How one young widow changed her children’s lives through farming

Sep 05, 2019 by Kelly Barnett

In 2004, NASA landed Opportunity – an unmanned exploratory robot – on Mars. Soon after, it began sending back a vast amount of valuable scientific data about the planet.

Also in 2004, in the small village of Mankani in the Gujarat region of India, a hardworking farmer died, leaving a widow and two small children. That widow was Renuka Ben Patel. Gujarat is known as difficult terrain for farming. It’s rocky, and the soil is salty, as is the water. Life is hard for farmers in Gujarat. It’s even harder if you are a widow with young children to feed, educate and clothe.

In addition to the environmental odds stacked against her, Renuka had little education and no job. She had a father in law with failing health and her brother, but little else in the way of support. She found herself facing two difficult options: to take her children away from everything they had known and move to a city where she could find some menial, low-paid work, or to work her husband’s 3.4 hectares of land, where he grew bananas, maize, and other crops.

She chose to stay and fight to work her land. Her father in law helped her learn about farming. With his help, she took on running both the farm and her home while raising two children. After a few years of struggling along with meager crops and an increasing workload, Renuka heard about drip irrigation, a new irrigation method from Netafim, one of Orbia’s community of companies.

“Being new to farming and enduring both home and farm responsibilities made using conventional methods of irrigating the land almost impossible. Gradually, I learned more and more about farming and – with the help of my father in law and my brother – I adopted drip irrigation.”

- Renuka Ben Patel

Drip Irrigation Transforms Lives

The change was quick to come. From struggling to cultivate enough crops to earn a reasonable living, Renuka started to see almost instant results. That first season showed a significant increase in good quality crops and, most importantly, substantially more income. The hours were still long, and the work was still hard, but the improved results showed there was an opportunity for a better life.

In 2019 life has greatly improved for Renuka. Her increased income is invested into her children’s future – she can now afford to send them to good schools. She was even able to send her eldest son to Canada for his education and invest in her youngest son’s passion for science. While farming is still hard work, she now has an irrigation system that proves that growing more with less is not just a company slogan; it is real.

“Life is much better now. Even with a reduced water level in the well, drip irrigation means I can grow good levels of crops. I can save my banana crop. It has been seven years since I started using drip irrigation and I plan to expand its use across all the land I farm.”

- Renuka Ben Patel

Putting a robot on Mars and receiving data back from 140 million miles away has the potential to change lives. But sometimes big changes in one’s life can happen in a more simple way.