The Golden Fields of Rajasthan
Farming runs in the family of Rajesh Meena, Amrita SeRVe village coordinator in Harirampura, Rajasthan. Along with eight other farmer families, a crop of 4000 kilos of organic wheat was harvested from 4.5 acres of land in the first week of April. Planting happened on 15th November 2017, and now, six months later, the yield is packed and ready for sale.
For three years Rajesh has been cultivating organic wheat and bajra, pearl millet, which is rich in minerals and proteins. Other farmers in his group have already done so for the past two years.
Rather than discussing what it is like to farm in a challenging environment such as Rajasthan, and its neighboring proximity to the Great Indian Desert, the farmers are more concerned with how difficult it is to sell their organic harvest. But they are also keen on promoting naturally grown, healthy food.
“We should cultivate more organic crops. My grandfather is still alive and he says that they never used chemical fertilizers while doing farming. That’s why he is 97 years old now, still strong and healthy.” Rajesh mentions, that his grandfather reminds younger generations of fertilizers’ effect on health: less immunity power, people are getting a lot of illnesses and are even paralyzed on eating chemical fertilized cultivated food. “Grandfather often tells us that if we look at how crops are cultivated now, we can see that yields are fertilized. Those should be removed and we should once more return to the organic way of farming”, states Rajesh Meena.
Transition to organic farming takes some time, though. “Our village is poor, so people have to earn a livelihood somehow”, he says. That’s why 4000 kilos of organic wheat is a great success. Home seeds were used, so no extra cost was incurred from buying seeds. For inorganic cultivation expenses are less at the moment, and government schemes are supporting chemical fertilizers and pesticides in Rajasthan, according to Rajesh Meena.
The farming is divided to organic and inorganic. Water for irrigation comes from a 300 feet (approx. 90 metres) deep bore well, pumped up through a submersible pump. Calculations of the expenses were listed and put down in detail this time so there can be some comparison on financial aspects of farming. Slowly, people are returning to growing organic vegetables for their whole land.
The farming group of eight members were convinced to practice organic farming for the first time when Ghanshyam, Amrita SeRVe agricultural trainer, came to the village and organized farmers meetings with Rajesh Meena in 2015. After receiving awareness of the benefits of going organic, some farmers started the cultivation. “This year we put posters of our coming sales in Delhi, so many farmers are showing interest in joining the farmer’s club initiated by Amrita SeRVe”, tells Rajesh.
Why do farmers from a small village in Rajasthan have to go all the way up to Delhi to sell their crop? Well, it is about credibility when it comes to organically grown yield. “Other than the Delhi Mata Amritanandamayi ashram, we cannot sell outside as an organic crop, because we are not yet registered as a group and received the organic registration and we have no label or brand name for the wheat“, says Rajesh. He adds that people don’t usually buy organic wheat without a credible brand name because people think that they might be cheating and making false claims.
To earn credibility in the market, a farmers’ group has to be registered with at least 11 members, and then apply for a certificate of organic farming which is a three year process. Certification is also very expensive
Meanwhile, MA Math in Delhi offered a helping hand for selling; devotees and well-wishers promised to buy the organic wheat, because of their trust in the Amrita SeRVe project. The organic wheat was packed in the village of Harirampura and transported to Delhi ashram by vehicle. About 2000 kilos of organic wheat was arranged for sale. “We got a much better profit than we expected”, says Rajesh Meena.
Despite being forced by circumstances and economic constraints to cultivate with inorganic fertilizers, Rajesh Meena speaks about its effects on health on a long term basis and the immediate benefits of food free from chemical pesticides: “Organic wheat is better tasting and it’s healthier. If you cook roti with it in the morning, it still tastes good in the evening. It gives us energy.”
For the near future plans, when the rainy season is coming, organic bajra and vegetables are on the to do list. Some ideas are in the developing stage: if the farmers get a positive response similar to that received at Delhi MAM from the people in their neighbourhood, they can sell their products on the local markets. Furthermore Rajesh said: “We would like to cultivate more organic crops on land nearby our village. From June-July we start growing organic bajra and we are going to sell that also.”
Experience of selling in Delhi MAM, and the support received for their cultivation, has given the farmers motivation to consider expanding their organic practices. Both Rajesh Meena and Ghanshyam conclude: “The aim is to go organic for all yields. So the next move is to register our group and take the next steps towards organic certification”.