A Class X Dropout, Rajasthan Farmer Now Prepares Curriculum That Will Teach India How To Farm Organically
Hukumchand Patidar is 62 and has a Padma Shri for his innovations in organic farming in the desert state of Rajasthan. But neither his age nor his awards are enough to make him rest.
At 7.30 am, Patidar is ready. The kurta-pyjama-clad farmer does not waste a minute in starting the conversation about his work. Standing in his fruit orchard at Manpura village in Jhalawar, Patidar is visibly excited about a new development in his life right now.
He has been made part of the national committee working out a curriculum on organic farming. The committee comes under the Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR), a body under the Union ministry of agriculture. Patidar is a Class X dropout and the only non-academic person in the 14-member committee formed to introduce organic farming as a discipline in educational institutes for school boards and agricultural universities.
He has been included to prepare a draft on the subject Prakratik Evam Govansh Adharit Krishi (natural and cow-centred agriculture) based on his 18 years of expertise and experience in the field. He has virtually participated in two meetings and given a detailed account of his Sanatan Krishi practices with live examples from his 40-acre farmland on the catchment area of the Ujjar river. “I am excited that the curriculum we are designing will script a healthier and better world. Natural farming is the next revolution the world is going to witness in the coming decades,” Patidar says confidently.
Patidar’s land is divided into several sections, each with unique soil quality. He stops at a small field to show the most expensive product on his land, a four-foot plant of red cherry tomatoes. “Can you believe that these cost Rs 900 per kilogram? The demand is from five-star hotels for sauces and salads in Delhi and Mumbai. I am unable to fulfil their demand of 40 kilograms daily,” Patidar says as he generously offers some tomatoes for tasting.
He said the lab-tested produce is rich in fibre, proteins and sugar with zero chemical content. He holds the well-drained loamy soil in his hand and offers it for the aroma. “Do you know what all has gone into the soil? A mixture of pure ghee, milk, cow dung, cow urine, the water of pulses, jaggery and soil from under a banyan tree. The mixture is combined in water and sprayed according to the sun’s position. The chemical properties of the mix nourish the soil to the extent required for a product to become nutritious,” Patidar says.
At the next patch, he shows a five-foot slender wheat plant and claims it produces gluten-free wheat. The product has an exclusive customer base, including some business families in the metros, for its high glucose and gluten-free content. “It took four years of hard work to convert the ordinary land into producing a content-specific crop. Along with my unique mixture, I have experimented by blending honey and liquid released by a cow just after conceiving on this land. The first liquid released by the cow contains bacteria and other micro-organisms that have the power to enhance the soil with bacterial growth. It is delivering good results,” Patidar says.
As the sun rises higher and blazes hotter, Patidar stops the tour of his fields and offers to show his awards hanging on the wall of a hall that doubles as a storehouse in his palatial home. A report by the Germany-based GBL Lab approving his coriander for export to Europe, US and Japan is the highlight of his list of achievements. Displaying other lab reports of his produce -- onions, oranges, fennel seeds -- he says, “I produce the best quality crops and vegetables.”
“The biggest myth I have dispelled is that natural farming doesn’t mean no use of chemicals,” Patidar says. He then quotes WHO and Swaminathan Commission reports. “Indiscriminate farming using hazardous chemicals reduces carbon content in the soil over the years and land becomes less conducive for the growth of bacteria, micro-organisms and insects, which are required for enhancing the soil value.”
Life was not the same for Patidar and his family, at least till 2007.The rise from a poverty-ridden life to an accomplished farmer did not happen with a mere change in his farming technique from chemical-based to natural.
For four years, between 2003 and 2007, the family incurred heavy losses for producing crops and vegetables of uneven sizes, weight, and taste that found no takers. Many times, the product was either thrown at cows or buried in their field.
“I came across two books — Krishi Parashara and Visha Vallabh — that gave me a rough idea about what I was missing. It gave a different dimension to my approach. I realised that consolidated ancient wisdom on farming was not available in a single place or a single book. Here my life took a 360-degree turn.”
Patidar started purchasing books on the subject and began reading the latest research journals. “It was like going back to school. I extensively read books at the Asian Agri History Foundation based in Udaipur and Dehradun. Here I realised that without understanding the basics of chemistry, astrology, astronomy, geology, soils, anatomy, human behaviour and the market, I will never excel in the new course of my life,” he says, showing pictures of his lecture series on natural farming in universities and colleges in north India.
His achievements in organic farming remained unnoticed until 2012. That year, actor Aamir Khan interviewed him for his show Satyamev Jayate. “Thereafter, my life changed as the national media carried my interviews for days and weeks. I was approached and contacted by buyers, university teachers, students and farmers,” Patidar recalls. By now, he has lectured in 22 universities across north India. He is the only farmer in the region exporting his products to different countries and has changed his financial status from an under debt one to debt-free. The coriander grown on non-organic farmland fetches Rs 80 per kilo, while his high-quality product gives him Rs 220 per kilogram with the cost of production lesser than the former.
His farming technique has helped him achieve the feat of producing opium organically. “I am the only farmer who grows opium 100% organically,” Patidar says.
Until 2003, Patidar too was using a high amount of chemicals on his land. Then, an incident in the village shocked him. “The excessive use of monocrotophos in the soybean crop killed a hundred peacocks in three days. The tragedy did not end. Eagles, hawks and jackals that consumed the carcasses of the peacocks also died in the next few days,” Patidar says.
It shocked the conservative village. The peacock is identified with goddess Lakshmi here and the villagers feared the goddess would curse the village. The villagers took several measures, including a pledge not to use any pesticides, weedicides and insecticides.
“I remember taking the pledge at a chaupal. Nobody among us knew how to cultivate anything without using chemicals. For three years, the produce did not match the level of what it used to be with the chemicals. The produce was of poor quality and many a time remained unsold,” Patidar says while pointing to an old book that changed the fortunes of his family.