and farmer, who edited the magazine for the first 12 years. "Though there is a wide range of publications related to agriculture brought out by newspapers and research institutes, they almost never discuss the farmers’ actual experiences. Articles in these magazines contain valuable information, but, they often miss the ground reality," Padre says.

That is why Adike Patrike insists that farmers themselves write the articles rather than it simply pass on information from universities and research institutes. The 28 pages (sometimes more) of the magazine contain articles on new crops, new farm technologies, machinery, new variety of seeds, and even new recipes, all tested by farmers. To promote farmer-to-farmer contact Patrike features a question-and-answer section--Drops Make Ocean--in which farmers ask others for advice and experience. The journal takes a cautious approach to newly promoted crops or technologies, particularly those featured positively in the conventional press.

 The journal was launched in 1988, at a time when a sharp fall in arecanut prices caused a serious crisis among areca growers in Karnataka. The All India Areca Growers Association based in Puttur desperately searched for ways to tide over the crisis.  " That was a trying time. We wanted to do something constructive rather than watching the situation helplessly. While chalking out future strategies, we felt the need for a bulletin of our own to bridge the communication gap among the areca farmers," recalls Shree Padre. An active freelance journalist, he had to shoulder the responsibility of bringing out the bulletin.

The first several issues of the four-page bulletin were sold for one rupee, and with the help of advertising revenue, managed to break even. The response to the newsletter was sufficiently positive and hence it was decided to explore the possibilities of a more extensive magazine.

 Thus was born Adike Patrike. Though it was started as an effort of areca growers’ association, the publication soon expanded to include a wide range of crops and other farm activities. Now, the Patrike is an attractively- produced monthly journal of around 30 pages and is sold at Rs 7. Once a year it brings out a special issue. A half of the circulation is by subscription and the rest by news agents and booksellers. It was the first agricultural magazine in Karnataka to be sold through news agents. The cover price and advertising revenue are sufficient to support a staff of five—an editor, a manager, two office assistants and a peon.

When the journal announced its editorial policy at the time of launching, it expected to get many write-ups from the farmers on various issues concerning them. But farmers were reluctant to write about their experiences, and the typical dry articles from the established experts kept arriving. In the first 5-6 years, 80 per cent of the farmers’ articles required significant rewriting. "Most of the farmers had no writing skill at all," remembers Shree Padre. "But we were determined to make the farmers to put pen to paper. We organised a few workshops for teaching the farmers the basic agricultural journalism skills."

 The workshops were quite successful and a number of farmers started writing. The journal formed a core group of 30-40 farmer-journalists that the journal now relies upon. If the editor gets a potential article idea, one of the core members is asked to visit the farmer who has reported it, investigate and verify the facts. He then works with the farmer to produce an article.

 Adike Patrike gets a lot of letters and photographs from its readers. Sometimes the editor sends a set of queries to the farmer and on the basis of the responses puts together an article. No matter how the article is produced, it’s always based on first-hand farmer experience. "It really reaches farmers through its attitude and the way things are presented," says HM Ganapathi Bhat, secretary, Farm Information Exchange Centre at Peradala in Kasaragod district. There have been instances of Patrike breaking a story which is picked up by popular magazines.

Despite the support of its readers,  Adike Patrike needs advertising revenue to survive. Without advertising, the journal’s price would have to be doubled, says Padre. But, it refuses to accept advertisements from pesticide companies. Instead, it accepts advertisements from manufacturers of organic fertilizers, pumps, sprayers, motors, farm equipment and seeds.

Adike Patrike has helped make hundreds of farmers better farmers. In the process, it also helped dozens of farmers bloom into writers. As Ganapathi Bhat says, " It is truly an agricultural magazine by the farmers, of the farmers and for the farmers."

 The Quest Features & Footage, Kochi



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