Rajasthan: From being laughed at, an organic farmer is spearheading a ‘poison-free’ movement in his district
In his 20 years journey of chemical-free farming, Bhagwan Singh Khudi has inspired a number of farmers in Hanumangarh district to shun chemical pesticides and fertilisers. These farmers have set up their own FPO and sell their products under the brand name Haqeeqat.
Amarpal Singh Verma 10 July 2023 7:46 AM GMT
For 20 years or more, Bhagwan Singh Khudi has been on a mission to make his district, Hanumangarh, ‘Poison-free’.
“When I stopped using pesticides and chemical fertilisers on my land, I became the butt of jokes for other farmers,” 46-year-old Khudi, told Gaon Connection.
But soon, seeing the favourable outcome of his decision, many more farmers joined him who have taken inspiration from him and have stopped using chemicals and fertilisers in their farmlands. The soil quality in their land has improved and they are also getting a better price for their produce.
A group of 150 farmers, including Khudi, from Hanumangarh in Rajasthan have also formed a Food Producer Organisation (FPO) called Haqeeqat Natural Farmer Producer Company Limited through which they sell their chemical-free produce, such as pulses and spices. Their annual business is worth Rs 50 lakh. The store also couriers products to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chandigarh, Gurugram, etc.
“If a farmer has one neem tree and one cow, he can produce enough organic fertiliser and bio-pesticides for 10 bighas of land,” Khudi told Gaon Connection. The farmer said he uses cow dung, leaves of neem, the husk of mustard, the urine of cows, etc as bio fertilisers/pesticides. “The expense is next to nothing,” he declared.
It was a chance and random encounter and conversation with a stranger that opened Khudi’s eyes to the harm chemical cultivation was wreaking.
“I was studying MA Political Science in Jaipur, when a gentleman struck a conversation with me. He asked me about my background and I told him that I was from a family of farmers and agriculture was our livelihood,” recalled Khudi.
The response of the man was life changing for Khudi. “He told me ‘Your livelihood is not farming; you are doing business in spreading poison’ ”.
Those words made a deep impression on young Khudi who returned home and decided to try out organic farming on his family land in Hanumangarh. And ever since then the farmer has not looked back, and has inspired many cultivators to give up on chemical farming.
From poisoned fields to organic land
Every year Hanumangarh district does business worth six hundred crores rupees in chemical pesticides and fertilisers, say news reports.
According to the agriculture department, Hanumangarh, more than 200,000 hectares in the district are under wheat cultivation, while more 125,000 hectares of land grow mustard. There is a demand for 100,000 metric tonnes urea for use on the rabi crops annually.
Farmers use 35,000 metric tonnes of DAP for the rabi crops and about 20, 000 metric tonnes for the kharif crops. Vegetables, cotton etc, use a lot of pesticides too.
In 2003, Khudi started experimenting with organic farming on one bigha of his land. He cultivated wheat. To begin with, he used Prosopis cineraria leaves and cow dung to fertilise his land.
“I had no experience of organic farming and in the first harvest I managed to grow only about two and a half quintals of wheat,” he recalled. Normally he would get anything between 12 and 14 quintals a bigha. But by the third year, the yield had risen to eight quintals.
Undeterred, Khudi gradually brought in more land under organic cultivation. And, brought another seven bighas of his 11 bighas under organic wheat and paddy. The remaining four bighas were given over to the Bharatmala Project (A project of the road transport and highways ministries to construct new roads, highways and expressways in the country).
Other farmers join in
Inspired by Khudi, Naresh Beniwal from Peelibanga village, turned to organic farming 16 years ago.
“I met Khudi at a farmers’ meet and he told me his story. Since then, I cultivate wheat, chickpeas and mustard organically in my 10 bighas of land,” Beniwal told Gaon Connection. The 42-year-old farmer said not only had Khudi inspired him but was always at hand to extend help whenever he needed it.
“I had read about organic farming in books and tried to grow organic wheat in one bigha of land, but I got only four quintals of wheat,” recalled Mukan Singh of Salemgarh Masani village.
The 35-year-old then got in touch with Khudi and things changed dramatically for him, he said. The following year, Mukan Singh, keeping Khudi’s instructions in mind, replanted wheat and this time he reaped a harvest of eight quintals.
“I now grow organic wheat and cluster beans in four bighas and the results are so good,” he told Gaon Connection. He now plans to grow paddy organically this year.
Organic farming is profitable
Doing the maths, Khudi said how going organic had proved to be profitable for him.
According to him:
In conventional farming, the investment on chemical fertilisers and pesticides is about Rs 8, 000 a bigha. And, the yield is about 15 quintals a wheat a bigha. On the other hand in organic farming, he spends no money on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and his land yields about 10 quintals of wheat per bigha.
Conventional paddy farming requires up to Rs 15, 000 worth of chemical fertilisers and pesticides per bigha, after which the yield is about 20 quintals of rice per bigha. With zero expenditure on the chemicals, Khudhi’s organic farm yields about 12 quintals of paddy per bigha.
“It is not just about less investments. I also get a higher price for my organic grains.The organic wheat fetches me about Rs 3,500 a quintal, as against the non organic wheat that sells at Rs 2,150 a quintal. My milled rice gets me about Rs 10, 000 a quintal while non-organic paddy sells at up to Rs 3,500 a quintal,” the farmer said.
Farmers create their own brand
Observing the success story of Khudi, many other farmers in the district have joined him in the mission to go organic.
The change was not too easy as these farmers had no place where they could easily sell their produce for a fair price. It was the timely support and encouragement of Om Prakash Manjhu, a retired district statistics officer, that gave them a platform to sell their produce.
In 2016, a Food Producer Organisation (FPO) was formed by the 150 farmers. The FPO was called Haqeeqat Natural farmer Producer Company Limited, and the produce they sold there was under Haqeeqat brand.
Manjhu passed away but the organic farmers in the district remember him with gratitude. “After he retired from government service, Manjhu ji helped us establish an organic farm produce organisation in 2016. Haqeeqat provided a platform for the farmers to sell their produce to the local inhabitants,” said Khudi.
“Nearly 2,000 families in Hanumangarh come here to shop,” he said proudly. The store also couriers products to all the major cities in the country. The store has organic products that are also brought in from other places, such as biscuits, honey, jaggery, pulses and spices.
While the store has no formal organic certification, any product that is bought or sold there is sent for testing to ensure there are no chemicals in them.
“All products that come here are tested at labs in Bengaluru and Bhatinda to verify that they are chemical-free. Even those products that come here to be sold and are certified organic are sent for testing. The people of Hanumangarh buy the produce on complete trust,” said Khudi.
According to him, Haqeeqat does about Rs 50 lakh worth of business every year. “Ninety per cent of what is made is distributed amongst the farmers for their produce while the remaining ten per cent is used for the running of the place,” Khudi said.
District officials appreciate the efforts of Khudi. “Khudi is a dedicated and conscientious farmer. He has inspired many other farmers to go organic with his example and today, Khudi and the other farmers who are into organic cultivation are a beacon of hope for us,” Danaram Godara, joint director, agriculture department, Hanumangarh, told Gaon Connection.