Chartered accountant K. Chitra gave up her comfortable job in the city to become an organic farmer. But the process of setting up and running a farm is far from easy, yet she perseveres in her goal to do something for society.
The ocean of agriculture hides within it several secrets that are not so easily revealed. “From a distance, the water will look calm, serene tempting to dive into for a swim, but only after jumping will one realise that the undercurrents are fast, invisible and can drown you without a trace.”
Even seasoned experts sometimes get into trouble while trying to swim back to safety. This is how K. Chitra, a chartered accountant who resigned from her job at a big private company to try her hand at organic farming, describes it.
“I was working as an auditor for a big company for many years, but somehow was not interested in continuing. I had an air-conditioned cabin, a separate line for directly calling my former bosses, plus my own posh bungalow in the heart of city. But work was getting monotonous and everyday it was the same papers, calculations, deductions, passing and clearing bills and so on, nothing out of the box or interesting over a period of time,” she said.
“That was the time when I was seriously thinking of moving out of my work schedule and trying to do something else. While contemplating what would suit me, I decided to try farming. I decided on this uncertain line in which I had no experience because my ego as a professional thought that apart from being an auditor, there would be something to tell my friends and telling them ‘I am a farmer’ sounded rather dignified,” Chitra continued.
Chitra looked for a good place to establish her farm and after two years of searching finally found an ideal place for it. But according to her, problems started only after buying the land.
Out of the four acres, two acres were in one village and the remaining two in another village, so when she approached the registrar’s office she was asked to register the same land twice. “I was shocked because jurisdiction is a word I thought only police would use, never thought it was there also for land. Anyway, I had come somewhat far and decided to register it accordingly.”
After that the locals heard what she had done, they assumed that she must be rich and started asking her for money. “When I asked why I should give them money, they used to say if you can spend money registering same land twice, can’t you give us some pocket money for a beedi or paan.” She decided to ignore them and busy herself with erecting a greenhouse in which to grow vegetables. Using the internet, she zeroed in on a company in Coimbatore to do the job.
“I paid them nearly Rs 3 lakh and waited for five months for them to come and set up the greenhouse. When I did not get a proper reply from them as to when the work would be done I had to threaten them that I would file a police complaint and go to media. This forced them to attend to the issue immediately.”
But Chitra’s troubles were only just beginning. The locals resisted her presence in their village and dug a big trench in front of her newly constructed house overnight to prevent her from coming out.
“I was shocked when I came out of the house that morning. I did not know what to do. I tried reasoning with the locals but could not find out who did this. So I called in the police. The presence of the khakhi clothes was enough for the crowd to disappear and the police ensured that the trench was closed.
With this issue resolved, Chitra moved onto the next process of setting up the greenhouse – filing papers to set up drip irrigation. But it was during this process that she realised how deep-seeded corruption in the agriculture department was. “I realised all the tall talks on television and the government’s claim of making progress in the agri sector are false. Corruption is rampant in this sector.”
“I refused to do it. The department guys could also see that they are dealing with an educated English-speaking lady who would not flinch so they tried to talk to be nicely and said that through subsidy they can get some commission. I did not bother much about it since it is prevalent all over the country.”
It took Chitra a whole year and she had to face many struggles, but eventually she was able to set up the greenhouse. “I had a sense of pride that I was going to produce something good for the society.”
Having no prior knowledge of the agriculture field, Chitra says she learnt a lot – from how most agri departments are riddled with corruption, to the government subsidy programme being out of date.
“The paperworks for any subsidy in agriculture is nearly nine-ten years old. Unless you grease the palms of officials in the agri department, your work won’t be done. I wonder what those with small farms do. After three years of this, I have learnt that to do something in agriculture you must have the right contacts; you should be ready to spend without maintaining an account and be ready to bribe,” she says.
But would she have been happier in the comfortable AC rooms at her previous job?
Her response is a vehement no. “I opted to be a farmer out of my own free will; my decision was to grow crops and in the process learnt a lot, which I now share with others. Whoever comes to me asking for advice, I caution them about my problems and goad them to take their own decision.”
“I may not be the most competent person to comment on this, but in my experience there is only one bottleneck in agriculture and that is marketing. For the vegetables, greens and rice that I have been growing for last three years, marketing has always been a challenge. You need to hunt for good selling lines that pay as soon as possible. If a farmer is not paid on time, naturally he becomes debt ridden. This, I have realised, is what afflicts our farmers.”
Chitra wonders why a farmer must be forced into accepting credit when things can’t be bought in a similar manner at a supermarket.
“Cash on hand immediately after delivery should be the rule. I doubt whether concerned departments are looking into it at all. Agriculture encompasses highways, environment, marketing, labour ministries within it and for last 70 years we have not been able to achieve anything big. We need professionals in this sector, youngsters who dream of doing something. Only then can India change in agriculture productivity. The government cannot be depended on for anything. Things appear differently on paper and in television announcements, but on the ground, it is a dog’s life. I don’t know whether I am qualified to say this but as a farmer I am entitled to voice my experiences in this democracy,” she signs off, excusing herself because the drip lines are not working and she needs to call the service guys whose lines are permanently engaged.
Chitra can be reached at 189/2D2, Melma Road, Melma Village, Vedavakkam Post, Madhurantakkam, Kaanchipuram District: 603303; Email: [email protected], Mobile:9789835644.