Mandya was once branded the farmers’ sui- cide capital of Karnataka. From early this year, the town, located a good 40 km from Mysore, has ushered in a silent agrarian revolution as farmers now sell organic farm
products and making good profits.
How did the turnaround happen? Thanks to
Madhuchandan Chikkadevaiah, a young IT professional,
who gave up a good job in the US, to sow the seeds of an
organic farming movement, in his home state.
He started the Mandya Organic Farmers Cooperative
Society with a group of 270 farmers, who now cultivate and
sell their organic farm products profitably.
By setting up a retail outlet near the farmland to sell
products, Madhuchandan succeeded in getting them the
highest price for their products. And the outlet, located on
the busy Bengaluru-Mysore highway, sells very successfully
organic vegetables, cereals and pulses, fresh from the farm,
to people traveling along the highway.
After working for several IT majors, Madhuchandan co-founded a company called Verifaya in 2005 that developed
automated testing software, which is now used by companies across the globe. He felt it was time to give back to his
village so he returned to India August 2014 to set up his
But the 37-year-old engineer was moved by the heartbreaking stories of the families left behind by farmer suicides and decided to work for their welfare, hoping to make
Mandya a completely organic district.
“I feel proud to be a farmer today. To be able to lead a
healthier and happier life is a dream come true. No job can
give the immense satisfaction that farming can offer you.
We tend to complicate our lives, take up stressful jobs and
never try to lend a helping hand to anyone. With things
falling in place as we planned, I hope to see Mandya district
a fully chemical-free zone in the next five years,” says a confident Madhu, who is supported by 45 employees.
‘In the earlier days, farmers were experts in their field.
They knew exactly what they had to do. Over the years, they
have been misguided to use all sorts of fertilizers and
chemicals, which in the long run have destroyed the soil
and affected crop yields. They made the mistake of follow-
ing agriculture experts who had no practical
expertise. As a result, farmers failed miser-
ably. Only five to six percent of farmers suc-
ceeded as they followed natural and organic
methods of farming,” says Madhu.
Madhu and his team spent hours educating farmers to join the organic farming
movement. “Farmers who toil hard to make sure millions
don’t go hungry, should be respected but in India they are
The irony is that farmer’s children do not work in the
fields as they don’t get good returns. So even farmers who
own one or two acres send their children to cities to eke out
a living. They end up in bars as waiters or as autorickshaw
drivers, explains Madhu.
He further adds, “Even agriculture scientists are misleading farmers. Once a group of farmers were advised to set
the waste on fire after the sugarcane field was harvested.
The fire actually destroys the micro-organisms that are
needed to maintain the soil fertility. The biggest drawback
of our country is that we have agriculturists who have lot of
theoretical knowledge but have no practical wisdom. So
they cannot guide the farmers properly. Our agriculture
universities should have experienced farmers instead of
experts,” points out Madhu.
Some farmers in Mandya were already doing organic
farming but were not getting the right price for their prod-
ucts and Madhu’s efforts changed that. “Indians spend the
least on food but they like to visit the most expensive hos-
pitals, instead they should spend more on good food and
remain healthy. If you spend more on quality food, you will
not fall ill. Food should be your medicine and not the other
Mandya Organic Farmers Cooperative Society, besides
farmers has ayurveda doctors and agriculture scientists.
Madhu realized the need to have a strong support system to
sell the produce. He started Organic Mandya to sell the
products in a supermarket and online too. The products
were an instant hit. They are not able to meet the surging
demands of health-conscious customers.
At the highway outlet there is an oil extraction mill that
offers customers fresh oil as well. Among the 50 to 55 products sold, the most sought after products are Joni Bella (a
liquid form of jaggery), jaggery powder and jaggery blocks.
The farmers are getting double the price for their prod-
ucts through Organic Mandya. The math is simple: even if
the yield is less in organic farming, the price a farmer gets
is double. Seeing the huge demand for products has boost-
ed the confidence of farmers, who are now working with
great vigor to meet the rising demand.
Madhu started Organic Mandya with an investment of
Rs 1 crore ( $150,000) pooled in by four IT professionals.
“As per current run rate we will be touching revenues of Rs
2.5 crore ($37,000) by next September. With the current
potential, our business may even touch Rs 8 to 10 crore
($1.1 to 1.4 millon) by September 2016. In next two or three
years, we expect revenues to the tune of Rs 30 to 40 crore
($4.4 to 5.8 million) with a net profit of around 10-15 percent,” points out Madhu who wants to prove that every
farmer can get high returns for their products.
Seeing the positive changes in the lives of organic farmers, many others too are willing to switch to organic farming. They had never expected to get such high prices for
their produce. In a bid to scale up operations, Organic
Mandya also plans to open five franchisees in Mysore and
Organic Mandya also runs a sweat donation program.
Farms face an acute shortage of labor. “A good majority of
(city) professionals go to the gym to cut down calories. In a
week they may be able to burn out 300-400 calories. And
their sweat just goes waste. If he or she decides to work on
a field even once a week, maybe digging a small pit in the
farm will help them burn out 1,200 calories. Besides, it will
immensely help the farmers.”
Madhu and his team also run an agri-tourism project.
Folks can join the farmers at work, have freshly-cooked
organic food, go on a bullock cart ride, breathe fresh air,
play native games and enjoy the essence of a village life.
This in effect gives valuable lessons that will stay with them
for life. More importantly, for people who have never been
to a farm, it will give a first hand experience of where the
food they eat comes from.
Madhu has been getting hundreds of calls from people,
across the country, every day, who would either like to join
him or replicate the model in their villages and towns.
“We have just made a small beginning. There is a long
way to go. People still think that the best career is perhaps
joining an IT firm. Does anyone look at the stress they go
through meeting deadlines and traveling long distances in
peak traffic every day? I don’t see the glow on the face of a
young engineer but I see it on a 65-year-old farmer’s face…
I would say a farmer earning Rs 10,000 in a village will be
much happier and healthier than an engineer earning Rs 1
lakh ($1,500) in a city.” n
If you would like to know more about Madhuchandan’s
organic farming movement, you can mail him at
narrative of their
lives. Manu A B
Madhuchandan works in the paddy field.