Baby corn, the mildly-sweet vegetable that was a rare sight till a few decades ago, has certainly become ubiquitous at supermarkets, roadside vendors, restaurants and even, homes.
Commonly used in stir-fries, the cereal grain is beloved by many for its crunchy texture and light flavour.
At one point, it was imported from Thailand, and the country continues to be the primary global producer. However, it was off-limits for the general population and was mostly purchased by fine dining establishments.
That would change in the late 90s, when Kanwal Singh Chauhan, a farmer from the Aterna village in Sonepat, Haryana, decided to ditch common crops like paddy and wheat and instead pursue baby corn farming.
Today, he is a recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri and a true inspiration to all those who wish to pursue farming through innovative and creative practices.
In conversation with The Better India, Chauhan shares how a village boy from an agrarian family stumbled upon the miniature vegetable and decided to grow it.
“I began farming when I was 15. But it was only in 1997 when I decided to give baby corn farming a try. There were perhaps no baby corn farmers in India at the time, and the vegetable was being imported from Thailand for restaurants and hotels. Those were priced at Rs 4000 per kg. When I started out, most people in my village dissuaded me, saying it wouldn’t be as profitable as wheat or paddy,” he recalls.
What worked for Chauhan was that unlike the wheat or paddy which have a yearly harvest cycle, baby corn can be harvested thrice in a year.
“That seemed to slowly elicit interest, first amidst my neighbours and then slowly across the entire village. Today, we have 5,000 farmers pursuing baby corn farming from Sonepat,” he shares proudly.
Chauhan didn’t just introduce baby corn to the region; he also established a profitable market for the farmers.
“Initially I began selling it for Rs 70 per kg which then trickled down to a fixed value of Rs 60 as production increased multi-fold. That helped us establish a fair market for the farmers, who either sell it to the local mandis or food processing units,” he explains.
Alongside baby corn, Chauhan also grows mushrooms, sweet corn, tomatoes, and regular grains.
Sometime in 2009, he decided to further expand the scope of baby corn farming and started selling the canned variant that has a shelf life of three years.
This proved to be quite fruitful for the humble farmer, who now exports his fresh produce to even England.
In fact, Chauhan reaps a daily farm production of 5-10 tonnes of baby corn, along with 2 tonnes of processed and canned production and 1.5 tonnes of daily export to fresh baby corn from Sonepat.
“When I started, the initial returns were few lakhs, but now with canned production as well as export, we can rake in an annual return ranging between Rs 18-20 crores,” he adds.
Another practice that Chauhan has popularised across the region is that of integrated farming—an agricultural management system that integrates livestock and crop production and is centred upon sustainability.
So, how does he ensure integrated farming across his farm?
“In addition to the harvested crops, everything that is produced here is utilised in some way or the other to ensure no wastage. For instance, the used baby corn stalks, as well as mushroom remnants all go into the making of manure. In addition to that, faecal waste from the livestock on our farm is put to use for manuring purposes. Nothing here goes to waste; we guarantee that” he adds.
Amidst these facts and data, what we should pay attention to is the fact that this humble farmer’s rock-solid determination and the will to experiment has silently changed the perception that farming in India focuses mostly focuses wheat and paddy, and how his leap of faith is today bringing handsome returns to over thousands of farmers.
While the coveted Padma might have brought him national fame, Chauhan’s innovative farming practices have been recognised on multiple occasions previously.
In 2010, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) conferred Chauhan with the NG Ranga Farmer Award for diversification in agriculture. In addition to that, he has also been honoured by different state governments as well as central authorities for his exceptional contribution to Indian farming.
Having singlehandedly taken care of the farm for the last 22 years, Chauhan is now assisted by his sons. His farm and processing unit together provide a livelihood to about 200 employees.
On a closing note, we request Chauhan to share words of motivation for anyone, particularly the current generation, who wants to pursue farming.
“I believe that there is immense scope for youth in agriculture. With education and increasing awareness on the harms of chemical additives, their participation can be crucial to better the crop quality and help India to become the world’s food bowl through sustainable practices,” he concludes.
For more information, you can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)