“Always pay reverence to your soil. Because the amount of respect you give, you’ll get that much respect from your soil.” – Amir Khan, movie Dangal.
Since time immemorial, human beings are attached to the soil. Climate, rocks and minerals, plants and animals, bees and butterflies and human, all are dependent on soil and our most compelling resource is just the ground beneath our feet. It’s what supports plant growth, the whole of microbial world and it’s what nourishes and feeds the bulk of life. Nothing is more beautiful than cultivating the land and nothing is more alluring than the promise of a bountiful harvest. The soil of Assam is richly fertile and we the Assamese are blessed to live in a land so rich in this life-giving source.
Our planet is overwhelmed by rising human population, decreasing forest cover and large scale soil erosion. Because of the increasing erosion, the fertility of soil has decreased significantly, which in turn, has reduced the productivity of land. A young Assamese, observed this phenomena in his ancestral firm established by his father. Subsequently, he decided to investigate further and began studying carefully all the natural and social aspects related to the soil, climate, flora and fauna. He realized that it was the organic method of farming which could address erosion as well as bring nutrients to the soil. This youngster Neelam Dutta from Biswanath Chariali town, instead of working for a comfortable corporate or government job, thus, chooses farming as a career. He took that leap of faith by opening an agricultural firm , popularly known as ‘Pabhoi Greens’ and after several tumultuous years of toil and labor, and with his unwavering patience and persistence, established it as an avenue for self- sustainability and nurtured , developed and evolved Pabhoi as a successful model for livelihood , employment and income generation.
It has been a journey of great difficulty and great joy. Along the way, Neelam has been supported and assisted by many people and foremost among them is Peggy Carswell from Canada. Ms. Carswell, a pioneer in organic movement and a laureate of the Women’s World Summit Foundation, was enamored by Assam and Assamese people and has been visiting ‘Pabhoi Greens’ again and again. She believed in Neelam’s mission and has been providing hands-on training and resource materials to him on traditional Vedic farming practices, which emphasizes the need to reuse , reduce and recycle and to be grateful for and appreciative of mother earth. . “The skills and knowledge and specially the training video films prepared by Carswell has played a vital part in my awareness about organic farming” – Neelam recollects her generous support and constant encouragement. He also reveals that free training camps by Ms. Carswell are periodically organized on Pabhoi premises which are attended by farmers from Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.
Pabhoi Greens has put diversified cropping patterns and innovative methods to induce soil fertility. “Even if one crop fails, the others provide returns. And if one crop absorbs more soil nutrients , the others compensate by fixing nitrogen” – Neelam explains as the firm cultivates a varieties of rice including indigenous aromatic and gum rice, exotic vegetables like Chinese cabbage , colored capsicum, lettuce, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, ethnic fruits apart from strawberries and musk melons, mushrooms and a large varieties of seasonal flowers. One of his notable achievements is complete elimination of chemical fertilizers; Neelam boasts of not having sprayed even a drop of pesticide in his fourteen hector land. He has, instead, been protecting his rice plants with a bio-pesticide made from cow urine which has been developed in-house through a very compete team of local youths and farmers.
Neelam, recently, has taken farming to a whole new level by opening organic seeds production units in Assam and the seven sister states of North East. In close collaboration with Sativa, a Switzerland based firm, Pabhoi Greens has developed the production methods of heirloom seeds of vegetables both indigenous as well as European varieties. “We opened one unit in Nagaland because its cold climate is conducive to growth of those foreign seeds” – talking about his venture Neelam mentions that currently the seeds are available in the market for purchase through retail channels as well as through online storefront. Pabhoi Greens reached another milestone when it successfully raised Bhut Jolokia seedlings (hottest chilly in the world) and supplied to the Defense Research Laboratory, Tezpur and Assam Agricultural University. Neelam is recipient of many national and international awards and fellowships. Quite obviously, the awarding of India’s best Organic Haladhar Farmer in 2014 by Minister of Agriculture, Government of India placed an invaluable jewel in the crown. He has also been touched and energized by the enthusiasm of general public as Pabhoi Greens is getting more and more number of visitors day by day who come to witness the dairy, nursery , honey bee farming, fish rearing and breeding, and the matchless aura of a green landscape brighten by the colorful birds, dancing butterflies and the signing Jhili.
“The soil of Assam has an unmatched potential for every possible agricultural activity. If Neelam can do it why not others, I think if everybody gives priority in this venture, Assam will be the richest region in India thereby being able to compete with the other parts of the world”- Peggy Carswell pays a glowing account of his deft disciple . Neelam Dutta shows us what can be achieved when we refuse to be defined by stereotypes and aim for the stars. Not only Assam, but whole of India needs more such youngsters like Neelam and we hope that his story inspires others – both young men and women – to choose agriculture as a profession, get into the business of organic farming and make a name for themselves.