Organic farming is considered as an eco-friendly, more profitable, and healthier option for farmers as well as end consumers. India is home to 30 per cent of the total organic producers in the world. However, it accounts for just 2.59 per cent (1.5 million hectares) of the total organic cultivation area of 57.8 million hectares, according to the World of Organic Agriculture 2018 report.
Poor policy measures, rising input costs and limited markets are some of the reasons why farmer’s struggle with organic farming. However, for Pune-based entrepreneur Parikshiti Dhulugade, his childhood dream of being a farmer was not deterred by these challenges. A marketing professional for 12 years, Parikshiti quit to start his social entrepreneurial journey and set up Earthy Companions Organic Farm (Eco Farm).
Adopting Organic Farming
In 2014, Parikshiti leased a 4.5-acre farm, just outside Pune, to start his enterprise and save the land from encroachment and illegal activities too. He intended to start by adopting common farming practices. However, after doing intense secondary research into farming practises, he learned that organic farming was the healthiest method.
As he explored organic farming, he realised that there was abundant information available but in a non-systematic manner. There were many variations of sustainable farming – natural, organic, biodynamic, zero- budget natural farming, and traditional organic farming. So, Parikshiti adopted the best practices from all these and built Eco Farm.
Eco Farm packs its wide range of fresh organic produce into a weekly basket for its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members. With 6 seasons through the year, members get access to a variety of just-harvested organic produce, making it an ideal farm-to-fork venture.
Improving Soil Fertility
One of the biggest challenges that Parikshiti faces is the availability of organic matter. He shares that though the information may be plenty, there is a lack of a support system for organic farming. There is a deficit of organic matter for the past 50 years, making it extremely difficult for the farmer to optimise their farming practices. He states that ideally, there should be 5% organic matter in the soil for the healthy growth of the plants. However, what is available is significantly lower.
To replenish the soil, Eco Farm collaborated with an authorised Government waste collection organisation to collect kitchen waste from over 700 houses in Pune. They charge a minimal INR 150/month per house for this waste collection that gets treated at a composting plant at Eco Farm.
Parikshiti shares that plants grown using organic matter are more equipped to handle climate change. He has conducted tests that show that plant quality improves within the same season once the shift is made from chemical to organic farming. This holds major implications for farmers all over who may be sceptical of transitioning into organic farming due to a fear of time investments.
A Vision of Growing Permaculture
Parikshiti believes in the potential of urban organic farming once an adequate amount of organic matter is procured. To that end, he plans to develop and run a pilot with 10 composting plants around Pune. The impact data of organic matter on the soil will help push the agenda of organic farming and convince more and more stakeholders to invest in these projects. Some of the many benefits of using organic matter include increased plant resilience, increased water-holding capacity of the soil, and higher intrinsic value of the soil.
If you are in Pune and wish to start leading a healthier lifestyle, reach out to Parikshiti and become a CSA member. If you are looking to start your own organic farm, Parikshiti also does consultations.