Building self sustenance – a small farmers success story

Vanya Orr, Arunkumar, Gita Kreneck, Siva Kumar, Mohan Kumar

Earth Trust, an NGO in Nilgiris has helped a number of small holder farmers realize the potential of organic farming and collective marketing. Here is a case of a woman farmer who benefited in terms of crop quality, crop diversity and better income.

Shanti, a shy woman with a warm smile, lives in Kollimalai Oran, a small village in the hilly area of Nilgiris in South India. She owns a small plot of land (0.2 acres) which generates stable income for the family. She has been growing vegetables like beetroot, carrots, brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage and broccoli with the support of her husband, Mohanasundaram.

All this has started only a few years ago, during 2006. Till then Shanthi was following the conventional chemical farming which she had seen her parents doing for the last three decades. Infact she did not know that there were other ways of farming.  They practiced monocultures of carrots, potatoes and broad beans. These were in turn sold to unreliable middle men at wildly fluctuating prices.

Turning point

In 2006, The Earth Trust, an NGO based in the Nilgiris and working in the surrounding areas had discussions with Shanthi’s family about organic ways of farming. Mohana sundaram was motivated and wanted to give it a try as he recollected that his father was doing such farming 30 years ago. He realized that farming without chemicals would be economical as well as good for health.

With the support of The Earth Trust, the family sowed carrots over their whole plot. But soon disaster struck. The carrots succumbed to fungal disease and the green tops died off. Natural remedies like Biodynamic Preparation 501, equisetum tea, turmeric tea were tried without success. Shanti was disillusioned and wanted to go back to chemical farming. But to their astonishment in a few days the carrots began to sprout fresh leaves, giving a good harvest. There was no looking back after that.

Sovereignty through diversity

The carrot crop was the last time that Shanti and Mohanasundarum grew a monocrop. They switched to mixed cropping, growing many crops together. Their plot always had at least six different vegetables, rotated through a total of 16 different crops. The diversity of vegetables and staggered sowing times, ensured continous supply of different types of vegetables to the family.

Innovative marketing strategy

Meanwhile, to develop an ethical marketing system which ensures a good return to the farmer and a quality product which is affordable to consumers, The Earth Trust facilitated the formation of organic farmers association called BiOGAiN (Biodynamic Organic Growers Association in Nilgiris). The membership to this association was open to all interested organic farmers.

The farmers meet monthly to plan what crops each farmer will grow during the coming period. The farmer members meet half yearly to fix a fair price for their produce, which remains stable for the next six months. That way they can predict what they will receive and plan ahead accordingly. Twice a week farmers take their harvested produce to the central distributing centre in Ooty. The Earth Trust representative then sells the produce to locals and buyers in larger centres. If the market prices are low, the farmers nevertheless receive their agreed price. On the other hand, if the produce is sold for a  higher price, the farmers receive the surplus as bonus during the year end. Thus, farmers have much more say, both in what they want to grow and the price they receive.

BiOGAiN operates on a fairly small scale at the moment, with eleven farmers supplying a total of 3-4 tons of organic produce each month to around 40 local buyers, as well as distributing to about 20 households (box scheme) and 8-10 larger buyers in surrounding districts. However, if more farmers joined the scheme, it would be possible to market up to 30-40 tons of produce monthly in 20 main locations.

Sharing the benefits

Having benefited immensely by practicing organic agriculture, Shanthi wants to see her entire village going organic. She relentlessly motivates people to go organic. Already there are signs of changes happening learning from Shanti’s experience. Many neighbors have started following few practices. For example, farmers now pile up their weeds for converting them into compost instead of burning them, and readily accept gifts of Panchagavya, traditional liquid manure made from cow products. Shanti is hopeful that her dream will be realized.


Authors are thankful to Mr. David Pople, Friends of Hope, U.K. for funding this project. They are also grateful for the farming communities who have made this project a success.
Vanya Orr, Arun kumar, Sivakumar, Gita Kreneck, Mohan kumar,



Hema Cottage, Bharathi Nager, Ketti Post, Nilgiris 643215


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