Business / Industry Sectors
Israeli tech whets once-barren farm
Dry farming techniques gave a new twist to organic farming on this land

Away from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore city areas, in Uttari and surrounding villages, falling under Kagalipura post, a silent socio-agronomics revolution, inspired and propelled by Israeli farming techniques, is slowly gaining momentum. Spearheading the campaign from a 100-acre organic farm is one young entrepreneur, a graduate in environmental science and in her 30s, determined to make organic a mass movement.


Every morning before the crack of dawn a vehicle leaves the organic farm and reaches out to the adjacent villages to pick up enterprising men and women for training in production of organically grown vegetables and high-value export quality herbs like basil, chives, sage, tarragon, rosemary, parsley, thyme, mint etc. at the sprawling organic farm located in the foothills of the nearby Uttari Hills. 


"After training in organic farming, many of them have begun growing organic vegetables. We purchase their produce after ascertaining their quality. Some of these organic vegetables are sold at our Gopalan Organics outlet at Old Madras Road in Bangalore. A portion of the produce makes it to the export markets in Dubai and European markets after stringent quality checks", says Sunita Prabhakar, the brain behind the grassroots organic farming movement.


"My mission is to remove the elitist tag off organic vegetables and make them available to common households at affordable rates. After all everyone is entitled to organically grown, healthy, chemical fertilizer and pesticides free farm produce," explains Director of Gopalan Organics, Sunita Prabhakar, who started her organic unit in 2003, in what was then a barren land, bought by her real estate developer husband's family in Bangalore heading the 'Gopalan Enterprises'.


However, although today the organic vegetables and culinary herbs company exports dry, natural herbs and fresh vegetables to a large number of markets in Western Europe and Dubai respectively and employs over 200 workforce including farmers, agronomists and agricultural scientists, 10 years ago when Sunita threw the idea of starting her organic venture on the rocky, godforsaken land, many did not take her seriously. 


She had seen for herself how Israelis mastered the art of dry agriculture with minimal use of water. She was determined to bring the technology to India. 


The conviction and determination paid off. 


In the summer of 2000 a group of Israeli dry farming experts from Netafim Irrigation System landed at the barren, undulated rocky piece of land. 


They examined the prospect of turning it into fertile land for growing organically produced vegetables, herbs and fruits. A mammoth and uphill task awaited them as for the next six months they devoted their time in preparing, planning and executing the organic farm project. 


It took another year for the first crop to grow at the newly developed farm.


Alongside Israeli advanced farm management expertise in water conserving irrigation, desalination, and compost enriching the farm, Sunita also adopted biodynamic farming methods pioneered by Australian thinker Rudolf Steiner to grow crops both inside temperature-control green houses and in the open fields, applying scientific soil testing methods for optimum yield per acre. 

A network of drip irrigation pipes and sprinklers were laid both inside the green houses and in the open farm land. 


The farm land was bifurcated for growing crops under controlled climatic conditions inside the green-houses, and tunnels in the open. "Those days very few people were doing organic farming. There was hardly any infrastructural or technical support available in the country to do dry organic farming. The greatest challenge was to export the basic infrastructure from Israel and then transport them to this remote village from Bangalore Airport. But we managed it all," says Sunita.


The organic farm today produces 800 to 900 Metric Tonnes of vegetables and fresh and dry culinary herbs under the brand name of 'Naturale'. 


"Of the total volume, we exports 300 to 400 MT of mainly fresh and dry herbs to Germany, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, Frankfurt, Belgium, etc. places. To ensure strict adherence to European quality control norms, the vegetables and fresh herbs undergo tests at all levels- from farmland to packaging table-at the analytical lab.


Scientific soil analysis and preparation, soil-enriching using organic manure, plant analysis, bio-degradable poly packaging, processing and storing to retain temperature levels are undertaken," says K Babu, the agricultural scientist at the farm. Babu further said for the protection of crop bio agents and other Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices were being followed as against indiscriminate use of harmful chemical pesticides. Each consignment can also be tracked back right down to the date and green house in which it was grown.


Sunita explains: "To ensure freshness of the produce till they are handed over to customers in Germany and other European countries an uninterrupted cold chain from farm to the customer is maintained. The produce is subjected to pre-cooling treatment that increases the shelf life and reduces break down of the nutrients. The air-conditioned pack houses are equipped with all necessary equipment and facilities in consonance with international standards."



Sunita, who has visited organic farms in Europe, feels the government must support adoption of automation and IT to streamline and modernise organic farming. 


Source: Bangalore Mirror


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