Ludhiana: Amarjit Kaur weighs 700 gms of pickle lying in plastic boxes in her veranda to be sold to a local woman who usually visits Kaur's house to purchase a variety of processed food items.
Why women of Bhotna village in Barnala district of Punjab prefer Kaur to get pickle is due to the fact that it is made of organic food, produced without the use of any pesticides or chemicals.
Kaur is not the lone organic farmer in the region. There are at least 2,000 women farmers in different districts who grow organic food. After producing organic crops, they also turn them into processed food and sell them in the market.
A group of organic women farmers from Punjab, that included Amarjit Kaur, returned on February 23 from New Delhi where they had gone to take part in 'Organic Food Festival' organized for women entrepreneurs from across the country.
The group of women farmers from Punjab was able to earn a whopping ₹3 lakh by the sale of snacks and other processed food items during their visit to Delhi. The event was organized by the Ministry of Food Processing Industry to provide an opportunity for women entrepreneurs who are working in the field of organic farming. This was not the only event in which these women took part this month. Amarjit along with other women had visited Haryana early February to take part in a similar event.
At least 2,000 women from villages in Punjab have turned into entrepreneurs from organic farmers. Most of these women used to be housewives until 2009 when an NGO, Kheti Virasat Mission, motivated them to do organic farming in kitchen gardens at their homes in the wake of excessive overuse of pesticides in farming in the state.
Most of these 2,000 women are located in Sangrur, Barnala, Mansa and Bathinda districts, with their husbands being small farmers. Many of these women are also Dalits who earlier used to work at the homes of high caste 'Jat' Sikhs of their villages but are now making a living on their own.
The district coordinator of Kheti Virasat Mission, Kamaljit Kaur, tells that mixed pickles, juices, tomato ketchup and sweet fruit preserve (Murabba) made from organic crops have become not only famous in Punjab but even in other states. "We are often invited to fairs in Maharashtra, Gujrat and even Andra Pradesh to exhibit the processed food items we make from organic food. Our pizza base made of pearl millet (Bajra) has become quite famous among children at these fairs," says Kaur.
These women farmers-cum-entrepreneurs also serve organic 'thali' (platter) during fairs at a price of ₹150 per plate.
Self-help groups have also been formed in different areas to help these women know more about organic farming. While the state government urges farmers to grow crops with minimal use of pesticides, these women have set an example to look up to.
The need of chemical-free crops has arisen in Punjab with an exponential rise in cancer cases across the state that is generally attributed to the polluted groundwater due to the use of chemicals in farming that seep into the ground contaminating the water.
While pickle made of non-organic (with the use of pesticides) crops is sold at ₹200 per Kg, the one made of organic crops is sold at ₹300-350.
Women farmers have also started receiving orders from local government offices where they are asked to prepare snacks from organic food during official meetings and seminars.
Diljeet Kaur, an organic farmer at Pakhoke village in Barnala says that the women are not only growing organic crops but also getting organic milk by providing organic fodder to cows. "I have a cow whom I feed only organic fodder. The 'ghee' (clarified butter) made from the milk of a cow given ordinary fodder is sold in the market at ₹450-500 per Kg while the one made from milk of cow given organic fodder is sold at ₹2000-2500 per Kg," says Diljeet.
She says that she worked as a housewife taking care of her children before she became an organic farmer and gives credit to the NGO, Kheti Virasat Mission, for changing her life.