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Organic vegetables curries favour with tourist
Published on 20 Feb. 2010 10:57 PM IST
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The platter is turning pure in Sekhawati - the historic land of Sekhawat Rajputs known for its palatial family homes or havelis of the country’s business giants - as tourism charts a new green course out of the ornate 18th century sandstone and marble mansions to the farmers’ thatched huts. Organic is the flavour in the vegetable and grain farms in and around the Sekhawati region spread over 1,3784 sq km and comprising the districts of Jhunjhunu, Nawalgarh, Sikar, Churu and portions of Mandawa and Nagaur. Nearly 15,000 farmers in the region have taken up organic farming to cut overhead costs and improve the quality of food. According to statistics provided by the M.R. Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation, which is steering the organic food movement in Sekhawati and in the state with know-how and market access, at least 30,000 farmers in Rajasthan have switched to organic farming over the last six years. The farmers not only sell their produce across the country but also supply organic vegetables and spices to the havelis-turned tourist resorts in the region. The flourishing organic farming has encouraged farmers to set up small-scale rural tourist resorts of thatched huts, nature trails and activity space on their farms - the size of which vary between 6.5 and 7 hectares on an average. Nawalgarh alone has seven rural tourist resorts around the haveli town. “We charge tourists between Rs.475 and Rs.500 for a night, depending on the kind of huts they opt for,” organic farmer and rural tour operator Manoj Sharma, who grows mustard, jowar, bajra and summer vegetables on eight hectares of land 10 km from the Nawalgarh, told IANS. Sharma has built two thatched huts in the middle of a vast yellow swathe of land with a common bath and entertainment space. “Till two years ago, we were not commercially exploiting organic agriculture. But as we realised that the cost of inputs was lower than conventional farming and the produce was as good, we encouraged the farmers to cultivate and sell organic products through a separate company - a Morarka retail outlet,” head of the M.R. Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation Kamal Morarka told IANS. The business tycoon, whose family hails from the region, said he “felt he had to do something for Sekhawati after the end of his parliamentary career in the 1990s”. “A rural research foundation seemed to be a good idea to help the farmers of this arid region to make their livelihood sustainable,” Mumbai-based Morarka said. The foundation, which trains farmers to grow organic food, connects them to foreign buyers through the Internet. “The farmers mostly grow organic summer vegetables which are in demand across the country. I think commercial viability of organic summer vegetables will become sustainable in metros and 10 tier-two cities in the next five years. “But exporting organic vegetables abroad still does not make business sense though we have a market in the Middle East,” agro-scientist Mukesh Gupta, executive director of the M.R. Morarka Foundation and an authority on organic farming, told IANS. The farmers use vermi-compost, cow urine, neem, leaf extracts of plants like okra, dhatura (native flowers) and asafoetida to increase soil fertility for crops like corn, brinjals, tomatoes, radish, cabbages, chillis, onions, carrots, gram, coriander, wheat, mustard, bajra and spices. According to Vardhman Bapna, general manager (coordination) of the Morarka Rural Research Foundation, the farmers save up to 30 percent by growing their vegetables and grain organically. “Every year, new farmers in the region are registering themselves at the foundation to covert to organic farming. This month, 50 conventional farmers enrolled for the organic training workshops,” Bapna told IANS. A survey carried out last year revealed that organic kitchen was a feasible option in Indian homes with an average income of Rs.50,000 to Rs.70,000 every month, Gupta said. “Non-perishable kitchen grocery costs around Rs.1,500 to Rs.1,700 every month. But if a consumer is willing to spend an additional Rs.230, conventional grocery products can be replaced with organic product”,” Gupta said, citing consumption trends thrown up by the survey.

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