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Thursday, April 02, 2020

Community farming catches on in Punjab as urban residents look for pesticide-free food

It all began in early 2018, when Dr Sachin Gupta, HoD, medical oncology department at Max hospital, Mohali, attended a workshop on organic farming organised by NGO Kheti Virasat Mission in Ludhiana.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | Published: February 20, 2020 5:42:32 am
(Clockwise from left) In Mohali, the focus is on growing vegetables like pumpkin, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ladyfinger etc in summer and cabbage, carrots, cauliflower etc in winter. 

It was in 2018 that 44 families from Mohali and Chandigarh came together to do community farming on two acre land. The number has now gone up to 60 families and the land doubled to four acres on the Mohali-Siswan road. Every family that is part of the project pays Rs 24,000 per year each.

It all began in early 2018, when Dr Sachin Gupta, HoD, medical oncology department at Max hospital, Mohali, attended a workshop on organic farming organised by NGO Kheti Virasat Mission in Ludhiana. Dr Gupta said,”I am a cancer specialist and I am aware that how pesticides are causing harm to human bodies, hence the idea clicked soon after attending the workshop. I made a WhatsApp group of my friends and shared the idea. Soon, a friend, Dr Sameer Goyal, came up with an idea to give his two acres agriculture land on lease to us. He was doing contract farming done on his four acres land. So we took the 2 acres land on contract in October 2018 at Rs 40,000 per acre. Initially, we were 44 families, including Dr Goyal. After hiring four workers, we started organic farming.” He added: “Our focus was to grow vegetables which can thus be distributed to all the families. We focused on vegetable farming and grew seasonal vegetables in January 2019 after making the land ready for organic farming. Intially we charged Rs 12,000 per annum per family and hence we started getting summer and winter vegetables such as pumpkin, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ladyfinger etc in summer while cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, methi (fenugreek), palak (spinach), sarson (mustard) etc. in winters. Potatoes, onions, garlic is also part of our project as these items are used on a regular basis.”

Dr Gupta says that farming made them realise that farmers are paid peanuts for their crops. “One of our members also works as a manager to manage every thing and also to help in delivering the vegetables to all houses…Around 200 fruit trees of jamun, mango, guava, peach, shehtoot etc are being added apart from increasing the area under vegetables as families have also increased. We have installed our own tubewell,” he said, adding that per family charges have increased to Rs 24,000 per annum. “This includes, lease money, salary of employees who have been increased to eight now and many other expenses as well. We have plans to create our own seed bank so as to reduce the cost of purchasing seeds,” said Dr Gupta, revealing that for wheat and rice, they “tie up with organic farmers and buy in bulk”.

Fazilka

In the border district of Fazilka, two neighbours are working on a similar principle. Subodh Verma and his neighbour Dr Rajesh Sharma do organic farming on 1.5 acres of land. Subodh said,”We have cultivated sarson, turmeric, chillies, barley, wheat in some part while seasonal vegetables, onion garlic, potato in another. We also have purchased our own machine through which we take out mustard oil out from mustard seeds which suffices our annual need for cooking oil. Turmeric and chillies processed using our own machines to make masalas throughout the year. We produce barley and wheat, while rice we get from farmers who grow it naturally. Now, we are looking for rearing desi cows as we want to have milk that is free from impurities. We don’t know as what is being added in the milk being delivered to us by companies.” He added that the per year yield is enough for both families. Both families spend around Rs 15,000 per month that includes salary of employee as well.

Ludhiana

In Ludhiana’s Issewal village, however, group farming is being done in one acre land by 20 families on land taken from a local industrialist Maneet Dewan. Amrita Mangat, a member of this group, said,”Maneet gave us this land for free and we are spending Rs 2500 per month per family to meet expenses. We are focusing on growing vegetables only on this land. Fruits, cereals are coming from farmers who do natural farming and hence we pool in to purchase even those products as well. We are trying our best to east everything grown naturally….We are doing group farming for more than 5 years now.”

On Hambaran road, on the outskirts of Ludhiana, Neerja Jain grows her own vegetables on a one acre plot of land that is owned by her cousin.

She said: “It was a jungle when I visited that area in early 2018. We started cleaning the wild growth of grass, prepared the soil and slowly and in September, started sowing vegetables. Last winter, we tasted vegetables grown in our own farm. We spend Rs 40,000 to get the farm ready and now bear running expenses. The vegetables are shared among relatives and even some of our workers.” Neerja, who runs a boutique in an upmarket Ludhiana locality, says that now 15 families have joined the chain.

“Farmers like Chamkaur Singh, who does organic farming in Ludhiana, Anirudh Kumar, a farmer from Sunam, visited my farm and guided me a lot as how to go about it,” she said, adding that community members pay as less as Rs 500 per month and take vegetables home as they mature.

Rakesh Kharbanda, a chemist who is part of the group, “It is wonderful to do group farming and share vegetables as per your family size.”

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