While his peers were chasing B-school placements, MNC jobs, and the big moolah, Raghav decided to venture into organic farming.
In an age where people are chasing B-school placements and those big pay cheques, few choose to tread a different path and follow their passion.
For Raghav Baldwa, a 24-year-old from Indore, growing food organically, farming, and leading the lifestyle that it entails meant much more than pursuing a degree in business administration. And that’s how Mangalam Organic Foods was born.
Raghav, who is an MBA dropout from T.A. Pai Management Institute, Manipal, began researching organic farming and its scope in India. The more time he spent learning about it, the more he was convinced of becoming an organic farmer and addressing the issues faced by farmers in the country.
Raghav, who took a keen interest in organic farming, soon found out that there were major grey areas in the field. “I realised that no matter how educated people are, they give almost no importance to the source of the food they eat every day. Many people claiming to sell organic produce failed to show any certifications related to it. Using this level of ignorance and the lack of information, organic retailers started taking advantage of the situation,” says Raghav.
Raghav also points out that most retailers who sell organic produce at a premium price do so without any certification from a public or private entity. The middlemen who claim to sell organic produce, meanwhile, often have no clue as to how and where the produce they are selling is grown.
Raghav was concerned about the huge problem that the use of pesticides and fertilisers was giving rise to. Be it the increasing health problems, the degrading quality of the land, or farmers’ woes, everything could be traced to how our food was grown, and that’s exactly what Raghav decided to focus on.
Having witnessed ignorance and malpractice in his very hometown, Raghav decided to start organic farming the right way, and started Mangalam Organic Foods.
In May 2015, a month after dropping out of his MBA course, Raghav, along with his father, purchased 20 acres of barren land in Harjipura village, about 80 km from Indore.
The barren land was converted into highly fertile organic farmland using natural methods. “We practised chemical-free agriculture, and focused on all the natural ways. We consciously chose not to use any chemicals or fertilisers on our farmland. We used naturally grown neem manure, gobar manure made of cow dung, vermi compost, and so on. We use techniques such as crop rotation, manual weeding, mulching, and composting,” says Raghav.
“We received certification after high level scrutiny and multiple lab tests of our produce and soil in May 2016. Officials from MPSOCA (Madhya Pradesh State Organic Certification Agency) visit every now and then for surprise checks,” says Raghav.
Apart from managing the land that has been purchased, Raghav is also working towards developing land by taking it on lease from farmers nearby. He is currently leasing lands from farmers who are in debt and have land to spare but no resources to cultivate it.
“We prepare such land for farming, train those farmers in organic farming, and take care of all the certifications, rules, and regulations. Employing those farmers again on their land means that they do not have to shift to cities for work,” says Raghav.
Raghav and his team are currently managing 42 acres of land, including land that is under lease from six different farmers. The venture employs over 150 farmers and workers.
The produce from the land is sold directly to the consumers, doing away with middlemen, which has allowed Mangalam Organic Foods to sell the produce at prices 15-20 percent lower than those in the market.
“We even sell our produce to Big Basket in Indore, and also ship it on demand to various cities in MP, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. We are currently selling over four tonnes of produce every month, with some handsome month-on-month increases in sales,” says Raghav.
Raghav and his family rely completely on the produce from the land. The land currently produces multiple crops on rotation, such as grains, pulses, vegetables, pomegranates, oranges, drum sticks, and pulses like tuar, moong, and urad. The farm also has 12 desi cows and four bulls, a gobar gas plant, and a vermicompost pit as well.
Raghav mostly lives on the farm now, and intends to make a homestay out of the place pretty soon. “I want this to be a place where people get to take a break from their busy and hectic lifestyle. A couple of tree houses are already under construction. The idea is about making people acquainted with organic farming and its benefits while they enjoy a relaxing short stay,” he says.
Raghav also hopes to launch organic food trucks, which can supply Indore according to a fixed bi-weekly schedule, so that people can buy organic produce at a highly competitive price at their ease.
Raghav is currently working on various methods to increase their production and yield, including a moisture sensing technology. Presently in its nascent stages, the technology would be able to sense the moisture in the soil, which can enable them to time watering accordingly and save a lot of water.