Walking around in a lush green field, dressed in sweatpants, a T-shirt and sneakers, Abhishek Dhamma from Delhi’s Palla village, hardly fits the typical image of a farmer.
“People assume that lack of jobs or pressure from my family forced me into farming,” Abhishek tells The Better India. “My own family stared in disbelief when I told them about my decision.”
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This is because until he completed his degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering in 2014, Abhishek detested the idea of joining his family’s farming business. For him, working in the fields meant hours of strenuous activity and inevitable loss, which, to an extent, was his family’s reality.
Abhishek had made his stance on agriculture clear to his family from the very beginning and was never pressured to take forward his father’s business. He had full control over his professional life, and his future plans were set.
So, what made the young man drop his strong beliefs, and become an urban kisan?
It all started in 2014 after his graduation.
“I am a fitness freak and have played cricket and volleyball all my life. Before I started looking for jobs, I took a break and starting gymming. That’s when I learnt about the significance of nutrition and the importance of a proper diet for a healthy body.”
Abhishek’s curiosity for developing a healthy diet culminated in in-depth research.
“Of course I knew about using pesticides to grow plants, but it was only after some research I got to know about the terrible health implications of doing so,” he adds.
Even though Abhishek was aware, he did not attempt to change the non-organic farming process in his family’s 25-acre field due to lack of expertise and experience.
He weighed his options and started a tiny vegetable garden around a temple on the banks of the river Yamuna. His grandfather had built this temple, and the land around it was highly fertile but uncultivated.
I looked at several YouTube videos and began growing traditional veggies like tomatoes, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, reddish and some exotic ones like broccoli and red lettuce. The six-foot boundary wall kept the pests and insects away. I used a small amount of organic fertiliser and crop residues to provide nutrition to the veggies.
A year later, Abhishek saw a drastic change in terms of the colour, taste and quality of the veggies when he compared them with the ones available in the market.
The success gave him the confidence to experiment in the 25-acre property. “Unknowingly, the tiny garden became my first step towards becoming an ‘agripreneur’ (agriculture+entrepreneur).”
Being a health-conscious person, Abhishek cultivated the stevia plant, also known as meethi tulsi, as the extract from its leaves is a sugar substitute. Unfortunately, Abhishek did not get any buyers, and his project tanked in 2016.
Amidst the mocking from neighbouring farmers and warnings from family to choose a better career path, Abhishek continued his research on organic farming.
To earn more money, my father would spend hours in the field growing huge quantities of paddy and wheat without understanding the market dynamics. I managed my farms as per the requirements of markets. I would grow only those plants that yielded high produce and money.
He took his family land on lease to conduct all kinds of experiments. While he stuck to the veggies he grew in his garden, he changed the watering method and even came up with his own organic fertilisers.
He also switched to drip irrigation, the benefits of which are many.
Drip irrigation is highly effective as it saves 90 per cent of water. Additionally, water goes directly to the soil, placing moisture exactly where it’s needed – at the roots. Since the water only penetrates the soil around the plant, the growth of weeds is reduced automatically. The uniformity maintained in watering the plants helps them grow faster.
It also saves time, as now Abhishek only needs 15-20 minutes to water one acre of land against 3-4 hours that was required earlier. Since the time required is less, the electricity used in pumping water from the motor has also decreased by 70 per cent.
In the first year, Abhishek was forced to use chemicals in some areas of his land. “Farmers in my neighbouring land use a lot of chemicals and pesticides to keep the insects at bay. So they crawled onto my land e destroying 40 per cent of my produce. To save the rest, I had to use chemicals in very little quantity.”
Learning from his mistakes, Abhishek cultivated his veggies in a smart way. He shifted his cropping schedule to a time when the other farmers were not engaged in this activity.
Another simple observation that helped Abhishek reduce the use of pesticides.
“The bio-pesticide do not work in very high temperatures, but fortunately, there were hardly one or two days when the temperature went beyond 45 degrees. I was able to significantly minimise pesticide in my farm,” he adds.
Last year, Abhishek explored vertical farming using bamboo to increase his production output and grow vegetables throughout the year.
He dug bamboos in the ground, maintaining a distance of eight feet between each bamboo. He used Galvanized Iron (GI) wire to erect and connect the bamboos.
Next, he covered the space between each bamboo with a network of plastic ropes shaped in a box. The plants spread on the ropes and grow that way.
This has increased my output by 80 per cent as the plants are less exposed to insects and extreme weather conditions like floods or torrential rains do not affect them. The workforce required to harvest the crops is also less. The best part is that this method uses 70 per cent less water, says Abhishek.
Abhishek has also installed a biogas unit on his farm that helps him convert agricultural waste into methane gas that his family uses for cooking!
Since he does farming throughout the year, his profits have increased significantly. From the produce he sells in the market, Abhishek claims to earns up to Rs 40,000 per day.
In Abhishek’s words, his journey from an engineer to a farmer is full of learnings and mistakes, but he is proud of having ventured into this territory.
Summing up his roller coaster experience, he concludes, “Farming is like understanding a newborn. At first, it might seem complicated, but once you pay attention and observe every move carefully, it becomes easier. Take time and get to know your plants.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)