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| Last Updated:: 05/12/2014

Techies in organic farming not hitting back button

 Every morning, VM Parthasarathy, 34, wakes up early and travels to Pondieswaram near Avadi, 35 kms away, only to tend to his eight-acre farm. It has been his regular practice for the last three years, ever since he quit a highpaying job in a multinational company near Chennai. "It's been tough and there have been challenges. But I have no regrets," says Parthasarathy, a softwareprofessional-turned-organic farmer. 

The Anna University graduate loves to launch into a lecture on how to manage soil health and grow a healthy crop sans chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The grime, the smell and the tiresome weeds that seem to come back faster than ever don't tire Parthasarathy. 

Yet professionals in organic farming like Parthasarathy have had to muster all their reserve enthusiasm to stay put since the initial returns are often discouraging and unexpected hurdles can derail best laid plans. A few years back, three Bangalore-based IT professionals, T Mahendran, Bala Pandian and Senthil Rajan, pooled in money and bought 18 acres of barren land in Vathrayiruppu in Virudhunagar district, only to be confronted with challenges. "We could not find water even at 600 ft and we had to set aside our plan forshort-term vegetables," says Mahendran. 

Labour scarcity , unpredictable monsoon and lack of knowledge pushed them to choose long-term crops like mangoes, besides coconut and small millets. 

But organic farming continues to find new converts among these professionals. "Though awareness among consumers on organic produce is much lesser than in western countries, techies continue to approach us seeking help," says S Ramasamy, head of the department of sustainable agriculture at Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. 

Nearly every one of these converts was at some point of time influenced by Nammalvar, the evangelist of organic farming who died recently. What was originally a lifestyle choice has become a growing business opportunity for some. And the savvy ones have been quick to get into the entire trade chain to get a good share of the margins. For instance, Parthasarathy's wife Rekha Ranu, a finance consultant with an IT major, quit her job a few months back to market the produce under a banner, Organic Farmers' Cooperative Market in and around Chennai. Like-minded individuals support her venture in 15 areas in Chennai. 


TR Govarthanan comes from a traditional agriculturist family and is quick to complain about how farmers get a raw deal despite organic products commanding a premium at the store. Govarthanan, a former software professional, went back to convince his parents to quit chemical farming in Dasara palayam, Tirupur. A year ago, he converted all his 15 acres to raise vegetables, brinjal, lady's finger, tomatoes, chillies, and country vegetables. His farmer neighbours continue to sneer at him. "They still think I am crazy and these newfangled ideas don't work. But I am convinced," he says.