Pratibha Tiwari, a farmer and entrepreneur from Madhya Pradesh, launched Bhumisha Organics to encourage hundreds of farmers to take up organic cultivation and help them sell their produce to ration stores across the country.
Even as the origins of organic farming in India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, only 2.78 million hectares (ha) of the country’s farmland – or two per cent of the total sown area – was under organic cultivation as of March 2020, according to data shared by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.
Sikkim remains the only state in the country to have gone completely organic, but 0.76 million ha of area in Madhya Pradesh’s farms accounts for more than 27 per cent of India’s total organic cultivation area, the largest in the country.
The MP government’s certified organic farming scheme covers 16 districts and the model is being practised in as many as 1,800 of its villages. The credit of encouraging about 1,200 farmers to adopt the sustainable alternative to conventional farming, however, lies with Pratibha Tiwari (41), a woman farmer and entrepreneur based in Bhopal.
Since the launch of her brainchild Bhumisha Organics in 2016, she has enabled hundreds of farmers to earn additional income by not only marketing their products but also processing them into organic food products, ensuring their reach to ration stores across the country.
Getting farmers the right price
With a masters degree in mathematics, Pratibha said she’d never envisioned a career in agriculture. It was only after she got married that she saw farming practices up close and personal at her in-laws’ home. Gradually, she began practising it herself, while also researching agricultural subjects and familiarizing herself with the detrimental effects of chemical farming. When she learnt the extent to which it could endanger lives, she began practising organic farming and advised other farmers to adopt such methods, too.
“I learnt that the biggest problem that farmers face is the pricing in the market. Even if they undertake organic farming, they do not get the appropriate price for their produce. I began Bhumisha Organics primarily to create a platform for farmers to sell their crops at the right price,”Pratibha Tiwari
Farmers associated with Bhumisha Organics receive assistance in all processes, from training in organic farming practices to the marketing of their products, and everything in between. Besides helping increase the income of farmers, Bhumika Organics also aims to popularise organic food products in the regular diet of Indian middle-class families.
“In order to make more profits, commercial merchants sell organic products at exorbitant prices and only a handful of rich people can buy them. But if more farmers take up organic farming and sell their products in the local markets, then everyone can avail them at an affordable price. So, we aspire to reach customers from big cities as well,” she added.
Today, the organisation has helped farmers not only from Madhya Pradesh but also from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. While the initiative was set up on a small scale, Bhumisha Organics now records an annual turnover of more than Rs 50 lakh, she added.
A sustainable, profitable model
While the multifold benefits of organic farming have been well-documented, Pratibha said that it was a struggle to convince and prepare farmers to take up organic farming, during the early days of Bhumisha Organics.
“After a lot of difficulties, I was able to persuade four to five farmers to take up organic farming. I worked day and night on marketing their produce,” she said. “After being involved with farmers at the grassroots level for almost three years, we set up a wholesale market for them. I also tied up with various companies and organic store owners and started delivering the farmers’ produce directly to them. Eventually, they started getting good incomes.”
“We are mostly associated with small farmers, so I recommend farming crops according to the size of their land. For example, if someone has only one acre of land, I recommend growing roses or chamomile instead of wheat. The demand for herbs has increased tremendously in the past year, which is why we are encouraging their plantation to many farmers. The income of all farmers associated with us has already doubled,” she claimed.
Vishal Meena, a farmer who has been associated with Bhumisha Organics for the past several years, said, “I used to do a corporate job earlier, but couldn’t continue it due to personal reasons. I then started my own business, but it incurred losses as well. I decided it was time to take care of my own fields about seven years ago. Initially, I used to apply chemicals to a couple of my crops but later realised that feeding people with poison isn’t going to help anyone in the country. So, I decided to go make a complete shift to organic farming.”
For a long time, Vishal had to struggle to market his produce. But with the help of Bhumisha Organics, he said he has been procuring the right price for his crops. “I also formed a group with other farmers and now, all of us practise organic farming on about 500 acres of land. Bhumisha Organics has supported us every step of the way, from planting the crop to selling the produce. What can be better than that?” he asked.
Over 70 organic food products
Pratibha set up Bhumisha Organics’ processing unit in 2020, providing a steady source of livelihood to 10 local women. Earlier this year, she opened her own store in Bhopal and sells more than 70 types of organic food products in three categories – organic authentic, chemical-free and natural products. These include pulses, chickpeas, spices, herbs, black wheat flour and a variety of pickles. She also sells the ‘super grains’ of flaxseeds and quinoa, in addition to amla candy, pickles and murabba.
While the first category includes products supplied by farmers with organic farming certificates, the third category includes products from farmers who have years of experience in natural farming but haven’t been accredited. For Pratibha, this categorisation is essential for helping her customers make informed decisions.
Their food products are dispatched to organic food stores in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Dehradun. Over 150 families in Bhopal rely on her store for their grocery purchases.
Anita Bisht, who has been buying organic products from them for the past two-and-a-half years, says, “Being a dietician, I know which foods are good for your health and which ones aren’t. I wanted to feed my family pure, clean and organic produce, but it is not always possible to find good quality products everywhere. After trying many places, I began purchasing rations from Bhumisha Organics and now I don’t need to go anywhere else. No one can match the quality of their products.”
Pratibha aspires to open such stores in several cities and continue introducing more farmers to organic farming.