With various programmes to support heirloom agricultural practices, Pradeep Kumar’s Rangamalai Organic Farms in Karur helps people across strata gain an insight into farming.
Then began Pradeep’s search for the seeds of native varieties of plants. During his endeavor, he discovered that even big marketplaces in and around the farm in Karur sold only hybrid seeds. “One would think that at least seeds of ‘naatu’ (native) tomato would be authentic but we found out that those were supplied by MNCs too,” shares the 36-year-old software engineer.
Eventually, his pursuit led him to villages where he would collect indigenous seeds from farmers. Recalls Pradeep, “Initially we got only four-five seeds per variety but once we began cultivating, the result was bountiful. We began multiplying the seeds and today, have 180-plus varieties across vegetables and fruits, including eight varieties of indigenous paddy and 21 types of brinjal.”
Community seed bank and natural buildings
Pradeep’s dream project is to create a bank of biodiverse seeds within Rangamalai Farms, which he’s been successfully working towards. “I would love to see at least every village, if not every farmer, have a community seed bank. We’re creating this as a prototype in our farm to propagate native seeds and create awareness among other farmers,” he explains. These days, people use high-end refrigerators for storing seeds. “Our ancestors, however, used the humblest methods and tools for the same purpose. Keeping this in mind, we’re also constructing a ‘natural’ building, which we want to use as the seed bank,” he says.
When he got the chance to attend a hands-on workshop by Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes based in Tiruvannamalai about using materials like suda (lime) and surkhi (burnt mud) to erect natural buildings manually, Pradeep was elated. It gave him the confidence to create his own natural building on one acre of land for this project. “Living in a space made with eco-friendly material surrounded by a permaculture garden is also the first step towards self-sustainability and off the grid living,” notes the youngster.
Farm Internship Programme
Since Pradeep doesn’t wish the knowledge he gains to remain with him, he began a Farm Internship Programme. He elucidates, “Many youngsters are interested in going back to the roots and taking up agriculture as a profession but they don’t know where to start. At the same time, we have an acute shortage of manual labour so we introduced a 30-day programme, where people get to live the life of a farmer.” Stay and homegrown food are provided and participants get a real-time experience in activities like sowing seeds, harvesting, creating value-added products and marketing. “The experience can help people make a decision about whether farming is or isn’t their cup of tea,” he smiles.
Documenting for the future
The efforts don’t stop here — he began social media pages and a website to document natural agriculture methods, native seed varieties, how a farmer can create a business out of agriculture, self-sustainability and more. “My career in the software industry has helped me acquire the required skills for content, communication and marketing. Our forefathers never felt the need to document their practices because it was a way of life for everyone. Through the information we’re compiling, we wish to educate those interested and show them where to start,” he says on a parting note.