Dharani, an organic farming collective, promotes organic farming and works with around 20,000 families from 170 villages to help them become sustainable food producers in the Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Dharani helps organic farmers with post production activities as well.
Initiated in 1990, the collective works with those who are affected by unemployment, drought, unproductive land, and poor infrastructural facilities in the region, with special emphasis on women, children, youth and Dalits.
The founder, CK 'Bablu' Ganguly, 61, and his wife, Mary, bought about 32 acres of barren land in 1988, and named it 'Timbaktu'. Inspired by Japanese author Masanobu Fufuoka's seminal book on natural farming The One-Straw revolution, the husband and wife duo planted trees regularly and with the support of some friends, they soon turned this barren land into a green agro forest.
Ganguly soon realised that farmers were going into debt poisoning their farm, and to preserve their way of life, they had to switch to organic farming. Initially, only 300 farmers took it up, but now the number stands at 1,600.
Since Ananthapur is constantly under the effect of drought, they began to work on water restoration and creating rain water harvesting structures. Water restoration structures such as earthen bunds, rock-filled check dams and trenches were built to save as much rainwater as possible. Timbaktu completely relies on solar power with a generator for emergencies.
Dharani, with an aim to bring back traditional methods of organic farming, engaged with the farmers in the region and urged them to take up organic farming. Though going back to traditional farming was not easy as the yields are less initially compared to the farming using chemical fertilizers, but farmers soon realised that the yields were getting better without the use of any chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In addition to this, they also save money which they would normally spend for pesticides and chemical fertilisers.
Dharani not only helps farmers adopt organic farming methods, it also takes over their marketing and logistical responsibilities, ensuring that farmers get a fair price for their efforts -- Dharani Farming and Marketing Mutually Aided Cooperativ buys the organic produce and sells it. The profits go to the farmers.
Dharani provides the farmers with a fixed market, where the prices do not fluctuate. Prices are fixed at the time of crop planning stage, with the exception of groundnuts. The Dharani team then at the end of the harvest weighs the produce, and pay farmers per kilo.
The farmers have now started growing pulses, millets, corn, red and green gram, castor and groundnut locally.The products are available at many outlets in cities such as Bengaluru and Chennai.
The 32 acres of barren land has now spread to over 2,800 hectares of former wasteland that has been regenerated into a forest.
Organic farming is labour intensive and requires extra effort if compared with farming using chemical fertilisers and pesticides, but Dharani's success is proof that farming across the country can go back to traditional methods.
Dharani's success story has been shared on various platforms including a short film that was made that won the National Award in the Environment Film category in 2012. Bablu has been honoured with awards like Oxfam fellowship in 1995, Ashoka fellowship in 1993 among many.