Kavita Garewal is an organic farmer with a 50-acre farm in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand. Devang sources our organic rice, honey, tea, herbs and spices from Kavita's farm. Here, we interview the farmer on what motivates her to grow organic!
When did you begin farming and what got you specifically interested in organic farming?
I’ve been interested in farming, and organic farming in particular, ever since I was a child.
I was particularly drawn to traditional practices and to learn more about them, I would meet elderly people who practiced hand-pounding, sun-drying, and so on. I was very fascinated by all of it. So then I thought, why not try these things?
I began farming after getting married. I shifted to the farm in 1986 and started full-swing farming in 1988. We started with 4 acres of land, and today we have approximately 50 acres. We use only traditional techniques in our farm and are totally into organic. I self-study Ayurveda, as well.
What does your farm produce?
Pulses, masalas, herbs, oil seeds, rice, wheat, sugarcane, jaggery and organic fruits are some of the things we produce.
All of our products are sundried, hand-pounded and hand-ground. Nothing is dehydrated, and everything is roasted over a wood fire. We have all the organic certifications, as well – American, Japanese, etcetera. Our quantities are not very large – for example, we do approximately 5-6 acres of haldi. Only after we get the order, do we sow the crop. We take one year’s time to supply to the customer. As the market grows, we increase the acreage.
In small quantities you can maintain the authenticity and purity. In large volumes it becomes more difficult. Moreover, we don’t procure from outside [contract farming]; we grow everything ourselves.
Have you faced challenges since you’re growing all organic?
Nature becomes your friend if you grow organic. Birds and insects eat the pesticides which harm your crop. Earthworms air your soil, so you don’t need fertilizers. Earthworms are a farmer’s friend. The ladybird – a beetle – eats bad bacteria and pests from grains.
Nature helps and guides you; you just have to keep your eyes and heart open!
Organic red chilies (left) and working on Kavita's farm (right)
Right now under 5 percent of India’s land is certified organic. How can more farmers be incentivized to grow organic?
By altering rules and regulations.
Most farmers are not educated. They cannot do the paperwork required to receive the Organic certification.
Initially we had to go to the town to even get an Internet connection to submit the forms. Now we have Internet, but I am still not computer-savvy – only because of my husband and son am I able to submit these forms and continue my business.
No farmer who is illiterate here will do that paperwork. Our society had 15 farmers, now only we are left. They are 100 times better farmers than us – but all the farmers have left because of paperwork, and not getting the right price for their produce.
This is why a lot of these rules are futile and impractical.
In addition, many farmers who aren’t organic still manage to receive the certification – all over the world. That makes it very tricky for us to compete, as their prices are lower.
Finally, the middleman makes all the money; even if you do go organic. That’s why I work directly with my customers and specify my rates.
CEOs may talk about agriculture, but they have no practical knowledge. You can’t learn agriculture from books. These conferences about organic food; they keep discussing the issue around the table in air-conditioned rooms, that’s about it. In the field it’s an entirely different picture.
Now the younger generation is leaving farming, because they feel there is little scope and future in the profession.
On the one hand you have government and businessmen, but you also have consumers who are very interested in organic food – is that a good thing?
If most of us go organic, the middle class will be able to afford it and their health will improve.
But we farmers have to pay so much for certifications, so we can’t lower our rates. It’s all thanks to the regulations - we have to pay for the certification, and there are many more costs after that. If all that was cut and we were guaranteed a price for our produce, so many farmers would go organic. Then more people would benefit.
Right now, very few people are benefiting.
Despite these challenges, you continue to farm.
In every birth, I want to be a farmer – it’s such a beautiful, pure and hardworking life.
Mother Earth has provided us with innumerable blessings and I feel that it is our duty to take care of her and thank her every step of our lives.
Going organic is our way to show Mother Earth some gratitude and respect for her love and blessings. Another reason for us going organic is that we have lots of generations to follow after us, and what we do now will affect the coming generations – we don't want to sign any I Owe You’s to them!