Bringing Growth and Hope to the Borderlands: Story of Local Planter Hangthing Lusha
From collecting seeds of fruits thrown away by the shopkeepers & planting them on his farmland, to living his dream of becoming a farmer with a difference, today he has three thriving nurseries of different varieties of fruit trees and spices, honey, and ever-evolving fish ponds and nurseries which cater to markets across the border in Myanmar and also local buyers. Hanthing Lusha, a native of Noklak, Nagaland, is the focus of this tale. He is credited with single-handedly revitalising the local economy within his community and spreading his ideas among fellow border dwellers. Jayant Ahuja tells us the uplifting tale of a borderland farmer who lives high in the mountains.
On Tuesday morning, November 9, last year, I reported to the office of the Noklak District Commissioner. This peaceful town in Nagaland’s rural interior is where the Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF) first took me. As I entered the gates of Noklak a pretty little girl with a ponytail, playing with her younger brother, welcomed me with pleasant giggles and energetic waves. The district of Noklak is relatively new, having been established only in January 2021. To its right, the district veers toward the border with Myanmar. Khiamniungan and Tikhir are two eastern tribes that live there.
There was a piercing knock on my door on my second day of work. A man of middle age stood there, a smile beaming across his face. He entered the building, made some small talk, and immediately got to work. “Sir, I need an oil-pressing machine. Can you help me with it?” he inquired. That’s how I got to meet Hangthing Lusha, a forward-thinking farmer in Noklak who also happens to be a philanthropist and a man who simply never quits.
Hangthing is a local resident of Noklak. When he was born, Noklak’s primary agricultural output consisted of paddy and other vegetables grown utilising antiquated, time-honoured techniques. When he was just ten years old, he already had a vision of himself cultivating fruit crops. In the past, he had seen that the prices of fruits sold at the community market were far more than the prices of their own produce. That turned out to be a subject of intrigue for him, which he was determined to solve. He began by gathering the seeds of the fruits that were being thrown out by the shopkeepers and putting them on the property that he owned for farming. Because he lacked the necessary technical knowledge, he was doomed to failure.
Hangthing made the decision to begin his nursery in the sweltering summer of 1988, using whatever resources he already possessed. During the first few days, he tried out a lot of different things. He utilised a wide variety of methodologies, including varying the time of sowing, the intervals between watering, the depth of seeding, and much more. For the first seven years of his life, he was unable to earn even a single dime. The crop never produced an amount that was satisfactory enough to compete with the fruits that were transported to the Noklak market from Dimapur and Assam.
When he mentioned his plans to produce fruit crops in the Noklak paddy fields, he received a lot of ribbing from the locals. Concern and uncertainty pervaded the minds of the local farmers when it came to planting fruit trees and spice shrubs. It’s because they’ve never been shown the world beyond their little neighbourhood. We can only grow rice because we eat rice, as Hangthing puts it. When confronted with this line of reasoning, he never gave an inch. He was unsuccessful but kept trying, much like a sailor who has been caught in a storm and is desperate to see land again. His passionate ambition to help his family from poverty was his driving force. His hard labour and never giving up attitude did bear fruit. Hangthing remembers with fondness the time he sold his first sapling to the soil department for a mere twelve rupees. Those first 12 rupees he made felt like millions of dollars. His character is demonstrated by his decision to reinvest those 12 rupees in the nursery. Those mocking lips were actually reaching out to him for assistance, and he was never one to turn somebody away. He grew litchi trees, coffee plants, and even cardamom at his nursery. He also tried experimenting with apple trees, but due to the unfavourable agro-climatic conditions, he was unable to nurture them.
In the beginning, he sold his seedlings, young fruit trees, and fruits straight from his nursery. Soon after, he reached out to serve the surrounding community. He has just lately diverged into the honey business, and he sells his product straight to the state government. His customers in Dimapur purchase the cardamom from him personally. Aside from local customers, Hangthing also sells his fish and fish seeds to customers in Myanmar. He was always generous despite his business focus. He advised innumerable farmers on how to establish fruit tree orchards, and he even gave out saplings to the needy. With his help, Noklak now has three successful nurseries, up from just one before. His success in any endeavour drove him to teach others how to achieve the same level of achievement.
Hangthing came from a poor family. His father and mother had been paddy farmers their entire lives. They used to perform jhum cultivation and so did not own any land. They could only afford to send him to school until the seventh grade. However, he has never believed that a lack of advanced education has anything to do with making money.
He now earns 4-5 lakhs per year, up from 500 rupees per month after seven years of no income. His profits not only lifted his family out of poverty but also elevated them to the comfortable upper middle class. The comfort did not prevent him from pushing himself further. He began by building a farmhouse, which he now rents out to tourists. To augment his agricultural revenue, he began growing fingerling fish. He established a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) called Noklak Agro Fed Producer Company to better manage his operations and assure the benefit of all. It is a 150-member FPO principally engaged in the cultivation and sale of cardamom and fruit crops. Hangthing also founded an organisation called the Taste of Noklak in honour of his spouse. Noklak flavour is used in food processing and soap production. They manufacture the most delicious ginger candies!
After accomplishing so much in his life, his desire for more led him to my office. His next battle will be to produce vegetable oil and millet oil. I doubt he will stop there as well. He gave me a preview of what Noklak would teach me over the next two years. Despite all of the obstacles, such as a lack of proper education, repeated failures, poverty, or an inward-looking society, he has consistently come out on top. Hangthing has demonstrated that efficient tools are not required to make something big. What distinguishes them is their efficient use of whatever resources they have at their disposal.
The steep hills that make up eastern Nagaland are responsible for producing a population that is rich in grit and determination because of this. For such beings, the world outside is their classroom, and the Dao (a traditional tool that can be used for a variety of purposes) is their writing tool. The next generation needs to understand the significance of not only the pen but also the Dao. Because true advancement can only be found when a healthy equilibrium is maintained.