Yes, it will take some more time until we completely embrace organic into our lives. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about what ‘Organic Farming’ is all about, we at The Lifestyle Portal share with you the experiences of a young man who has taken the green initiative to promote organic farming in a big way in spite of his regular job at an IT company.
Meet 27-year-old Jaywant Vikas Patil from Pune, who is a BE Electronics, holds an MBA degree in E-Business with more than seven years of IT experience and is currently working as a Business Manager in a company called Uniken.
We talked about how he got initiated into Organic Farming, the challenges involved, what makes it so unique and how best it can benefit the society at large and most importantly how his efforts to bridge the gap between organic farmers to the end consumers are reaping benefits.
If you’re too embarking on a similar journey of organic farming and want to know more, read on…
What inspired you to start organic farming? When did it all begin?
Coming from a middle-class family, like any other child, I was brought up in a very usual way where after education, I was expected to only aspire for a decent job. My generation had to fit in this stereotyped formula, which led me to take crucial decisions of choosing a career influenced by many external factors but with no inner passion and inclination.
After completing my BE in July 2007, I got a job in reputed IT company but after a couple of years, I started feeling the vacuum in my life. I realised that this is not something that I wanted to do for a lifetime, but at the same time, I had no clue how to go about it.
Fortunately, I applied and got selected for Nirman – a unique initiative started by a renowned social worker couple, Dr. Abhay and Rani Bang who provide guidance and support for self-learning and social action. Those two years spent in Nirman offered me the window to get acquainted with multi-dimensional social issues as I got to meet several people involved in many social activities.
One such activist whom I came across was Mr. Sanjay Patil, who was working for conserving the desi indigenous seed for making farmers independent as far as seed utilisation is concerned. That helped me to understand the basic issues involved in the Indian agriculture sector which further developed in me a lot of curiosity in the subject. That’s how I started exploring the various problems faced in the area of agriculture and farming and the solutions to make it organic, low-cost and sustainable.
I figured that apart from the hazardous health effects of chemicals in our food be it to the end consumer or our farmers – there had to be a way how to make agriculture a lot safer. In terms of a simple economic theory, if a farmer is able to curb the input cost as minimum as possible (ideally zero) and becomes independent for all those inputs like seeds, fertilisers, pesticides etc. most of the problems can be resolved from the root.
I began with a hope to promote organic farming to the maximum number of people possible and since I came from an IT background, I felt it would be good for me to start a web portal where I could form a group of organic farmers and solve one of the main problems of a non-existing organized and a sustainable marketplace to help reduce the long chain of middlemen; that would boost the sale of organic food directly to the end consumers. The name of our website also got finalised as – O-Bhajiwale.com – ‘O’ for Organic.
That’s how I got to know issues involved in agriculture and the solutions to it based on whatever I could gather during my Nirman days. It all began with this hope, to promote organic farming to the maximum number of people; and now here I am sharing my dreams of going Organic with The Lifestyle Portal.
What are the challenges faced in Organic Farming?
There are challenges, success and failures in every field or business. It depends on the individual if he/ she wants to get motivated by successful examples or get bogged down by failure and cynical views around it.
I encountered challenges from the very start, right from finding a suitable farm land, to finding labour, getting good seeds, low yield, pests, uncertain weather and the most critical factor – finding a reliable marketing channel. I have tackled each of these issues by taking help from experienced people and my own wisdom.
I didn’t have any agricultural background; we don’t even have our land! So during my study for demand supply feasibility for organic seeds and agricultural produce, I soon realised it’s wasn’t that easy. I needed to know the grammar of farming (domain knowledge) for efficient and sustainable marketing; after all, it’s a fundamental requirement for marketing.
During my frequent visits to organic farms, I also got quite interested in actual farming. These both the findings were well enough for me getting off the mark with actual organic farming.
Then I had to start from buying a land to get all the practical knowledge of an actual farm, and that’s how it all started. Since then, I have also been working in my company and pursuing my passion of organic farming. Thanks to my employer, who appreciated the passion within me and gave me three days holiday per week (Friday to Sunday) to peruse my farming activities that I spend all those three days at the farm and rest of the days, I work in Pune.
When I started gathering knowledge about organic farming as compared to the regular ‘chemical farming’, I found that the rules are clear-cut in chemical farming. In chemical free farming there are so many methods involved based on different ideologies and methods; it also has a standard set of rules when it comes to use of inputs and pesticides.
In contrast, organic farming is a blend of zero budget farming to natural farming to biodynamic farming to spiritual farming, permaculture, vermicomposting, and so on and so forth*.
For a farmer who wants to begin as a chemical-less farmer, he/ she is bound to be completely confused. Everyone needs to intelligently figure out which one or mix of various above methods suits their own farm, whether conditions, the feasibility of inputs, labour availability monetary expectations etc.
For instance, I’m using a blend of all such *methods to gain maximum benefits at the same time without ending up taking a non-sustainable route of high monetary gains approach. In fact, I have three desi cows, thanks to ISKCON for helping me with donating the same. I use a majority of my inputs prepared with the help of their dung and urine like jeevamrit, panchagavya, pesticides like dashparni ark, bramhastra, agnitra, neemastra etc.
All these helped to grow decent yield starting from the first year, in spite of having very poor organic carbon and less soil content in my land. It also helped me to increase organic carbon that comes handy in our farming. Organic Carbon improves the quality and health of the soil by increasing water-holding capacity, tolerate drought better, plants grow larger and more vigorously as plants grown in soil with abundant organic matter receive a slow release of nutrients all season, resist pests and disease etc.
This had a cascading effect and more than 10 farmers voluntarily approached me for getting help to go organic. Now, on one hand, I was so happy to see the first ray of hope, but at the same time, I was feeling more responsible because now my fellow farmers’ livelihood was dependant on me. Now we are currently in the process of formally forming a group of farmers that will be engaged in organic farming and marketing cohesively as one unit.
As I said earlier after other farmers joined our group, our responsibilities of being a successful organic farmers group have been increased to a large extent.
The biggest challenge after production is to find a reliable and a sustainable marketing channel where we can have a mutually beneficial tie up. I always think that a farmer is the only producer in our country where he does not have the right to decide the fair price of his/her produce based on industry standard, i.e. input cost plus a respectable profit margin.
That’s the major challenge faced by all the farmers. If this pricing model is made more ‘farmer oriented’, most of the issues will get streamlined automatically. For someone like me, who is an organic farmer, for him, the challenge is more because I don’t have any established market where my organic produce can be purchased and sold with a merit that it is ‘certified organic’. We want our organic food to get consumed as organic by the end consumer that will offer true value to our efforts.
Tying up with contract farming companies
Until now, I have been engaged with some marketing companies who have claimed to be sensitive towards farmers but lacked commitment as they’re not able to find/generate a sustainable market due to various reasons such as their own credibility, lack of awareness and of course the consumer’s perception about organic food being expensive which is true to the large extent.
In a nutshell, I would suggest organic farmers/groups tie up with more than one company to diversify the risk. But in the long run, it is always sustainable to have your own customer base and this responsibility can be shared by one or two individuals within the group.
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