Harish Dhandev, a 24-year-old engineer, left his government job in 2013 and started doing aloe vera farming. Today, he is the owner of a company with a turnover in crores.
At a time when the number of individuals taking up farming in India is gradually shrinking, this engineer-turned-farmer’s story stands out like a beacon of hope to young graduates who may want to consider agriculture as a career.
There are nearly 15 million farmers (‘main’ cultivators) less today than there were in 1991, and over 7.7 million less since 2001, according to the latest Census data. On average, that’s about 2,035 farmers losing ‘main cultivator’ status every single day for the last 20 years.
The 2007 report Findings on the Plight of Small Farmers by the Arjun Sengupta Commission noted that, “Agriculture has become a relatively unrewarding profession due to generally unfavourable price regime and low value addition, causing abandoning of farming and increasing migration from rural areas.”
On the other hand, around 1.5 million engineering students graduate every year in India – 80% of them remain unemployed, a report says.
Despite this scenario, the youth of our country are reluctant to choose farming as a career option.
But, Harish Dhandev is one engineer who left his government job and opted for farming. Today, the annual turnover of his farm ranges from 1.5 crore to Rs.2 crore.
Harish had 80 acres of ancestral land in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Though his father Roopa Ram Dhandev was very passionate about farming, he could not devote much time to agriculture because of his regular government job as an engineer.
A civil engineering graduate from Arya College, Jaisalmer, Harish started working as a junior engineer in the municipal corporation in 2013. He was posted in Jaisalmer. In the meantime, his father retired and took up farming. Harish too started taking care of some of the farm work but had no intention of turning into a full-time farmer. He did, however, observe that many farmers worked hard but not smart, hence failing to achieve their best.
“I remembered this story about three woodcutters who were given an axe and were asked to cut a tree in three hours. Two of them started to cut the tree immediately. However, the woodcutter who won the challenge took two hours to sharpen the axe and then started cutting the tree. You need to plan and prioritise your work in order to get the best. The farmers I observed were lacking in these skills,” recalls Harish.
Slowly, as time passed, Harish started to feel drawn to the idea of applying his planning and executing skills, which he had learnt as an engineer, to farming. But he feared leaving his well paying, stable government job and taking a leap into the unknown. It was at this crucial juncture that he drew inspiration from his older sister, Anjana Meghwal.
Anjana, a mother of two, lost her husband in a car accident in 2011. She herself was in the hospital for 9 months, recovering from her injuries. But, she restarted her life all over again and is the Mayor of Jaisalmer today.
“My sister is my biggest motivation. I learnt from her that you have to take chances and if you are dedicated, then success is guaranteed,” says Harish.
And so, in 2013, just after few months of joining his government job, Harish quit and took up farming as a full-time career.
The first step that Harish took was to approach the agricultural department and get the soil on his land tested.
“The agriculture department suggested I grow crops like bajra, moong or gawar – crops that require little water. They did not suggest growing aloe vera, in spite of the fact that we were already cultivating it, because of a lack of market opportunities for the crop in the Jaisalmer area,” says Harish.
However, Harish did some research and discovered there were good possibilities of selling the product if he set his sight further afield and used online portals such as Indiamart to get to national and international markets.
Harish planted aloe vera in about 15 to 20 acres of land initially. The initial investment was high due to the cost of aloe vera saplings but the plants quickly sprouted several baby plants around themselves.
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Hence, Harish’s initial 80,000 saplings quickly grew in number to 7 lakh.
“Farmers hesitate to come out of their comfort zone and hence they keep growing the same crops planted by previous generations. But a basic rule of thumb should be to test the soil every year and change the growing pattern accordingly,” says Harish.
Harish does not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides in his farm, preferring to go organic with cow dung and cow urine.
He gets his fertilizer from the 20 cows he owns and some from his neighbours. His farm is also certified by ROCA (Rajasthan Organic Certification Agency).
Within six months Harish managed to get 10 clients for his aloe vera leaves within Rajasthan itself. But he found they were selling the extracted pulp at much higher prices in the market. So he researched the procedure of getting the extract.
“Extracting the pulp is a very easy process. It can be done manually. No machinery is required. One just has to take care of the hygiene angle while extracting the pulp,” says Harish.
Harish soon stopped supplying the leaves to his clients and trained his farm labourers to extract the pulp. This helped provide the labourers with some extra income.
Over the years, Harish has bought more land and now grows aloe vera in 100 acres. He also plants pomegranates, amla and gumba in some of the land he has acquired.
His company, Dhandev Global Group, is located at Dhaisar, 45 kilometres from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. His turnover ranges between Rs. 1.5 and 2 crore. The aloe vera products of Dhandev Global Group are known by the brand name, ‘NATUREALO’ and he plans to supply them internationally very soon.
Harish believes that knowledge is the key to success and guides other farmers in Jaisalmer with the resources available on the internet.
He downloads booklets and materials on various loan schemes made available by the government and distributes them among the farmers who have limited access to technology.
“Exposure to new resources, planning, optimization and execution – these things have helped me and I believe every farmer can benefit from such knowledge. But farmers too have to leave their fears behind and come out of their comfort zones,” says Harish.