Shri Ram Krushna Trust, founded by Manoj-bhai Purushottam Solanki believes that ‘uttam kheti’ (superiority of agriculture as a profession) can make a comeback if the farmers truly understand the purpose and intent of farming. The organisation has played an active role in supporting chemical-to-organic transitions.
Finding his feet at the farm
“Main unhe koi recipe nahi sikhana chahta. Kisaan khud samjhe ki koi cheez kaam karti hai toh kyu karti hai aur woh khud kya kar sakta hai zameen ko behtar banane mein”
"I don’t want to teach them a recipe. I want the farmers to understand that if something works well, why does it work well? What can they do themselves that will make their soil better?" explains Manoj-bhai Purshottam Solanki on the reason for starting his monthly 3-day workshop on cow-based organic farming.
Manoj-bhai recalls that it all started when his mother, unfortunately, found herself partially blinded which led to him realising that one can only lead a healthy life if one has the absolute necessities i.e., hawa, paani aur ann (Air, water, and food) as pure as possible.
Simultaneously, he was maintaining accounts for his family’s business. He did not find his life in his family-business satisfactory. In search of satisfaction and health, he found himself in a farm-field that he believed gave him both.
Hence, in 1995, he started farming, albeit using chemical means.
The Inception of Shri Ram Krushna Trust
He came across an interesting conversation at a shop. A farmer was looking for pest-control, and the shopkeeper suggested him a particular pesticide. Upon being asked, “Where does the pesticide come from and how it works?”, the shopkeeper replied that he had no idea but that it works like magic. Not knowing what is going into his food troubled Manoj-bhai, and that it wreaks havoc to the earth and its beings further agitated him. He wanted to be in harmony with “Samaaj Sangat, Dharm Sangat, and Prakruti Sangat, (the company of Society, Faith, and Nature)”. Hence, in 2002, it was the first time he picked up organic farming.
This, in 2006, led him to discover Kutch Sajeev Kheti Manch (now registered as Satvik), a forum for organic farmers mobilised by an NGO called Sahjeevan. Through the forum, he came across 5 famous figures in organic farming lifestyle, each of whom inspired him differently, namely
1. Sarvadaman Patel from Anand, with expertise in biodiversity and husbandry
2. Kapil Shah from Baroda, on Gandhian philosophy with respect to farming
3. Bhaskar Save from Valsad who protested against and discarded the use of urea
4. Dhirendra and Smita Soneji, who decided to start their own 2-acre farm after living with Adivasis to understand their farming and also make value-additions.
5. Mahendra Bhatt, who made a chulha and refrigerator from earthen clay.
Influenced by their ideas, he wanted to start something of his own. In 2007, he ideated the Shri Ram Krushna Trust Foundation which he finally registered in 2010. By 2012, his own farms had become fully organic. Out of the total 80 acres he now owns, a quarter of the farms are rain-fed.
Taking the ‘Trust’ forward
With the inception of his Trust, initially being taken care of by his father and other family members, he toured the country to learn the principles of farming from the experience of farmers. He believes that certificates can be fudged, but one cannot fudge ‘experience’. Rather than teaching marketing or recipes for organic farming, he wants to teach principles so farmers can innovate themselves. He does not want farmers to switch to organic methods based solely on external incentives, as those parameters can change with market and policy priorities. Instead, he envisions a value-shift amongst farmers so that they are motivated to practice sustainable farming irrespective of external factors.
Based on his learnings from exposure visits to various places, he designed a 20–30-day long training programme to propagate organic farming which was later sub-divided into many courses, including an introductory, highly condensed 3-day course that acts as a primer for future courses. The principles he picked up through Kutch Sajeev Kheti Manch are embedded in the course elements. The Trust’s campus architecture also reflects his idea of rural self-sustainability. He sees a footfall of 20-50 people for his 3-day workshops which are routinely held each month. The trust lays its objectives in spreading the principles of organic farming and animal husbandry, researching and developing new innovations in agriculture and, promoting rural self-sustainability.
To encourage attendance, he used to go to different villages once a week and ‘advertise but not coerce’ farmers to join his trainings He used his contacts from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to reach a larger audience. He is now a central figure in the network of organic farmers of Kutch and has mobilised a few who now act as valuable knowledge resources to others.
Expanding scopes for self and society
Manoj-bhai attended the 7-day Vishva Gau Sammelan, an international conference held in Hosanagara, Karnataka in 2007 to celebrate, promote, and improve Indian breeds of cows. Post the sammelan, he wanted to work on cow-based farming and productions in Kutch, which is home to ‘Maaldharis’, a group of pastoralist communities who for centuries have been masters of rearing cattle and have bred them for vigour.
Over time, his organisation developed various products for retail sale, using panchagavya (milk, urine, dung, ghee and curd derived from cattle) like the many ayurvedic concoctions that include gaumutra, gobar craft. The sale helps in running his Trust.
A firm believer in the spiritual and cultural power of engagement with cows, he comments,
“All communities in this world are directly or indirectly dependent on cows. There is something unifying about them. Isn’t this Sanathan Dharm after all?”.
His work illustrates the general tendency of combining ideological beliefs with agroecological practices.
He is also a member of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and has given his recommendations routinely, one being that the panel must also include farmers.
At present, his trust is running an Akshay Krushi Parivar project wherein the major programmes shall be increasing awareness of one’s own surroundings, revitalising soil, seed banks, and teaching value addition. He wants to design this entire project with people who are related to agriculture in manner possible - be it policy makers, farmers, investors, scientists or anyone.
Aneesh Mohan and Arnab Chakraborty are Research Assistants in the Living Farm Incomes project, IRMA.