OFFBEAT Bringing together a group of unlikely agriculturists, Nallakeerai is a farming venture that urges people to switch to organic farming
At a time when farmers are quitting agriculture and heading to cities in search of jobs, these young men have turned their backs on corporate jobs and city life and turned farmers. This innovative farming venture Nallakeerai has facilitated many farmers in the Melappedu village to switch to organic farming; meanwhile, it has drawn city folk into the organic food habit, thanks to its weekly, door-delivery service of organic produce to residences in the city.
Nallakeerai includes a group of unlikely agriculturalists — R. Jagannathan, formerly a business manager with a city-based firm, Gowtham Balaji, a former financial analyst with an MNC who now handles marketing for Nallakeerai, Venkatraman, a software architect who splits his time between agriculture and software, Viswanathan, an engineer with a car firm, Punitha, a professor at Pondicherry University; Shyam, a management consultant, Dr. Salome Yesudas, who has worked with Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems, agricultural consultant Radhakrishnan, Rajamurugan, researching on South Indian traditional foods, Thirumalai, who did his MBA at IIT Madras, Arivarasan, who is also a programme director with Swabhiman Bharat, which is giving science education to children in villages, and Raghuvaran, a gold medallist in M.A. Economics. But of course, traditional farmers like Karuppuswamy are involved too.
Nallakeerai is an idea that crystallised when Jagannathan conducted a survey in his native village Melappedu, near Thirunindravur. “I found that the 240 farmer households in this village actually spent about Rs. 40 lakh a year in buying pesticides and fertilizers,” he says, and points out, “If this money is retained and rotated within the farm, farmers would be making bigger profits, and agriculture would actually be an attractive proposition.”
In the anvil is Nallasandai, a comprehensive, organic agricultural system that links cattle rearing with organic agriculture of a variety of crops — the way it was in ancient times. “Cow dung is a crucial ingredient for rich manure and is an organic pesticide too; so when you have cattle alongside, you get free manure; and cow’s milk yield augments the farmer’s income,” says Jagannathan. Nallakeerai helps farmers persist with organic farming by linking them to a direct and assured customer base in the city. Jagannathan started with spinach farming, as spinach requires a very short growth period and gives quicker returns, which eases the transition to organic farming.
If the pricing of organic food is to become attractive to the consumer, organic farming has to go large scale. So Nallasandai is working to create 20 hubs of organic farms each about 15 acres in size and producing 5,000 bundles of greens and other produce every day. Nallasandai is looking to network people interested in establishing such hubs. “Organic food can be a win-win situation for both the farmer and the consumer. Even now, our organic spinach farm is profitable through weekly door-delivery of organic greens to residences and apartment complexes in the city,” says Gowtham Balaji. Well, maybe soon, Chennai will have organic milk and vegetables door-delivered, while in the villages, farmers find agriculture a secure and profitable profession. Nallakeerai can be reached at 99626 11767/98406 14128.