When Rakesh Mahanty, a B.tech, realised that his ever-present listlessness was due to his dissatisfaction with his corporate job, he knew quitting was the only option. The 30-year-old also knew that the only way to find happiness in work is to do what he loved.
His heart lay in his land.
The Mahanty family’s 20-acre ancestral land lay forlorn, waiting for the heir to come back and paint it green with the sweat of his brow.
And the heir did not let the land down. Not only did Rakesh return to pick up the farming equipment of his ancestors that had been abandoned by his elders, but also brought relief to the farming community in Jharkhand’s Patamda block.
In 2017, he began his social enterprise, ‘Brook N Bees’ which primarily works on the concept of community farming. He collaborates with local farmers to grow organic crops. Rakesh and the farmers share land, resources, knowledge, equipment, labour and machinery with each other.
“I grew up in a rural area, and I am well-versed with climate changes, water scarcity, chemical-infused food, less returns from produce and so on in my village. I knew I wanted to uplift them economically and socially. Meanwhile, I was not satisfied with my job. So, I headed back to my village and practised farming. My original plan was to do farming for a while but after learning about the problems I decided to stay back,” Rakesh tells The Better India (TBI).
Close to 80 local farmers who are a part of ‘Brook N Bees’ farm on 50 acres of land which includes their own and Rakesh’s.
The farmers receive fixed salaries every month along with 10 per cent of profits. In addition to that, they don’t have to worry about selling their products or spend money on transporting them to the market.
Helping Farmers, Changing Lives
Rakesh ventured into agriculture after taking inputs from his family members and local farmers. He first began with 0.33 acre of his land.
For seeds, he connected with agents across India and planted 30 varieties of veggies like tomato, broccoli, zucchini and lettuce. Through vermicomposting, he prepared organic manure from cow dung, crop waste and earthworms to replace chemical fertilisers.
For the next two years, Rakesh worked toward perfecting his farming techniques and then approached the locals for collaboration.
Little did he know that his proposal would be met with complaints.
“Since the majority of the farmers had small landholdings, they used pesticides for high yields heavily. Add to it the unpredictable weather. Also, irregular income forced some farmers to abandon their lands and migrate to urban areas to find labour work,’ says Rakesh.
Rakesh had his work cut out for him. He prepared himself to convince these migrant labourers to restart farming and this time without toxic fertilisers.
“Farmers rely on pesticide companies to design their farms. Based on their suggestions, these farmers cultivate crops. In such a scenario, it was a daunting task for me to break the myth that veggies cannot grow without chemical fertilisers,” adds Rakesh.
To generate maximum employment, he chose to employ farmers with families. This way if four members of one family are working with Rakesh, they would earn Rs 24,000 per month (Rs 6,000 per person)
Like, the Hembram family that belongs to the Santhal community who earlier depended on forest reserves. With strict laws binding the forests, the family was left with no land or means to get their food.
A couple of years ago, Brook N Bees came to their rescue, “The steady income has considerably improved our financial situation. While my mother and sister process rice, my dad and I work on the farm.,” Kishun Hembram (19) tells TBI.
Additionally, the farmers are enjoying their fruits of labour with better incomes and have more free time with reduced working hours. As opposed to working as labourers in other fields for 10 hours at a stretch, the farmers are required to put in 6-7 hours with Brook N Bees.
Growing Indigenous & Exotic Crops
From san marzano tomatoes, lettuces, beans, sweetcorn, pumpkin, gourds, okra, Asian greens, sunflower, mustard, millets to different types of rice like black, red and gobindobhog rice, Brooks N Bees sells organic food across Jharkhand.
The techniques employed in the farming process include Precision and Protected farming (like greenhouses, shade nets, nursery), Micro Irrigation (Drip irrigation, Sprinkler) and different cropping methods like System Rice Intensification (SRI), multilayer farming and intercropping.
Every method is beneficial, informs Rakesh. While drip irrigation cuts down water consumption by 55 per cent, mulching prevents water loss due to evaporation. Likewise, the yield is high in multilayer farming or growing multiple crops in the same area.
Meanwhile, the 6-acre watershed stores lakhs of litres of water every monsoon, thus tackling the problem of water scarcity.
The organic crops, certified by the United States of Department of Agriculture-National Organic Program (USDA-NOP) and National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP, GOI) are sold in weekly farmer’s markets, housing societies of Jamshedpur and to individual takers, thus promoting the farm to table concept.
The food supplied by the organisation is a hit and last year they earned a revenue of Rs 8 lakh.
Three months ago, the enterprise expanded its activities in urban areas under the ‘Farm Pathshala’ project where Rakesh conducts workshops for students and professionals who can stay at the farm and learn about its activities.
“The program is designed for school students, corporate people, and urban dwelling communities. The course content emphasises Agroecology, Environment, Food diversity, Rural livelihood, Community development, and Urban farming. In simple words, it’s an on-farm classroom program,” explains Rakesh.
Not Giving Up
When Rakesh decided to quit his job, he faced a lot of backlash from his own parents. Their thought process stemmed from their times as farmers, and could not understand why their educated son with a well-paying job would pick up what they had already left.
He also refused to give up when farmers turned their back towards him and when he had used up all his savings in his startup. Instead, he led by setting examples. One success story inspired another and so on.
One of the success stories was when the state government approached him to try their new technology on his field as he was one of the few farmers growing food organically. In return, he received subsidies on seeds that helped him sustain his crop cycle.
Braving all odds, Rakesh made inroads in his community to provide employment opportunities to the distressed farmers and a medium to urban dwellers to consume chemical-free food and lead healthier lives.
Get in touch with Rakesh Mahanty here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)