In 2010, Yogesh Joshi knew his family would not be happy about organic farming. With almost everyone in the family, from his father to his uncles and cousins in the government service, entering agriculture seemed like a loss-making decision. After all, Jalore district of Rajasthan is a drought-prone region.
But Yogesh, who was working with a private firm that promoted organic farming, knew that a decade later, farmers would make the switch and government policies would support them.
So, he took the plunge, quit his job and started growing cumin on his two bighas (0.61 acres) land. He incurred crop damage in the first two cycles and once he found a breakthrough, he approached 300 farmers across the district to follow suit.
“I would take my old bike and travel from one village to another to convince farmers but naturally they did not want to take advice from a 20-something boy. Only six of them trusted me and the seven of us spent the next two years growing cumin with minimal losses,” Yogesh tells The Better India.
Today, Yogesh is the proud co-owner of Rapid Organic — a brand that has a pan-India presence with two of their biggest clients being Japan and US-based. He also roped in his wife, Aruna Joshi as the director of the brand.
What started with just a handful of farmers has now turned into a group of 3,000 certified organic farmers.
The duo runs three organisations — Indian Agro, where farmers sell their produce, Rapid organic, from where they further sell to customers and a Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO) through which farmers are trained and can directly sell to Rapid Organic.
Rapid Organic is certified with the EU organic regulation, the US Department of Agriculture, NPOP, Japanese Agricultural Standards and Canada Organic Regime.
He gives an insight into contract farming, developing his brand, empowering farmers and getting women of rural areas into business.
After initial hiccups, Yogesh and the original team of six farmers roped in Dr Arun Agricultural Scientist of Kajri, Jodhpur for guidance. Dr Arun provided basic training in seed sowing, watering, maintaining PH levels, using organic fertilisers and so on.
Although growing cumin is a risky affair—due to changing weather patterns and frequent insect attacks—they stuck to it for it is a cash crop. Another challenge was to prevent using chemicals and pesticides that they were getting for cheap.
“In the second year, we suffered only 30 per cent losses,” he claims, adding, “The rest of it was sold to companies that I found online and even displayed some of our produce in an exhibition in Mumbai in 2012. The stall cost Rs 40,000 and we did not have money so we borrowed it, packed our bags and left for Mumbai. It was a huge success as the fresh cumin fragrance wafted through the entire floor. An Indian-origin founder of a Japanese company purchased our first consignment and it was all over local media. That’s how we got attention from both customers and farmers who wanted to switch to organic farming.”
At present, they export close to 100 metric tonnes of produce including cumin, mustard, fenugreek and more to Japan.
Since cumin is grown only in the rabi season, Rapid Organic introduced pulses, spices, oils and wheat to farmers to ensure an all-year growth. They ventured into superfoods like chia, quinoa, celery, sesame and amaranth to increase the incomes of farmers.
Yogesh adopted the ‘Contract Farming’ model that ensures a 100 per cent buyback policy for farmers at premium rates for their produce. Rapid Organic takes care of their transportation and packaging costs too.
“We offer premium rates to the farmers, which is 25 per cent more than the market rates. Additionally, we offer organic fertilisers on credit without any interest rates. We give those farmers free training who want to make their fertilisers. We also cover their expenses of acquiring an organic certificate. Every three months, we organise meetings for farmers to discuss their issues and exchange innovations in farming,” says Yogesh.
Ishwar Singh, who was one of the first ones to associate with Yogesh, is grateful for the premium price he receives.
He says, “When I suffered losses in the beginning, I gave up but Yogesh did not. For two years, he pestered me to believe me. So I dedicated a small portion of land to organic farming and post the success of the Mumbai exhibition I dedicated my entire 78 acres of my land to organic farming. Today, I grow everything from cumin, watermelon, coriander to quinoa.”
To the customers, the company assures 100 per cent traceability to the products through which buyers can trace the authenticity of the products.
In terms of their overall production, the company sells 1,000 tonnes of cumin, 300-400 tonnes of chia and millet, 1,000 tonnes of wheat, quinoa production and other organic spices. Their annual pre-pandemic turnover stood at Rs 60 crores.
Empowering women farmers
When Aruna started attending sessions or meeting with Yogesh, she was not happy about the fact that there were no female representatives. Despite working equally hard in the fields as their male counterparts, they were nowhere to be heard or seen.
This absence made Aruna and Yogesh start a women’s wing to encourage them to grow quinoa.
“We identified 300 women who agreed to grow quinoa and trained them. We also helped them open bank accounts, a first for many. Besides, quinoa is simple and a risk-free crop to grow. In future, we hope to initiate a women’s FPO soon,” says Aruna who also runs a YouTube channel where she shares organic food recipes.
For their contributions in promoting organic farming, the husband-wife duo has been felicitated multiple times including by Women and Child Development Smriti Irani and Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India Nitin Gadkari.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)