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Bhagchand Ramola, Vegetable Farmer, Garhwal, Uttarakhand

Born into a traditional farming family of Garhwal, Bhagchand Ramola of village Majhgaon in the Saklana valley has prospered through an innovative approach to vegetable growing. Majhgaon is 40 km. from Dehradun and 60-70 km. from Mussoorie. Before being exposed to organic farming, Bhagchand was practicing chemical farming but his crops were decreasing each year and so was his income. A woman farmer who was receiving seeds from Mussoorie Gramin Vikas Samiti (MGVS) told Bhagchand about their outreach program. Subsequently he approached MGVS for support and started receiving seeds from them.  

MGVS under the able direction of Surender Singh had organized a Women Farmers' Organic Cooperative and conducted training programs  in sustainable and integrated farming for them. Surender Singh had received training in sustainable organic farming methods in Japan. The women farmers were introduced to organic fertilizers such as fermented chicken manure (bokashi), PSB (photosynthetic bacteria), fermented plant juice liquid fertilizers, rice husk charcoal (kuntan) and compost.  The farmers were also encouraged to grow plum, peach, apple trees and kiwi fruit plants. They were introduced to growing   gobo (burdock) Japanese leeks, Japanese rice and Japanese soybeans. These crops could be sold in Delhi at a higher rate then local traditional crops. 

The 27 women of the organic cooperative, from four villages including Majhgaon,  requested Bhagchand to join their co-op as the sole male member and to act as their marketing coordinator.  Bhagchand was then sent to the Allahabad Agricultural Institute to undergo a month long training in sustainable organic farming and marketing by MGVS. After his return from the training in Allahabad, Bhagchand  helped the Women Farmers' Organic Cooperative establish market linkages in Delhi. Today he is a successful organic farmer, growing several crops, vegetables and fruits. In 2012 he sold 30,000 rupees worth of Japanese rice, 45,000 rupees of leeks and 30,000 rupees of gobo; in addition he sold local rice worth rupees 10,000 , potatoes worth 40,000 rupees, peas worth 30,000 rupees plus other produce worth rupees 15,000. His net annual income after deducting production, labour and transport charges is about rupees 1.25 lakhs from five acres of land.

Manuring and irrigation:
Bhagchand owns 100 nalis  (approximately 5 acres) of land of which 60 nalis are irrigated and the rest are rainfed. His fields are irrigated by utilizing the water of the local hill stream that flows through his property.He keeps two buffaloes and a cow of a local breed. He makes vermicompost and obtains about 50-60 bags of vermicompost each year from his efforts. He also makes a liquid fertilizer by mixing cowdung with neem leaves and the leaves of stinging nettle which grows wild in his area. The mixture is left to ferment for 20-25 days and is then ready for field application. But since he is growing high value vegetable crops he also buys cowdung manure from the local villagers at the rate of Rs. 50 per bag. Goat droppings are also purchased to be used as manure. He keeps three broilers for eggs and extracts honey from the skeps on his farm twice a year. This honey is dark red in colour and has excellent medicinal qualities.

Organic practices:
Bhagchand keeps a pair of bullocks for ploughing his land as tractors cannot be used on his hilly, terraced fields. This is a wise decision on his part as hiring oxen for ploughing costs a farmer Rs. 400 per day.He practices mixed cropping and grows ginger, peas, beans, mustard, potatoes, tomatoes, daikon, carrots, turnips and other local vegetables. Leeks, gobo, Japanese soyabeans and Japanese rice are the cash crops. Japanese rice is grown on 5-6 nalis and the local variety of rice is grown on 3-4 nalis for personal consumption. Millets like jhangora (barnyard millet) and madua (ragi/finger millet) are grown; and pulses like gahat and tor are grown for the family.

The initial lot of seeds for growing the Japanese vegetables were provided by Dr. Miura of the Allahabad Agricultural Institute.  Bhagchand then started making and saving his own seeds for his vegetable crops. This way he saves on seed expenses.

Bhagchand is 38 and lives in a joint family which consists of his 70 year old mother, his wife and three children, his brother, brother’s wife and their two children. The family works on the land and Bhagchand also employs casual wage labour for helping on the farm. He pays a daily wage of Rs. 150 and provides lunch to the farm labour.

Bhagchand’s cooperative has entered into an agreement with Yamatoya, a Japanese grocery store located in Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi. They supply leeks, gobo, Japanese green soyabeans and Japanese rice to this store. The fresh produce is packed in cardboard boxes. The boxes are then covered securely with hessian cloth. The boxes are sent to the local post office for despatch through speed post through a local truck service every Monday during the growing season. The truck charges them Rs. 100 per box for delivery to the post office. The boxes are delivered to the grocery store in Delhi by the postal service.

Bhagchand visits Delhi periodically to receive the payment for the vegetables delivered to Yamatoya grocery store. At present Bhagchand and his cooperative are content with supplying to Yamatoya and their produce just suffices for Yamatoya’s demands. They can only think of expanding their customer base if more farmers join their cooperative or they take on more land on lease. Their success lies in the fact that they had a tie up with a trustworthy buyer in a big city before they began growing their specialized vegetable crops. Not every farmer or cooperative is as lucky with a prior tie-up!

Although Bhagchand’s annual income may be very modest from his five acres, one has to keep in mind that he is looking after his land sustainably and that the growing season in the hills is a mere 6- 8 months. During winters, the farmers have no produce to sell as all is blanketed under a cover of snow and frost. Winter gives the hill farmers a much needed break from their toil. As he and the members of his cooperative have to bear the transport costs of their produce  to the big cities, their profit margin is low. And with the price hike of fuel the costs of transportation have increased further. However, Bhagchand is content with what he has achieved and his plans for further expansion are very realistic.

In 2012 Bhagchand started attending the Sunday organic vegetable market, held by an American expatriate, Mona Schwartz at her residence in Dehradun. Lovers of organic produce flock to this market every Sunday in Dehradun and Bhagchand’s vegetables soon sell out.

Gobo in particular is appreciated by health conscious people at this Sunday market. Gobo or burdock is long and slender root, growing up to three feet in length. The root is sweet, mild and earthy. Its skin is the colour of earth and its flesh, a crisp off-white contrast. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. Gobo root is especially popular in Japanese cuisine. Gobo has been used in many folk remedies as one of the best blood purifiers. It contains certain diuretic principles, which help expel toxic products from the blood through urine. The herb is employed in the treatment of skin problems such as eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, skin dryness etc.  It is also used for throat and chest ailments, as an  appetite stimulant and for dyspeptic complaints. Gobo has been used to treat cancer and may be the reason behind the longevity of Japanese peasants.

Bhagchand and the members of his cooperative have not obtained an organic certificate from a licensed certification agency so far. They sell to Yamatoya and to customers in Dehradun upon sheer trust. The taste and freshness of their produce speaks for itself. The peace, contentment and good health engendered by their sustainable organic farming practices is their biggest reward. May their tribe increase!