Smitha with Raj Reddy

I was driving past the busy outer ring road and KR Puram junction, saw a couple of fruit vendors selling fresh mangoes and apples. The thought of parking the car to the side crossed my mind, but the mere feeling of hearing unpleasant honking, made me drive past the stalls.

Raj Reddy - Mangos

I really missed eating those fresh fruits! Also fruits in Bangalore, look all nice and shiny with loads of wax and chemicals, that I always miss biting into a freshly plucked organic succulent mango from the backyard of my grandparents’ home in coastal Karnataka -memories from my childhood days!

When I arrived home, surprisingly a fruit basket of Mangoes was waiting to welcome me at home. The mangoes looked so delicious and fresh, I didn’t even bother to find out who sent it. I quickly dug in. It tasted exactly like the ones I used to have two decades earlier. After few bites, I noticed a small note stuck to the side of the bag.

It was from my considerate friend, Raj. It read:

“Enjoy the mangoes from my organic farm. This basket has mix of best-in-class varieties of mangoes i.e., Alphonso, Kesar, Dasheri, Himayat and Banginapally, which are grown with natural methods, harvested at the right stage, and ripened using no chemicals. Hope you & your family will enjoy them!

You can also choose to “Serve it Forward” by giving me 10 names of your friends in Bangalore who will enjoy these fruits! You have an option of gifting these mangoes to them or simply refer them to me with no obligation! A similar bag of mangoes would be sent to them too free! If you choose to write a cheque by gifting to your friends, the money will be used to fund for social causes and will help spreading this message further”

If I had chosen to buy this basket in the market, it would have costed me INR1500, that too without any guarantee on the Quality, Harvesting or Ripening methods!. The taste of the mango was too good to avoid taking out my cheque book and writing a cheque for the right cause and the 10 names for whom these mangoes would reach soon.

It made me to think as what’s in it for him to “Serve the Mangoes” free of cost?

I suddenly remembered the quote “Life is not about accumulation but is about contribution. Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”.

IN CONVERSATION WITH RAJ REDDY

Giving has been a way for you. What got you interested in the first place and how has it evolved?

TIME OF FAILURES AND EXPERIMENTATION

I come from a middle-class farming family from a remote village about 100km from Bangalore. During my childhood, I saw my father’s passion for growing trees. He passed away when I was very young, but passed on the memories, which remain with me even today. I had to go through lot of hard work to move up the ranks in the corporate world. Lots of travel and my wandering lust took me away on work to continents of Europe, Australia, Asia and America over the past 20 years in various leadership roles. But, the farm kept calling me. I have been a keen observer of farming methods during my visits to these places. This calling got me interested in commercial farming near Shivamogga in Karnataka in 2004-2005. Shivamogga is one of the greenest belts in Karnataka and is in the Malanad region. My friends and I bought a few acres of land and looked to cultivate some commercially viable crops, so that we start making money. We wanted to bring co-operative farming methods and also integrate some of the principles from corporate world into farming, This initiative wasn’t very successful as some of the friends with whom I was to grow the farm operations backed off and I was upset with it not taking off.. Also, I did start with some crops near Bangalore which did not result in good yield and failed again.

Raj Reddy

“The farm kept calling me. This calling got me interested in commercial farming near Shivamogga in Karnataka in 2004-2005.”

Family on Tractor

“She had non-stop flurry of questions for next 30 minutes. While all of us laughed it away, somewhere it got me thinking sub-consciously. What can I do to better the farmers yield in the fields and also get them to adopt natural farming methods.”

Kids - Poojita and Tej

Take the first ‘RIGHT’ step and the path will be clear for your second Step and it will be non-stop journey thereon “Saadhanath Sadhyate Sarvam”

Time of Contemplation

A year or so later in 2007, my family (Vijaya, Poojita and Tej) with my parents-in-laws were coming back from Gauribidanur (about 75 km from Bangalore) after a wedding. My daughter, Poojita was all of 9 years old. She saw the ragi being chaffed from the stalk manually. As any child of that age, she was brimming with curiosity. Here is a quick recap of the conversation:

Poojita: What are they doing?
Raj: They are manually removing ragi (Millets) from the stalk
Poojita: What will they do with this?
Raj: This is their crop from the field; they will take it to the markets to sell it. We will buy it and use it in our homes
Poojita: Are their methods of farming really effective? Does it feed their family enough?
Raj: No. The agriculture methods are old and does not provide a better yield
Poojita: Why can’t they get more and better crops?
Raj: Because they lack education and scientific methods to grow crops. Like cities, there are no universities in the villages to educate the farmers on how to map weather conditions, when to sow and reap the crops. Farmers lack the knowledge on how to use organic farming methods to get better crops. Also they are unaware of the damage being created due to chemical fertilizers into farming.
Poojita: Why cannot someone educate them? Why cannot someone go to village and show them how to farm properly? May be all good old methods needs to be showcased. Not just farming, but also best way to make pottery, best way to grow millets, best way to grow fruits, best way to apply farm manures, best way of using water and so on.

She had non-stop flurry of questions for next 30 minutes. While all of us laughed it away, somewhere it got me thinking sub-consciously. What can I do to better the farmers yield in the fields and also get them to adopt natural farming methods, how to make them return to traditional methods I have seen my father implementing, how to make them realize more profits from the given piece of land, how to make them stop cutting trees and make them part of their growth story, why did they end-up the way they are, why are bore wells drying up in villages, why is productivity/acre lowering, why are people migrating to urban areas and the list goes on and on… and MOST importantly as “How to channelize and focus myself to make it SUSTAINABLE” . But real problem I faced with was not how do you influence the change or fund the change, but how do you sustain the change and continue to create a self-propelling movement? I know I could fund it one year from my earnings, may be second year, and may be with difficulty in third but as the need keeps getting larger. I was quite confused as where, what, when, how of addressing the above. Lot of contemplation, lots of attempts & failures, lots of thoughts pulling in different directions. Then something beautiful started happening…

 

Time of Wisdom for Clarity in Thought and Action:

My spiritual Guru H.E. Sri Sri guided me “Have your goals set high, If your goal is ‘Selfless’ and ultimate objective is “LokaKalyanam”, then the Nature will ensure that you get the best support and Right things will start happening.. Just Start with the Right Intention in Mind.. Take the first ‘RIGHT’ step and the path will be clear for your second Step and it will be non-stop journey thereon “ Saadhanath Sadhyate Sarvam”

Regular meditation with company of some great souls and quiet mornings did help me a lot to bring in clarity.

“Selfless Giving” in Thought and Action became fundamental pillars of every act I started thereon. Past 7 years has been a journey that taught me a lot in bringing up something that is beautiful and self-sustaining.

Time for doing RIGHT Things

Over the last 7 years, an organic orchard has been developed from a completely eroded barren land (with almost nil trees) which has more than 4000+ trees spread across 13+ acres that houses more than 20 varieties of seasonal fruits in India and few exotic Asian, African and American varieties. The farm has become a good showcase today with some of the practices

  • Water conservation
    • A single bore-well sustaining 13+ acres (typical ratio is 1: 4-5 acres)
    • Ensuring only ‘Right’ amount of water that can be absorbed by the plant with minimal evaporation
    • Ensuring only ‘Right’ frequency of watering to conserve water
    • Ensuring ‘Right’ outflow from the drips to avoid wastage
    • Ensuring ‘Right’ combination of pipes to ensure all plants are watered
    • Digging the water pits to hold water in rainy season
    • Building bunds to avoid soil erosion and water conservation
  • Be friend with Nature
    • Ensure every weed that comes in the farm will go back into the soil
    • Protect every tree that grows naturally in the farm
    • Allow habitat for birds and flies that help in pollination
    • Clear ‘No’ for any chemicals to be used for de-weeding
    • Use preventive methods of farming than corrective methods
  • Almost every tree planted is a fruit tree that you will benefit

The entire farm gets water for a single borewell and soil enriching happens organically. What this has done is, made my farm a model farm for all the farmers in and around our village near Gauribidanur. Farmers in the adjoining villages have used some of the techniques (soil enriching, etc) and methods in the farms. We have reduced soil erosion and also water used for the plants scientifically. I have created and applied the formulae which has helped reduce water consumption while ensuring the plant only uses what is sufficient: Electricity Supply X Water availability X Water need per Plant = Water discharge in laterals intelligently to help the farming. I also ensured that experts, other organic farmers, government officials have regular meetings to help increase the yield from their farmlands.

“Electricity Supply X Water availability X Water need per Plant = Water discharge in laterals intelligently to help the farming.”

Raj Reddy with Mangoes
Raj and Wife Vijaya at a farm

“I started living “ONE-LIFE” with the same principles applied in both places. It strengthened my Perseverance, Patience, Productivity, Principles of Experimentation and Evolution and most importantly Enjoying every moment without any Prejudice on any Situation.”

How does your experience as a successful entrepreneur/corporate leader influence your work as a philanthropist?

What separates a successful farmer from an entrepreneur or a business leader?

More so it helped me to enrich my professional life by interweaving the learnings from farming (and vice versa) to create a great organization that I am part of. I started living “ONE-LIFE” with the same principles applied in both places. It strengthened my Perseverance, Patience, Productivity, Principles of Experimentation and Evolution and most importantly Enjoying every moment without any Prejudice on any Situation. One of the most important learnings was “Zero-Basing” every transaction and move on with a smile to the next transaction with fresh perspective!!

Is there a sea of difference between a farmer and an entrepreneur? Not much, according to me. A farm is a business like any other business. Farmers who don’t see a farm as a serious business, and don’t manage their farm as a business, typically are the ones who aren’t as successful.

It took me 4 to 5 years to bring my farm to a stable state and over the last 3 years, the farm has been running with minimal intervention, except where any enhancements are required.

My father used to grow mangoes, when I was a kid. Our family got some income from that, but what I got from the farm was worth much more. What I gained was a lesson in hard work, partner with nature, where food comes from, and what it takes for it to appear on a plate. I am now sharing these values with my entire community.

As in any business, my philosophy is, that there’s a lot more value in agriculture than just the products. So our farm is about trying to capitalize on those external values and help maintain some of those values in the community.

Knowing where your food comes from and talking to the farmer about what and how they grow is a basic human need. So I made it my mission to provide that experience at my farm. I am also looking to invite other organic farming enthusiasts to come to my farm to understand the methods so that they can implement it back. I am also looking at starting an initiative called “serve it forward”, where I look to empower women economically by offering a job in the farm, enabling a child with life skills coaching and enriching the ecosystem.

Raj - Talking to Nature

Who have you looked to for guidance and inspiration as a fellow philanthropist?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is my guru and has been my key influencer in – “giving back”. He is a great humanitarian and a spiritual leader. Through his life and work, Sri Sri has inspired millions around the world with a vision of a doing your bit for society and not expect anything in return. I regularly attend Art of Living retreats which have courses that provide techniques and tools to live a deeper, more joyous life. I attend a retreat every 6 months, where, I make a list of goals I want to achieve. I have reiterated the same goal – “give back” to the society and work towards what can I do to make the system sustainable – financially, spiritually and eco-friendly.

This would not have been possible without strong support from my wife Vijaya, children Poojita & Tej for allowing me to do this and sacrificing hundreds of our family weekends. My wife encouraged me at every step of my way to keep it going during ups and downs. My Father-in-law has been great source of support in nurturing the farm by ensuring every bit of the action is implemented on the farm. I am lucky to have my friend Balu, who lives in Boston, who partnered with me throughout this movement.

Sri Sri Ravishankar

“I have reiterated the same goal – “give back” to the society and work towards what can I do to make the system sustainable – financially, spiritually and eco-friendly.”

Farm in Costa - Rica

“The plan is to look for the mango musketeers initially from Bangalore and slowly expand to pan-India and then to US and UK. The proceeds from the “goodness exchange” will go to fund the medium term objective which is called “EEE” program.”

Raj and Family
Packing Mangoes with Father in law

So what’s next for in your philanthropic journey? What strikes you as a particularly promising philanthropic investment?

My philosophy being centered on “Giving”, and I call it “Serve It Forward”. This initiative works multi-fold to touch the community around the farm and also be selfless in serving the society. First in this program, I am setting up a “goodness exchange” program. 20 ton mangoes is the yield from my young orchard every year, and a large part of it, I distribute to my friends and families. Every person who has tasted the healthy & sweet mangoes from the orchard, look forward for their packet every year. As part of the “goodness exchange” I am creating, a platform where anyone who registers can refer 10 people each to whom they would like to gift the fruits. This chain can go on.

These Mango musketeers can also get their children to come to the farm to experience and enjoy the happy outing. Get educated around healthy farming methods, importance of protecting eco-system, education around the fruits and their benefits. This not only will help children, but is something needed for their parents too. I don’t think people come to my farm to buy mangoes. They can buy mangoes anywhere. I want people to come to my farm to have a unique experience of giving. To be able to feel something, connect with people, to connect with food and to go away feeling more uplifted and more grounded at the same time. Which is what agriculture can do. Teaching all this to children, helps them develop these values in their formative years.

The plan is to look for the mango musketeers initially from Bangalore and slowly expand to pan-India and then to US and UK. The proceeds from the “goodness exchange” will go to fund the medium term objective which is called “EEE” program.

I know I am confusing you with way too many acronyms. Let me explain the EEE program to you. EEE stands for

  • Enriching the Ecosystem – Giving back to nature by nurturing it through planting more and more trees (Only fruit trees!) in the villages around my farm. Educate and establish the similar sustainable farming methods locally with poor farmers. Exploring new ways of farming with guidance well known professors and R&D establishments of Agriculture in Bangalore.
  • Empowering women economically – Who is better suited than a ‘Woman’ who has at her heart the very fact of nurturing and giving. Women will be employed in the farm to nurture the trees and help with the farming process. Empowering a woman will lead to social development. When you empower her, you empower her whole family, while giving a new workforce for society.
  • Enabling a Child in Life skills– I would like to create something that can be enjoyed by our future generations. I would like to engage with secondary and high school children in the neighboring villages on frequent trips to the farm. This engagement increases their access to education, leadership opportunities and raises their awareness on organic farming, health and hygiene. This program will complement formal educational systems. First batch of students who will receive these trainings will become “peer educators” for their friends and juniors through innovative lesson plans using mediums like seeing work on farm, discussion, theatre, art and dance. I am also looking at engaging child psychologists and counsellors to work with these children to equip them for the challenges of the real world. The long term initiative of this program is to set-up a “Life school” for the students in the nearby villages which will help them with both academic and spiritual development.

If a person is interested in learning more about organic farming, what’s your advice? Where should they start?

Green is ultimate environmental sustainability – having nothing but beneficial impact on all areas of the environment. Every small act can make a difference. Start with a small terrace garden. Buy the seed, keep planting, and keep experimenting. Don’t be afraid to fail. Nothing is more helpful than practical experience. Being a good observer, spending time in garden and finding an experienced mentor will bring you great rewards over time. If you want to know more on the “Serve-it-Forward” or the EEE program, please feel free to connect with me.

About Raj Reddy

Raj Reddy is an accomplished Business Leader and has worked extensively as skip level to the Board & CEOs of India’s Top 2 Indian IT Companies, Infosys and TCS. With over 20 years of rich and diverse experience in the IT and ITES industry across five continents, Raj’s expertise spans across Business, Delivery, Quality and HR. At CSS Corp, Raj heads Global Delivery Operations, Client Engagement, Technology Service Lines, Enterprise Quality and the Innovation Labs. Raj is passionate about Organic farming and lives in Bangalore.