It is always fascinating and in some ways motivating when you see real life people give up a lifestyle that most people aspire for, in exchange for the hard yards of farming. Natura Farms, the brainchild of 30-year-old Navdeep Golecha, is an innovative farm with 12,500 Pomegranate, 7500 Papaya and 200 Lemon trees.Started in 2015, the farm’s goal was to grow pesticide-free fruits which it continues to uphold. Navdeep’s story of transition from working in a glass cubicle in the UK as an investment banker, to the heat and dust of his farmland in India needs to be heard.
In this exclusive interview with The Better India (TBI), Navdeep speaks about his early years, his time as a student in UK, his return to India, shift from the family business to horticulture, and the motivation behind it all.
Born into a business family, Navdeep studied in Jodhpur and moved to Mumbai for his Bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation, he emigrated to the UK to pursue a Masters degree in Financial Economics from The University of Leicester. Recounting the time he spent there, Navdeep says, “Here I was a boy from Rajasthan in London. Everything was different and difficult in the beginning. Belonging to a business family had given me a sense that I could deal with numbers with ease. It was only when I started attending classes that I realised how difficult it actually was. I remember sitting in the class feeling absolutely blank; the teaching methodology was all different.”
For Navdeep, things had become so bad that during the first break he got at the University, he refused to go home as he was ashamed of the marks he had scored.
However, he did not let the holidays go to waste. He used the time to catch up with his coursework and that helped him ace the next semester and achieve top marks.
Navdeep says that there were many moments, in the initial months, where he was unsure of what he was doing but the determination to succeed kept him going.
Coming back to India
Navdeep secured a scholarship for CFA programme which got him placed at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Speaking about the experience he says, “It was absolutely wonderful to be working there. At the age of 23 I was offered a package of 25,000 pounds and it felt like I had arrived in life. At that time I didn’t think there could be anything more that I could achieve.”
However, a phone call from his family in Rajasthan pulled Navdeep back to his roots in India. “I wasn’t sure of what I would do but knew that I would find my place here. I did not give it much thought then,” he recalls.
For Navdeep, family comes first and when his father requested him to come back, he could not refuse.
What the young man was certain of was that he did not want to join the family business. He wanted to diversify and start something of his own. “It was during the time when I was looking for something to do, I learnt about a land that my father had purchased. Knowing that I would have full control over what I grew on it, the seeds of starting Natura Farms was born,” he says.
Genesis of Natura Farms
With absolutely no background in farming and no help from any family member, it was a difficult task to set up Natura Farms. “This was like a project for me. I started off by speaking to farmers and gathering as much information as I could about it,” shares the ex-banker.
Navdeep also spent considerable amount of time at the State Agricultural Department and says that he got a lot of information and guidance from there. While Navdeep was advised to continue research for a year, he decided to start immediately
With the help of an agricultural consultant from Maharashtra, Navdeep began work on the farm.
Papaya’s at the farm
Recent farming trends saw a shift to organic and residue-free farming methods with health being the number one priority for most consumers. Residue free farming can be explained as the use of organically-derived biocides and bio-fertilisers to protect the crops and augment their growth.
And at Natura farms, Navdeep practices the latter.
“The difference between organic and residue-free is that in the latter method while permissible quantities of chemicals are used, it does not, in any way, harm the produce or the health of the consumers.”
One of the reasons why farmers are looking to shift to this method is because the yields are higher. Various reports suggest that while organic farming is great when it comes to feeding large numbers, residue free-farming is perhaps the answer.
To understand what residue-free farming means and what its implication are on the food we consume and the soil health, we spoke to Dr Jyothsna Sharma, Director of National Research Centre of Pomegranate (NRCP).
“Residue free farming is very good for the soil because plants get most of the nutrients from the soil and if there is residue in the soil it will pollute the crop as well.”
“In this method, there is no contamination to the crop,” explains Dr Sharma.
Speaking about the benefits of residue-free farming, she says:
- it is safe and good for the plant
- it helps to reduce the pollution caused to the soil
- it is good for human consumption as well.
Farmers at Natura farm
Navdeep has employed more than 35 local farmers to work with him at the farm at Vera Vilpur. Pomegranate, papaya, lemon, and strawberries are some of the fruits that are grown here.
Speaking about the farmers who work at the farm, he says, “Initially it was difficult to get people to work. They all had various questions about the methodology I was using. With time, we have managed to get these people on-board.”
“Today, a farmer working at my farm takes home anything between Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 a month.”
Navdeep himself is at the farm four to five days a week. Very often he also works at the farm. “It is important for me to do this for various reasons. To begin with, it is important for me to be completely hands-on, and also doing the task makes me appreciate the work that is being put in by the farmers that much more.”
Navdeep says that last year they made a revenue of about 70 lakhs and the projection for the next year is about Rs 1.25 crore.
Despite various naysayers telling Navdeep that his idea to start farming was bad, he went ahead and did what he believed was right.
Navdeep concludes, “I believe that agriculture is the wisest pursuit because, it will, in the end, contribute most to the real wealth, good morals and happiness.”
Here’s hoping that many others take inspiration from his story.
(Edited By Saiqua Sultan)