The word farmer conjures up the image of a man dressed in a dhoti and vest with a turban on his head, toiling away on his farmland. However, if you travel across India, you will see scores of women sweating it out in the fields.
With increasing education and awareness about agriculture methodologies, women are now moving up the farming ladder and leading their own farms instead of just helping their fathers, brothers or husbands. Women farmers, including engineers or with postgraduate degrees, now sow, plant, harvest and sell produce independently.
From procuring or making manure to driving tractors, these independent women farmers are the new face of agriculture in India.
Women also have more knowledge of traditional farming methods and regenerative practices including indigenous seed conservation. So they understand the importance of organic farming – going back to the roots when cow dung, compost and farm-made inputs were enough to harvest bumper crops.
These women organic farmers are engineers, teachers, social workers or even school dropouts. But what’s common among them is the zeal to succeed, adherence to organic farming and the willingness to take risks. Here are seven women farmers who turned their land into profitable organic farms with their hard work and innovation:
1. Roja Reddy
Roja, an engineer, was working with IBM in Bengaluru when she decided to return to her village Donnehalli, Karnataka. She was already thinking of a job change and when she came to know that her father and brother were planning to sell their farmland due to heavy financial losses, she made up her mind.
Roja quit her job and took up organic farming. In a couple of years, the young lady turned around her farm and now sells 800 to 1,000 kg of vegetables per day. The agripreneur’s annual income crossed Rs 1 crore in FY22.
2. Santosh Devi Khedar
After earning Rs 1500 per month and finding it difficult to make ends meet, Santosh shifted to organic farming of fruits in 2008. She began with pomegranates and now also grows lemons, sweet lime (mosambi), apples, guavas, and papaya.
She has also set up a nursery and people from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi travel to Khedar’s Shekhawati Krishi Farm to buy plants as well as organic produce. Her annual income from just 1.23 acres of land is over Rs 40lakh and she is a role model for farmers.
3. Lalita Mukati
In 2006, Lalita’s husband Suresh Chandra was worried about their farm. Despite increasing inputs, their 105-acre land in Borlai town of Barwani district in Madhya Pradesh was seeing declining returns. At Lalita’s instance, they switched to organic farming, planting fruit orchards that turned around the sinking business.
Since her husband was frequently travelling for work, she took over the farm and planted guava, chickoo, custard apple, and sugarcane. She also began growing other grains and legumes organically. Now, the annual income from the farm is over Rs80 lakh.
She has formed the Maa Durga Krishi Mahila Sangathan, an organisation that is creating awareness about the benefits of organic farming and encouraging women to quit harmful conventional farming.
4. Reeva Sood
Reeva Sood took up organic farming in Una in 2016 after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She knew going back to nature was the key to fighting the disease. In 2015-16, by the time her husband Rajeev was finishing his chemotherapy, they bought 70 acres of land spread over three villages of Gunghrala, Akrot and Behar Bithal in Behar Jaswan panchayat in Una.
“We decided to buy this land because it was available at nominal rates due to being barren and inaccessible by road. Uneven and dry land, in the local language, is called ‘khud’ or good-for-nothing land,” the 65-year-old agripreneur says.
Reeva, also a social worker, now grows medicinal and aromatic plants. She earns Rs50 lakh annually from these herbs sold as saplings, dry roots, powders and in extract form to farmers, medicine makers and agriculture universities across India. The agro entrepreneur earns another Rs20 lakh from dragon fruit farming and is set to start its juice plant.
Here’s her detailed story: 65-year-old woman turns barren land into organic farm of medicinal plants, earns Rs50 lakh
5. Pratibha Tiwari
She is a Math teacher, mother, farmer and agri-entrepreneur. After marriage, when Pratibha would visit her in-laws in Harda, Madhya Pradesh, she would see farmers using chemicals to grow crops on most of their land and doing organic farming in a small area for their own consumption.
She began attending workshops and seminars on organic farming and also enrolled on a course in Delhi. She then motivated her husband and his family to shift to organic farming. Since they were hesitant, Pratibha started organic farming in 2016 on a small part of the land.
By 2019, Pratibha converted the entire 50-acre land to organic and got certification from the government. She grows wheat, and legumes and has also planted medicinal plants such as rosella, moringa, hibiscus and aloe vera.
The woman farmer has also set up Bhumisha Organics to market her produce and also the produce of other farmers in the region.
6. Ruby Pareek
Ruby has converted her family’s 12-acre chemical-based farm in Dausa, Rajasthan to an organic farm of fruits, vegetables and grains. While the in-laws did not support her stepping out of the house, her husband encouraged her to learn about organic farming. Today, she has around 10,000 plants on the farm grown in three layers. Multi-layer farming maximizes the use of land and improves output.
Apart from farming, the agri-entrepreneur sells 200 quintals of vermicompost and Azolla fern per month and has trained over 15,000 people for free. Her monthly income is over Rs 2 lakh.
7. Santosh Pachar
Hailing from the Sikar district of Rajasthan, Santosh Pachar was not inclined to academics and studied only till Class 8. She had a keen interest in farming since childhood. Her sharp mind and innovative thinking led her to develop a new variety of carrots, which has won her the President’s Award twice.
Today, Santosh, 51, is not only growing this carrot variety on her farm but also exporting its seeds. She sells seeds in 20 states of India besides exporting to Nepal and South Africa.
This carrot has a distinct vermillion colour and is softer, sweeter and longer than other varieties. She is in the process of patenting her new carrot variety named SPL 101.
Once faced with impoverishment, Santosh today has an annual income of upwards of Rs50 lakh. But her success did not come easy. It took hard work and out-of-the-box thinking.