Vikram Rawat has a day job with the Himachal Pradesh Rural Bank, but has been tirelessly working for years towards improving apple farming and the livelihoods of farmers in the Karsog Valley. Like much of rural India, Karsog Valley farmers rely heavily on chemical agricultural inputs and were initially unwilling to consider organic farming due to the perception that conversion would mean a loss of income. In 2002, Vikram and his wife Rajni bought land in the area to start their own organic model nursery and show the local famers that using organic methods would preserve yields, boost incomes and nurture the earth too.
The farmers part of the collective have an average land holding of two acres or less. In the current system, farmers sell to middle-men who hike up prices and will intentionally list prices that are low. By the time it reaches the market, a kilo of colored capsicum might sell for Rs 250, whereas the farmer will receive as little as Rs 80. Additionally, the lack of resources for planning hurts the farmers by creating gluts in the market and significantly depreciating the values of certain crops.
The Farmer’s Collective works on these key issues by providing resources, technical assistance and planning. While Vikram champions organic cultivation, he also supports conventional farmers in the group by arranging trainings, consultation from experts, and market linkages. This way, farmers are given fair prices for their labor and are not subject to middle-men. In the last decade, the demand for exotic vegetables cultivated outside India has grown exponentially. The climate of the hills has allowed farmers to specialize in growing exotic vegetables like cherry tomatoes and broccoli, securing sustainable incomes. Additionally the farmers grow unique pahari (mountainous) varieties of desi favorites, like potatoes and tomatoes, and other commodities like rajma, walnuts and almonds. In the last five years, the collective has grown to 450 members. Through farmer’s camps and trainings the collective has effectively spread awareness about organic agriculture throughout the valley. The members have seen success with organic farming and are committed to growing safe food.