Through Farm Shiksha, an agricultural land on Chennai’s outskirts, Aditya Ramkumar has been helping students learn farming techniques, giving them a taste of what it takes to be a farmer.
“I took an interest in gardening at an early age and self-taught a lot of farming techniques. Soon, I wanted to implement whatever I had learnt in creating a terrace garden to an actual farm. So, my father purchased a 20-acre plot in Thiruvalangadu, about an hour and a half away from Chennai, where we began to grow amla, mangoes and other crops organically. We were able to do farming profitably, and I began to wonder why farmers couldn’t and had to take their own lives for running into losses. After realising that many farmers were reluctant to deploy technology and inter-cropping methods in their farms, I decided to draft a syllabus for children to learn farming, so that we could catch them young,” recollects 26-year-old Aditya, the Chief Executive of Farm Shiksha, speaking to DT Next.
Since the parents of many students from many state-run schools were farmers, he says the aim was to have children themselves inform their parents about better agricultural practices, than have an outsider do it. Aditya, who also works as an auditor and is a qualified company secretary, happens to live close to the residence of the Father of Green Revolution in India, MS Swaminathan. “I met him a few months ago and explained my idea to him. I realised that the farmers were likely to believe their kids over someone else and went ahead to create a farming curriculum,” remarks Aditya, who is also a music composer.
After a pilot project at a government-run school about five months ago, he also conducted a survey among city children to learn that two out of eight believed that vegetables and fruits came from supermarkets. “What we learn about agriculture in school textbooks is from 1960s. So the curriculum I created includes the use of technology in farming, ethics in agriculture like not cutting trees and awareness on global warming, etc.,” he adds.
Farm Shiksha has incorporated Artificial Intelligence (AI) into farming through the use of drones to monitor the crop irrigation and data analytics for managing poultry and cattle. A child can begin to learn different agricultural methods starting from class 2 till 12 and gain knowledge on plantation, farming and harvesting of paddy, honeybees, ducks, mushrooms, mangoes, dairy and much more. While he has already worked with 1,200 students from public and private schools across the city on various farming courses, Aditya has another 6,000 students awaiting to get their hands dirty in farm soil over the next two months.
“We also have tutors who are experts in farming and have pursued their masters in the field coming in to teach the students,” he adds. Students can also opt for a ‘One Day Farmer’ programme to acquaint themselves with the field. Aditya says it is heartening to see even a few students considering to pursue farming at the end of a class. “Even if they grow their own vegetables on their terrace, I will be happy,” he adds.