Pomegranate and apple orchards are a common sight in Hatal and its neighbouring villages in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

However, this was not always the case. About two decades ago, the same region struggled to grow and attain a promising yield from the two types of plants.

Premchand Sharma, a native of Hatal and a Class 5 dropout, faced a similar situation. Coming from a family of traditional farmers, Premchand wanted to find a solution to this problem.

He recalls having a pomegranate tree in front of his house when he was a child, which died of pest infestations.

“I realised that growing a pomegranate tree would not be a problem, but controlling pests and harvesting a yield was,” he says.

He visited officials and scientists from the forest and agriculture department to seek guidance. “It is not possible to grow in this geographical area, they claimed,” he says.

In 1990, after a visit to Solapur in Maharashtra, he came back with 500 grafted saplings of the Bhagwa variety and successfully planted them.

“At last, the plants bore fruits successfully. “But the fruits had many seeds, and their size was huge. Each fruit weighed at least a kilo,” Premchand says.

After a little apprehension from the locals, the fruit was accepted widely and earned him informal recognition as the ‘anarwala’ (pomegranate man) from the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh.

Recognising his success, other farmers in the neighbourhood started requesting him for the pomegranate grafts. “In 2000, I prepared a nursery of 2,000 saplings and sold them to 350 farmers in the state and neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh,” he says.

In 2017, a visit to Punjab changed his ways of farming forever. He attended a seminar which insisted on farmers moving away from the harmful use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This opened Premchand’s eyes and he decided to make the switch to organic farming.

He even innovated organic liquid manure made from neem, walnut, carrot grass, congress grass, cow dung, cow urine, organic waste and other organic matter.

He claims the use of his brewed organic liquid has helped him increase productivity and bring it to par with agricultural produce grown using chemical fertilisers.

Recently, Premchand planted an Italian variety of apples in his village. In 2022, he won the prestigious Padma Shri Award for his contribution to the agriculture field.