From US to Mandya – Why a Software Engineer Left America to Run a Farmers’ Co-Op in Rural India

 This software developer left the US to return to India and become a farmer. Now, he is also working for the welfare of other farmers by helping them grow and market organic produce.

He made his mark in the US but was unable to resist the call of his homeland. Madhuchandan SC, a software engineer, started his own company, Verifya, in San Jose, a few years ago. This firm’s software is now used all over the world. So, in terms of professional success, Madhuchandan felt he had achieved everything he wanted to.

It was around this time that he contemplated coming back home. Madhuchandan and his wife decided it was better to return while they were in their 30s, at an age where they could work towards making a difference in India, rather than wait for retirement. So they packed their bags and headed to Mandya, Karnataka, in 2014.

“I came home with the plan of becoming a farmer. However, once I got to my hometown in Mandya, I realised that the farmers here were facing a lot of problems. This is when I decided to work for their welfare,” says Madhu.

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Photo source: Facebook

According to Madhuchandan, farmers have a native wisdom, which they employ in their farming practices. They know what is needed to yield a good harvest. But they have been misguided into using pesticides and chemicals, thereby compromising on soil quality and yield.

Madhuchandan set up the Mandya Organic Farmers’ Cooperative Society in 2015, with the aim of bringing organic farming to the forefront again. Although there were some farmers in Mandya who were doing organic farming, they were not getting a good price for their produce. The objective of the Society is to uplift the farmers and help them grow, says Madhuchandan.

The membership fee to join the cooperative is Rs. 1,000. The Society, which started with 270 farmers, has now grown to include 350 farmers.

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Photo source: Facebook

“We have a lot of membership applications. However, we have a thorough selection process. We strictly accept only those farmers who practise organic farming,” he says.

These farmers have a passion for organic farming and the Society educates them on the best organic practices they can take up. Only marginal or small land-holding farmers — with holdings ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 acres — are part of the Society.

“After starting the Society, we realised that there was a need for a good marketing channel. The money pooled in by the Society wasn’t enough to take care of the marketing of the organic produce. This is how Organic Mandya was born,” he says.

Organic Mandya bridges the gap between the farmers and the consumers. Madhu and four of his IT friends got together and pooled in Rs. 1 crore to set up Organic Mandya.

“One of the first few things we did was to start an organic zone on the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway,” he says.

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Photo source: Facebook

This zone has a supermarket, an organic food restaurant, and an oil extraction mill.

The response has been phenomenal, according to Madhuchandan. The reason they set it up on the highway was so the urban crowd would have easy access to the organic products.

When asked about the higher prices organic products are sold at, Madhuchandan says, “I never understand how people are willing to spend hundreds of rupees on medicines, but when it comes to shelling out a little extra money for organic products they think twice. In fact, I would recommend that everyone try going completely organic for a year. And then see how much money you save on hospital bills and medicines.”

Apart from educating farmers and marketing their produce, Organic Mandya also holds other programmes — the most prominent being the ‘Donate Your Sweat’ campaign.

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Basically, the programme is about asking people from urban areas to contribute their efforts for something productive. “Instead of going to the gym to burn calories, we encourage them to come work in the fields for a day. In this way they are working out as well as getting a better idea of the process of farming,” he says.

When asked if he has any regrets about giving up his comfortable job in the US to return to Mandya, Madhu  says,”Yes, I have regrets. Sometimes, I regret going to the US. I wish I had stayed back and worked with the farmers a couple of years earlier. The satisfaction I get now is something I will never get anywhere else.”

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