Shruti Shandilya, Co-founder Tirwa Farms
Q: Tell us a little about your enterprise and how is it environment sustainable?
I am a graduate in commerce from Sri Ram College of Commerce Delhi, who further on did her MBA from the University of Liverpool UK. After working in the UK, I moved back and worked for the TATA Group for more than a decade in Mumbai, heading marketing for commercial in Tata Realty & Infrastructure. On our farms, we don’t use pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers, do crop rotation, mulching and composting to enhance the soil health and quality of bio diversity. These practices reduce pollution significantly or pesticide run-off, aid soil and water conservation. Organic farming practice is the most sustainable as it substantially reduces the carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions and controls soil erosion. It is a proactive methodology which works on soil fertility, rather than addressing problems when they emerge
Q: How did the idea first strike you and how did you give it a final shape?
It was during COVID-19 (post family tragedy) that I realized the importance of returning to my roots. The seed of gardening was implanted in me early on as my parents were extremely passionate gardeners. In Mumbai also we were always inclined towards consuming natural/ organic products. On moving to Lucknow, it was a challenge to scout for organic products, my family found that strange as we had our own farms and yet I was purchasing from outside. Essentially that was the pivotal point for me and I decided to transition our conventional farms into organic farms with the intention of making a difference.
Q: What challenges did you face- or are still facing- and steps you took-or taking- to overcome them?
Organic food is more expensive because the yield is about 45% lower, the production costs are higher because it’s quite labour-intensive. Lack of education and awareness among people with regards to the benefits of consuming organic produce results in low demand and thereby poor supply chain, marketing and distribution. Organic farms must go through tough certification processes and takes three years to acquire the same. Essentially, it’s an investment of three years where you work on the soil health before you start getting returns. Our crops are susceptible to pests and diseases as we don’t use chemicals, the shelf life is shorter as we don’t use preservatives. Each farm is different in terms of soil, crops production the past usage of chemicals etc., in the transition phase we work on understanding the land and mycology. We maintain the soil fertility by applying mulch on the farm and we have set up our own vermicompost pits. Also, we have set up a gaoshala (cow shed), where we make our own compost using cow dung.
Q: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Our vision is to educate people; also encourage them to buy seasonal & reginal produce, make substantial efforts to reverse climate change and convert as many farmers as possible to organic farming. We plan to take the support and assistance of the government to implement the subsidies and schemes on organic farming.
Q: What keeps you going when the going gets tough?
We are extremely passionate (and a little mad) and firmly believe that we have an absolute responsibility to our next generation to make a shift in our farming practices which are in harmony with nature, to replenish our natural ecosystem for cleaner water and air, and to reverse the ill effects of climate change.