Meet Vinoth Kumar, an engineer with an MBA degree, who gave up his comfortable job and city life to become a full time organic farmer. He is also documenting traditional farming methods by reaching out to elderly farmers in India and other parts of Asia. This is his story.
About 95 km south of Chennai, along the east coast, is the charming village of Cheyyur – home to a 32-year-old organic farmer named Vinoth Kumar. Once a corporate employee living in the city, Vinoth now enjoys village life to the fullest.
He’s been a proud farmer since 2014, when he decided to leave behind his high-paying job and go back to his roots.
“I come from an agricultural family. My grandfather was a full time farmer for more than six decades in Cheyyur,” says the passionate young man. But with the passage of time, many of his father’s ten siblings chose to migrate to the cities during the 60s and 70s. “My dad too was one of them. He worked as a principal in a school in Chennai,” he adds.
However, despite relocating, the village was always a crucial part of Vinoth’s growing-up years. His family would go there over weekends and during vacations. His father continued with part-time farming, and life moved on. Vinoth went on to study electrical engineering at SRM University in Chennai, completed his MBA in HR, and finally began working at a reputed corporate firm.
But while everything looked smooth and perfect, something changed after the first four years of his employment.
“I had not thought about life and the future when I was in college. I didn’t have any pre-set goals. I was just working very seriously and everything was going well. But after four years of rigorous work, my life became very monotonous. I was working in shifts, sometimes 24X7, and was missing out on everything – I didn’t have time to meet friends or attend family functions. My father, who has already worked for about 35-40 years, is still very passionate about his job. But for me, it had been just four years and I was already so stressed. Something had to change,” says Vinoth.
Eventually, in 2011, tired of the same drill every single day, Vinoth decided to take a break and travel across India using his savings. That time, of one year and three months, led to a completely new chapter in his life. “I was travelling just to know what’s happening apart from my life, how people are living in different parts of India,” he says. But the journey shocked him. He was surprised that while industrial growth was happening in the country, the situation with respect to farming was miserable.
Many farmers in the different states he visited did not want their children to take up the profession because they were barely making any profits themselves.
This was the sad reality of India the way he perceived it and Vinoth now had a clear idea about what he wanted to do in life. He went back to Chennai, and to his parents’ complete surprise, informed them that he wanted to take up farming as a full time profession.
He now grows millets, pulses and oilseeds in his fields and pays his bills with the profits made through farming alone. He chose these particular crops because they require very less water.
He uses all the knowledge about farming acquired during his extensive travels, from his father, through training programs, and by volunteering in different fields.
Work is not limited to his own fields alone. Vinoth has taken up the responsibility of promoting organic farming in his village.
“If a farmer stops chemical farming abruptly and moves to organic farming, there will be a drastic change in the final yield. The produce will be very less and the farmer will not be able to sustain himself. It takes at least two to three years to retain the same output. Organic farming is definitely successful and profitable but not in the starting years. That’s why I am introducing many new methods here,” he says.
Vinoth asks farmers to use organic fertilizers in place of chemical fertilizers in the first season of cultivation. Then, in the second season, he asks them to reduce the amount of chemical fertilisers used.
This procedure leads to a slow transition to organic farming.
Hence, even though the yield decreases, it does not create a large difference for farmers.
Vinoth is also focussing on knowledge sharing. According to him, both central and state governments are coming up with many useful schemes for farmers but they are not informed about them. Hence, he wants his farm to be that place where anybody can walk in and enquire about the latest schemes, insurance options, the involved procedures, etc.
This zealous farmer has always been very clear about the fact that preaching won’t work when it comes to convincing others to go organic.
He has adopted an interesting approach instead:
“I tell the farmers that no matter what you do, just make sure that you maintain account books for every penny spent on farming — like money spent on purchasing seeds, chemicals, machinery, etc.”
And with these records, the farmers themselves realise that the cost of input for chemical fertilisers and other raw materials is going on increasing while their profit is not.
And in case of organic farming, even if the produce reduces in the beginning, farmers don’t need to buy a single thing from the market – they do their own seed selection and make their own fertilisers, thus obtaining an overall profit in the end. He also asks farmers to maintain health records, accounting for the amount of money spent on hospital bills, medicines, etc.
As chemical farming leads to several health hazards, these records give farmers a complete picture of the advantages of organic farming.
Vinoth has travelled across each and every district of Tamil Nadu where he’s met many old farmers who have been farming since the time when chemicals were not even introduced in India.
“They have enough knowledge but it is not documented. I interviewed them and documented all that information. That’s when I thought that if just one Indian state had so much knowledge to unearth, the whole of South East Asia would have a lot more,” says Vinoth.
According to him, less developed countries like Laos and Vietnam still utilise many traditional methods of farming that can be beneficial for India as well.
Hence, he plans to travel to about 11 countries to document this information and spread awareness about sustainable living. These countries will include Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan; Vinoth will start his journey in April and will be accompanied by his friend Raja S. Pandian.
They plan to hitchhike and travel on bicycles for most of the journey and are arranging for sponsors as of now.
“It is just passion that keeps me going. In the past, in spite of a nice salary, incentives, and perks, I was not satisfied with my job. Now, people around me are also affected by what I do and that keeps me motivated. I am satisfied now,” he concludes.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.