Growing up amid the hills of Garhwal, Uttarakhand, Babita Bhatt’s childhood had made her privy to the rich crop diversity of the Himalayas. Eating delicious and organic food was a daily affair she had known all her life.
After marriage, the 43-year-old moved to an urban landscape to work as a software professional in a big media house. For years, she worked in the shelter and safety of her comfortable job, but things changed when her baby girl was born.
“I was looking for millets and maize that would have been good for my baby, and found that whatever I could get my hands on was far from pure, and completely polished. My childhood in Garhwal had equipped me with the understanding of what real organic produce is, and my search for the same in big cities came up short. From the look to the taste of the produce I found, everything seemed artificial and laden with chemicals,” Babita tells The Better India.
‘We can grow, but where do we sell?’
Babita was also acutely aware of the remarkable variety of crops that were found in the Himalayas. “If you consume 50 per cent organic products, but the rest is laden with chemicals, then the entire purpose of eating organic is defeated,” she notes. “I wanted to bring the lesser-known and indigenous produce of the hills to people’s doorsteps.”
Alongside she harboured a desire to provide Himalayan farmers a better market to sell the vast range of produce that they were growing. “I also had relatives back home who grew their own produce, and everyone’s complaint and fears were centred around the fact that even if they grew crops, where would they sell it?” she says.
In 2016, Babita quit her high-paying job to move to Dehradun, and began Himalaya2Home, an online platform that sells a vast range of produce grown by a network of over 2,000 farmers in the region. From flour to pulses, millets, spices, rock salt, ghee, oil, pickles, sugar, herbs and tea, the venture’s portfolio includes over 140 products that aim to cover as much of the hill’s rich crop diversity as possible.
Each crop is grown, processed and packaged in an ethical and sustainable manner, without the use of any chemical fertilisers or pesticides. While promoting organic eating and preserving Himalaya’s diversity, the company also aims to establish direct partnerships and empower farmers by providing them a channel to sell their produce.
“Giving up a stable job to enter the risky world of entrepreneurship was definitely a challenge,” Babita says, adding, “I moved there with an idea in mind, and spent over a year finding and trying to connect with different farmers in the area to get them on board. I met villagers to understand what crops they grow, how they grow them, and what challenges they were facing in selling them. I got myself registered with Uttarakhand’s Organic Board. To collect the information of thousands of organic farmers single-handedly was also a challenge.”
Speaking about Himalaya2Home, Babita says the name is a reflection of the company’s aim. “Our idea is to show that everything you need in your kitchen can be organic. We started with pulses and spices and eventually expanded,” she says. The platform currently ships to all over India, receives at least 3,000 orders a month and has a customer base of around 4,000 buyers.
Additionally, Babita also collects heirloom seeds from all over Uttarakhand to sell to farmers. She also introduced a native variety of black rice—indigenous to Imphal—to farmers in Dehradun. “I studied both Dehradun’s as well as Imphal’s environment to understand that the climatic conditions are similar. I procured the seeds from Imphal and gave them to my network of farmers. The rice took to Dehradun very well, and now many farmers grow it,” she says. “Many of these organic seeds are not available in other parts of Uttarakhand, so I want to popularise them and propagate organic farming,” she says.
She says community seed banks are the need of the hour, and will play a significant role in preserving depleting indigenous produce. She is working with several NGOs across Uttarakhand and North Eastern states to realise this vision, as well as with the Beej Bachao Andolan to revive traditional seed-based agriculture by conserving heirloom seed banks. For now, she’s working to expand this alongside Himalaya2Home.
Towards healthy eating
Babita gives a 100 per cent buyback policy to the farmers. She says. “No matter what happens to their crops, the amount that is paid to them won’t be reduced.”
In Maldevta, 70-year-old Kathait ji, is a testament to this. “I have been a farmer all my life. Our entire family has been in it for generations,” he tells me. “I have been selling my produce to Babita ji for the last 4-5 years,” he says, adding, “Earlier, I used to sell to another company. In the first two years, they gave us a decent rate for our produce, but later they started slashing our rates and stopped a major chunk of our payment. Our livelihood came to a standstill. We survived by selling locally. But the officials of the organic board introduced us to Babita ji, and things have improved since. She pays us for whatever she buys from us without flinching.”
“I think of the benefit to farmers in two ways. One, of course, is steady income that they receive for their produce. The other is that, say, when these farmers feed their cows this organic grass, the animal is healthier, and their milk is of superior quality. So their hard work is paying off,” she says.
On her journey as a woman running a business of her own, Babita notes, “Balancing motherhood and your own business is certainly tough. When I was a software professional, I’d get certain hours of free time. But ever since I began Himalaya2Home, I’ve been working day and night. I am constantly supervising the packaging and production, and making sure that all crops are being grown with the standards of ethics and sustainability that our company aims for. These challenges always exist for a woman entrepreneur, given the society we live in. I try my best to maintain the balance,” she says.
“Organic farming is not easy,” Babita notes. “As someone who is promoting both this kind of farming as well as consumption of organic produce, I have to constantly strive to be genuine and true to my vision. For those who want to venture into similar paths, I’d say, be genuine. People are putting their trust in you. Organic products are slightly more expensive, but it’s our responsibility to help consumers realise the larger good that will come from its consumption.”
As far as women entrepreneurs are concerned, she says, “You have to take charge. Draw your own lines and find your own balance. Remain focused regardless of what notions others might hold about you running a business and taking care of a family.”
To see Himalaya2Home’s vast range of products, or for more information, you can visit their website.
Edited by Yoshita Rao