Till a year ago, Jaspal Kaur’s daily life comprised a rigmarole of household chores, interspersed with some activities at the women’s self-help group in Changali Wala village of Sangrur, Punjab. But now, she is most likely to be found at a field on the outskirts of the village, happily working from dawn to dusk.
Her friends and fellow workers at the field, Baljit Kaur and Harbans Kaur’s stories follow a similar trajectory. In fact, for all the ten women who can be found working in that one and a half-acre plot in Changali Wala, organic farming has offered a new lease of life.
“Earlier, my mother used to visit the village SHG once a month to deposit Rs 100 as microcredit savings. Occasionally, the women were offered training in tailoring, stitching and other household work, which unfortunately did not prove to be much helpful for empowering them,” shares Jaspal Kaur’s son Gurpreet Singh.
First in the Village to Start Organic Farming
“Around a year ago, the women in our village, including my mother, were introduced to the concept of organic farming by a non-profit organisation. The idea struck a chord with my mother and a few other women, and ten of them teamed up together to start organic farming for the first time in our village,” says Gurpreet.
The women, some of whom were agricultural labourers before, banded together to lease a one-and-a-half-acre plot from the village Panchayat at an annual rent of Rs 62,000. But it took them less than a year to clear off the first rental due from their farming profits.
Jaspal and her women league set out at sharp 9 AM every day and return after 6 PM, spending their days in the pursuit of cultivating vegetables without a single drop of chemicals. While organic paddy occupies one-third of their land, they also engage in growing a wide array of seasonal vegetables like carrot, cauliflower, pumpkin, peas, corn, eggplant, okra and leafy greens. Recently, they have also successfully experimented with exotic vegetables like mushroom and ornamental flowers.
The women synthesise their own organic compost and green manure and even prepare 100 per cent organic pesticides using natural antibacterial agents like neem.
Inviting Customers from Miles Away
Adjacent to their plot, a stall has been set up where the women take turns to sell their fresh organic harvest every day. “Initially, only the villagers used to come out of curiosity, to see and taste the chemical-free vegetables. But as word spread, more and more people from the nearby Lehra town have also started dropping by the shop. Customers even come from 20-30 km away, as it is the only place to find organic vegetables in an extensive radius,” informs Gurpreet.
The families of all these women have now started consuming their organic food and observing a stark improvement in health. “Sometimes the demand from customers is so high that there is no veggies left for us,” Gurpreet chuckles.
Changali Wala’s organic farming women brigade have earned accolades across the state for their trailblazing endeavour. They are regularly invited to farming exhibitions in different parts of Punjab as well as Delhi. They have also been appreciated by the Punjab Agricultural University for their organic farming prowess. The ten women have undoubtedly set a precedent that farmers across the country can be cultivated to follow.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)