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How this psychologist began organic farming after contracting COVID

Amita Malik, a counsellor in a Delhi government school, took up organic farming after recovering from COVID in 2021. Oxygen shortage made her realise the importance of plants. Apart from counselling, she now grows fruits, wheat and paddy on her farm

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Rashmi Pratap
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Amita Malik, a counsellor in a Delhi government school, took up organic farming in 2021

Amita Malik at her organic farm in Sonipat

In May 2021, when COVID and the lack of oxygen cylinders were the only news all around, Amita Malik contracted the virus. A master's in Psychology working as a vocational counsellor in a Delhi Government school, Amita was lucky to recover from the deadly infection. 

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However, the trauma she underwent set her thinking about her contribution to the generation of oxygen in the environment. “I looked back and realised I had not planted a single tree or sowed a seed all my life. I discussed it with my husband and we decided to plant trees, which pull in carbon dioxide and release oxygen,” says Amita, who lives in Sonipat, Haryana, part of the National Capital Region (NCR). She continues to work in the school and devotes her evenings and weekends to farming.

Self-taught farmer

With no prior experience in farming or gardening, Amita turned to YouTube videos on the subject. 

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“It is surprising that there is so much knowledge on these subjects online. I learned about organic horticulture and agriculture and realised that there is no need to use chemicals or fertilisers to produce food,” she says.

Her husband’s family in Sonipat owns three acres of land, which was leased out for cultivation. “Following COVID in 2020, that land was lying vacant. We decided to use a one-acre area of that land for growing some fruit trees,” says Amita, who did her master's in Psychology from Kurukshetra University, Haryana. She has also done postgraduate diplomas in School Psychology; Guide and Counseling; and Rehabilitation Psychology.  

Amita procured cow dung manure with a lot of difficulty because of the lockdown following the second wave of COVID-19. “Finding workers for the farm was also a challenge. We just emptied the bags on the land before going for plantation in June 2021,” Amita recollects.

BANANA AD BEEETROOT
Banana and beetroot at the farm. Pic: Amita Malik

She then planted 250 saplings of guava, and about 20 plants each of other local fruits like chikoo, anjeer (fig), pear, and sherbet berry (falsa). “We procured guava saplings at around Rs90 per piece. My husband, who is an advocate, fully supported me,” she says.

“I made a boundary of karonda plantation on three sides, leaving the fourth side open for sunlight,” she says. 

Karonda or Carissa Carandas is a good hedge plant due to its thorns and dense growth. Apart from giving berries, it attracts birds and bees, aiding in natural pollination and biodiversity conservation.

Also Read: How Assam’s organic farmer is conserving 1,000 varieties of native paddy and vegetable seeds

She also planted 90 mahogany trees on the three sides, which typically begin to yield timber after about 15-20 years. Soon, she planted seasonal vegetables like spinach, fenugreek, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, eggplants etc. in the space between plants and became known for her organic produce. Her buyers are mostly friends, family, acquaintances and co-workers.

biodiversity
The organic farm invites biodiversity. Pic: Amita Malik

Expanding to wheat and paddy

 “Since harvesting and selling vegetables was time-consuming and after work resumed post-Covid, I decided to focus on grains. However, I continue to cultivate organic vegetables on a small piece of land for my family’s consumption,” Amita says.

For her foray into grains, she opted for the C 306 variety of indigenous wheat, which yields around 40-45 quintals per hectare. “We applied jeevamrit, panchagavya and vermicompost and the results were outstanding. The wheat not only tasted better than other varieties but was also high in fibre and nutrients,” says Amita.

She sold the organic wheat at Rs6000 per quintal (Rs60 per kg) in a market where most farmers sell at Rs 3000 per quintal. The MSP for wheat was Rs2125 in 2022-23. 

But when she thought of cultivating paddy, people dissuaded her, saying that it required a lot of water and farming organic rice would not be possible. “I discussed it with my husband and he also supported the idea of giving it a try,” she recollects.

Also Read: This duo quit corporate jobs to grow organic vegetables in Alleppy; their collective sells 500kg of veggies daily

The couple put up solar panels for running the motor to cut electricity costs involved in irrigation using tubewell. “Since the subsidy is available, our costs were reduced to one-third. We spent around Rs70,000 on getting the solar panels and motor,” she says.

wheat 306
Organic wheat crop and harvest at the farm. Pic: Amita Malik

Again, for planning the crop, her knowledge from videos came in handy. “I learned from a video that it is a good strategy to first sow moong dal (green gram beans) to improve the nitrogen content of the soil and then plant paddy. So I followed that,” she says.

Being a legume, green gram has nodules on its roots which contain bacteria. These bacteria take nitrogen from the air and help in nitrogen fixation. “We sowed it in April 2023 and mulched moong dal at the first stage before flowering had started. Then rains started and it turned the field into a fertile ground for sowing paddy,” the woman farmer says.

Fighting pests organically

After the rains started, Amita planted the 1718 Basmati variety and continued adding the organic inputs. “I buy vermicompost because I don’t have the time to make everything on the farm,” she says.

Also Read: Seven organic farmers who made barren land profitable

However, the crop was infested with sundi. Also known as the rice whorl maggot or white stem borer, it is a common pest that infests paddy crops. On the advice of an organic farmer, she made a spray using copper vitriol, caustic soda, safedi and rock salt to fight sundi. 

“I soaked them at night and sprayed them in the morning. All the infestation disappeared. It cost me just Rs150 and strengthened my belief in organic farming,” she says.

organic paddy
Organic paddy crop at the farm. Pic: Amita Malik

Since Amita also grows mustard on her land, she added mustard cake apart from waste decomposer to her crop. “We harvested 1600 kg of organic rice from less than one acre of land,” she points out. 

Currently, she has planted Sona Moti wheat, which is a 2000-year-old desi variety of emmer wheat. The wheat gets this name due to its unique round shape and golden colour. It is extremely low in gluten and high in folic acid besides being rich in protein, magnesium and iron. 

“I aim to popularize organic farming and make people aware of the benefits of healthy eating. If I can do it without any background in farming, I am sure others can do it as well,” she says.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial and socio-economic reporting)

Also Read: How this 32-year-old college dropout set up a Rs 4-crore marigold nursery business

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