Express News Service
DAVANAGERE: From the air-conditioned office cubicle to the sultry, rocky plains of Challakere in Chitradurga district. From coding to ploughing. Two diverse worlds — Roja Reddy traversed from one to the other, compelled by the call of her roots.
Back in her village on work from home duty in April 2020, Roja decided to cast aside the trappings of her job in a reputed company and venture into the uncharted territory of organic farming. The IT sector, too, was buffeted by the pandemic, and with pink slips being handed out, Roja knew it was time for a change. Donnehalli village, where the grass is dry and water scarce, held little hope for Roja.
Her father and brother, fed up with the losses of agriculture, had all but abandoned farming. But Roja took it up as a challenge, gaining guidance from progressive farmers to grow nearly 35 varieties of vegetables on six acres of land. She has now established her own brand, Nisarga Native Farms, provides employment to a number of workers and her earnings run into lakhs of rupees.
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Despite her hard work and perseverance, her techniques drew ridicule from relatives, other farmers and villagers, and even officials of the department of horticulture.
At a time when many youngsters are shunning agriculture, citing it a gamble with the monsoon, Roja learnt the desi style of growing multiple crops with limited supply of water. Her agricultural background and availability of land in drought-prone Challakere came in handy.
She got the support of her father and brother, who initially resisted the idea but later stood rock-steady behind her. Within the span of one year, Roja Reddy became an expert farmer. Slowly, those who had mocked her came forward to learn about the new methods, and Roja’s home in the village has become a hub of sorts for organic produce. In fact, Donnehalli village has transformed into an organic village, yielding good revenue while keeping costs low.
“We get high quality seeds from Belagavi, Maharashtra and other places, they give us wholesome vegetables,” she said. The produce is sold in the markets of Manipal, Udupi and Mangaluru, where her biggest customers are doctors, and also at the weekly organic market at JCR Extension in Chitradurga. “Organic farming not only provides good income but has also made me an agripreneur, and I am employing unskilled labourers who are in large numbers in our country. This has given me a great deal of satisfaction,” Roja said.
“My dad and brother, who were frustrated with agriculture due to shortage of water, are now busy growing, packing and transporting vegetables.”
Fenugreek, asparagus, celery, carrot, knolkol, radish, capsicum, chillies, ridge gourd, tinda, amaranthus, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, mint, beetroot, bottle gourd, ash gourd, cabbage and other vegetables are grown on the farm without the intervention of inorganic materials, said Roja.
Demand for such produce is growing across the state. “It is not possible to meet this demand, so I request other farmers to hand over their produce to me, so it can be sold in different parts of the state, and I can get them good revenue too,” she added. With a daily income in five figures, she is looking to grow her business. She, along with other progressive farmers, are advocating this method of raising “authentic vegetables”, their aim to give Karnataka a healthier future.
Counters in Bengaluru, Udupi
Roja has big ideas for her brand, Nisarga Native Farms. She wants to form an organic farmers’ co-operative in Donnehalli, and start online vegetable sales, besides setting up counters in Bengaluru to sell fresh and high-quality vegetables at affordable prices. “I also want to develop an app to market the produce. With swift transport facilities available, we can deliver vegetables hygienically at customers’ doorsteps,” she says.
However, she concedes the idea is still in a nascent stage. Roja currently uses private buses to transport produce to Bengaluru and Udupi-Manipal, but wants to set up her own transport fleet when she takes up online operations. “I have a set of permanent customers in Udupi and Manipal, who collect their parcels every morning when the bus reaches,” she said.