There are still many months to go before Kumar Ankit can stick the management-graduate appellation to his calling card.
Come to think of it, this is just the time to worry for his classmates, for placements and pay packets season is nigh.
Not for Kumar, though. He is going the other way — he seeks to provide employment to 50,000 farmers in Bihar in the next two years.
It was with this target in mind that Kumar entered the post-graduate diploma in management (or MBA) course at the Xavier Labour Research Institute, or XLRI, as it is more popularly known, in June last year.
The computer engineer is working round the clock to realise his dream even as he squeezes out time for his management studies. Hailing from Gaya —- the land of Lord Vishnu and Gautam Buddha — Ankit was deeply affected by the plight of farmers who had no sources of income within his home state, and had to migrate to distant Mumbai in search of jobs.
This fuelled in him the desire to start something that would generate jobs that would curb migration. While scouting ideas that would could work, Ankit noticed the Pongamia (called dithodi in Hindi, Karanj in Sanskrit), a biodiesel producing plant indigenous to Bihar, which grew on wastelands. He found the locals were oblivious to its uses.
“Bihar has 10 lakh acres of wastelands. And it has several thousands of farmers who are jobless. So if farmers could be encouraged to start planting pongamia, not only will we generate another source of energy and make good use of the wastelands, but also check migration,” said Ankit.
Today he is the executive director of Green Leaf Energy Pvt Ltd, an enterprise he started in June 2009, just 15 days after joining his MBA course, with an initial investment of under Rs 10 lakhs, under the guidance of professor Prabal Sen, chairperson of XLRI’s Entrepreneurship Development Centre.
Green Leaf has now entered into contracts with about 700 farmers for cultivating pongamia and about 1.25 lakh saplings have been planted.
Ankit’s target is to reach 1 lakh acres in the next two years, in districts like Gaya, Nawada, Jamui, Banka, Kaimur, and Aurangabad, whereby about 50,000 farmers would get employment.
But chalking out the project and implementing the plan was as exhaustive as it could get.
“I needed support from the Bihar government. I requested professor Sen to write to chief minister Nitish Kumar seeking support. After this I met S Vijayaraghavan, the investment advisor to the Bihar government, as well as principal secretaries and other officials,” he said.
Sen said he noticed the passion and intensity with which Ankit was pursuing this idea and thus extended all help. “This project can create a new movement in Bihar where, at the moment, there is no big system for alternative sources of energy, barring gobar gas.”
Ankit’s perseverance and encouragement from Sen eventually lead to the government giving funds to the tune of Rs 26,700 per acre.
Sen said Green Leaf will get support from the government under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to cover material and labour costs for plantation activities.
“We realised that NREGA funds can be used for cultivation in private lands of small and marginal farmers for growing particular crops, and pongamia is one of those crops,” said Sen.
The pongamia sapling takes about three years to grow, during which, farmers would get monetary support to the extent of Rs 12,400 from the government. After this gestation period, farmers would sell the oilseeds to Green Leaf, which would then crush the seeds to extract bio-diesel, and, in turn, sell that to oil companies such as Bharat Petroleum.
Ankit said post gestation, a farmer can get up to Rs 20,000-25,000 per acre annually by selling the seeds to Green Leaf.
“Our next phase is to have a nursery of 13 lakh pongamia saplings on 500 acres. We have recruited local youths to create awareness among the farming community about this. We have also taken some loan from Punjab National Bank for the administrative and marketing activities,” Ankit said.