​A lawyer dons khadi

Kamaljeet Hayer left his flourishing legal practice to grow food that nourish

The most important thing that strikes you on meeting Kamaljeet Singh Hayer is the amount of information he doles out on farming. Nutrient-fixating crops, healing trees, cycle of life running through nature, he has insights on all this and more.

And to know that he began farming just over four years back . Before that he was negotiating with clients in evenings, preparing notes at nights and arguing in the day time. Kamaljeet, a resident of Sohangarh (Rattewala) village near Guru Harsahai town in Ferozepur district, had a flourishing legal practice making lakhs every month. But today he dons khadi and toils in his farm starting early morning.

It was in 2012 when his grandfather passed away at the age of 101, Kamaljeet wondered what made him live so long: “My father had passed away at 53 due to a massive heart attack and my younger brother died of brain tumour at age of 10 years. How could such a drastic shift come in our health within a generation?” He found the problem and the solution in farming. “We are what we eat. Nobody disputes that our ancestors had more nutritious food than us. They had lesser stress triggers than us because of the simple life they led. I wanted better health for my family but was not sure on how to achieve that,” he says. Kamaljeet started searching online and came across the website of Kheti Virasat Mission. He called up KVM’s executive president Umendra Dutt who asked him to attend a workshop being organised in a few days. Kamaljeet did not know that this one workshop will be the turning point of his life as he met famous scientist and inspiration for many organic farmers, Dr O P Rupela

At the workshop, Dr Rupela asked why Punjabi farmers were not adopting organic farming, which reduces input costs without affecting yield. A consensus emerged that people won’t believe anything without seeing it. Dr Rupela then opined that setting up successful organic farm models in Punjab will help spread the idea. He decided to put all his experience and knowledge in this farm.

Kamaljeet, despite being new to the group, offered his farm to be developed into a model, but a quick look at his profile made Dr Rupela reject him. “I had 50 acres which I always gave on lease. I knew nothing about farming, had a flourishing legal practice and my family was not supportive of this idea. Dr Rupela thought I would regret my decision later. But I was determined enough and kept pleading for months,” Kamaljeet says.

Finally Dr Rupela agreed but told him to be aware of the stages of progress which will not only depend on his efforts but also reaction of people. First, they will ridicule you, then they will oppose you, then they will join you.

Dr Rupela stayed for several days with Kamaljeet giving him deep insights about farming. Around 20 acres of his 50 acre farm was selected for developing this biodiversity-based natural farm model that aims to fulfill the needs of a family while providing a stable and substantial income. “Besides his knowledge Dr Rupela also took inputs from around 25 people. He always said that he got all his practical knowledge from farmers. When he passed away last year, it was a big shock for me and I am still trying to recover from that,” Kamaljeet says.

But like a true student, the man has struck to his ambitions. The farm is an eye opener in the way it has been designed to recycle waste through continuous exchange of nutrients between various activities. Rows of trees of 120 varieties on the edges, a small pasture with herbs for highly nutritious milk, a pond that harvests rain and canal water for later use, combination of crops which complement each other for optimal growth in minimum resources, all these aspects makes this a unique farm.

“Whatever Dr Rupela told me about stages of progress came true. Villagers and farm labourers mocked me at first, then neighbours tried to burn my trees and finally people are joining me,” he says proudly.

He has two farmers with him who have taken to natural farming. In fact, they have joined hands to build a cooperative. “Between us we are growing 60 crop varieties on 50 acres throughout the year. We have started supplying healthy and nutritious food to interested families in Muktsar town around the year. That will help deal with marketing issues that mostly crop up with organic farming,” he informs.

Two other farmers from neighbouring areas have also joined hands and are selling their produce from an outlet in Muktsar town under the name "Kudrat Hut". “We are making an income of Rs 60,000 every month and there are around 25 families who are regularly taking our produce,” Kamaljeet says. He’s now planning to introduce farm tourism for those interested in knowing more about natural farming. “I get many visitors from across Punjab every week who want to see the farm. Some of them have also evinced interest in staying for a couple of days and enjoy the village life,” he informs.

Today, Kamaljeet has graduated to being a mentor for others and the lessons he has learnt are not easy to forget. “I came into natural farming to save my family. In race for making more money, we forgot that farming is not just about sowing seeds and reaping harvest for the market. It’s a unique amalgamation of soil, trees, birds, insects, animals and human being. By taking to chemical farming and monoculture, we have disturbed this relationship. But now I am a satisfied man,” Kamaljit infers.

May his tribe grow.

By Manu Moudgil