Anuradha Kulkarni insists that visitors have tea before they take a tour of her family farm in Honnihal village. Once they have had a sip of the tea, they understand why. It is made from organic jaggery produced in their backyard gana, the jaggery plant, and of course, the thick milk comes from the buffaloes in the cattle shed.
The modest house of the Kulkarni couple in the middle of the farm does not reflect the success they have had as organic farmers. Over the years, Prakash Organics has built its own brand and a niche market in organic food items. It sells over 10 tonnes of organic jaggery a year, apart from cold press turmeric powder and paste, the local scented rice called Belgaum Basmati, unpolished Sona Masuri rice and Soya bean, and some fruits and vegetables.
“The formula behind our success is simple. Adopt organic farming, produce quality products and build your own brand that consumers trust. That is all,’’ explains Prakash Kulkarni, the farmer behind the brand.
However, this was not built in a day. Prakash Kulkarni had to quit studies and become a full-time farmer while he was still in high school. For over 20 years, he practised inorganic farming. “Then one day, my friends organised a workshop by Subhash Palekar, natural farming proponent in Yamakanamaradi village. I attended the day-long event and I was hooked,’’ he said.
Despite discouraging feedback from well-wishers and friends, he decided to go organic. It took him three years to adopt organic methods on his 20-acre farm. A fellow organic farmers in the district got together to form an Organic Farmers Club. For some years, the club organised workshops and set up a common market. But it lost steam during the lockdown.
“Organic farming may have become a recent fad. But we were early adopters. My farming is the no-frills approach to organic farming. Most of my inputs are made on the farm,’’ Prakash Kulkarni says. The only things he gets from outside are 30 tractor loads of compost, seeds or saplings developed by universities or inventors and of course, the Gokrupamruta bacterial culture developed by Gopalbhai Sutariya of Bansi Gir Goshala.
“The Gokrupamruta culture is mixed with buttermilk and jaggery and diluted with water. This is used in fertigation of the soils for four years, before the culture is bought afresh,’’ the farmer explains. According to him, this is easier to prepare compared to the Jeevamruta advocated by Mr. Palekar.
“The initial years were hard,’’ says Anuradha Kulkarni. “We went door to door explaining the benefits of our products over those bought in the market. We had to make small sachets to give some free samples and explain their usage in daily cooking. But now, our brand is established. People come to our door asking for the products,’’ she said.
The jaggery is made into blocks, granules and powder. But the powder sales are the highest. “Home-makers prefer it as it can be measured and used like sugar,’’ she explains.
“All our products are organically produced. We don’t use inorganic fertilizer, insecticides or weed killers. We obtained national and international certificates 15 years ago. We have regular inspections by officers. What is more, anyone is welcome to visit our farm and find out for themselves,’’ he said.
Prakash Kulkarni has converted a part of his house as a warehouse to store jaggery, turmeric powder and rice. For over a decade he crushed sugarcane and produced jaggery in a friend’s farm. But in the last few years, he built a traditional alemane or boiler in the farm to make his own jaggery blocks. “We realised that a farmer can succeed only when he makes a final product and sells it directly to consumers. We can no longer depend on middlemen,’’ Prakash Kulkarni said.