ORGANIC INDIA restores hope and livelihood to beleaguered Indian farmers

By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: March 1, 2012

Category: Non-GMO Company Profiles

Organic India hope for Indian farmers

To access all the articles in this month's issue of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, SUBSCRIBE NOW.

Cultivating organic Tulsi plants provides much more than a warm cup of tea

When Israeli Yoav Lev (Bharat Mitra) and Holly (Bhavani) Lev came to India in the 1990s in search of enlightenment, herbal tea wasn’t foremost in their minds. But at the suggestion of their teacher Sri H.W.L. Poonja, known as Papaji, they began developing organic formulations to improve the health of the many followers flocking to Lucknow.

The recommended herb was Tulsi, or holy basil, known in India as “Queen of Herbs” and revered as a sacred plant for over 5,000 years. In 1997, Mitra, then president of the Indo Israel Trading Corporation, sought small farmers to grow organic Tulsi in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the land was relatively pure. Many were reluctant, seeing no market for the household plant and jaded by failed promises of other companies—but finally one farmer agreed. Now the company, which became ORGANIC INDIA in 2006ἀ , employs 900 contract farmers working 11,500 acres of certified organic land. With offices in India and Boulder, CO, ORGANIC INDIA exports 18 flavors of organic Tulsi tea as well as herbal supplements and spices to nearly 30 countries around the globe. The company also produces grains, organic psyllium, and cane syrups fortified with healing herbs.

With a dozen employees in the US and several hundred in India, the company aims to serve as a “vehicle of consciousness” in the global market by embracing a sustainable business model, a commitment to service, integrity, and quality, and respect for all beings and for Mother Nature. In a very tangible sense, ORGANIC INDIA is changing the agricultural, social, and financial climate for small, marginal farmers desperately in need of help.

Organic Revolution

Organic farming was central to the founders’ vision. “They saw how conventional agriculture, along with biotechnology, has destroyed the land, the economy and the spirits of the farmers,” said Michele Sondheimer, general manager of ORGANIC INDIA USA. “The number of farmer suicides is huge. So their mission became a restoration of healthy soil to nurture the farmers, so they can grow products promoting health for consumers worldwide.”

“I knew this could be the beginning of a revolution,” said Mitra in an interview with Organic Processing Magazine.

Beginning with the highest quality organic seed, agricultural experts teach crop rotation, sustainable harvesting, bio-dynamics, and harvesting and dehydration methods that protect the purity and potency of the herbs.

ORGANIC INDIA has helped transition 130,000 acres to organic (in addition to its own production land), and certified over 592,000 acres of forest as organic, employing native tribes to harvest wild herbs used in its product lines.

It has joined with the Uttar Pradesh forest department to plant 1,000,000 Tulsi saplings around the Taj Mahal to minimize the effects of environmental pollution. CEO Krishan Gupta also announced a joint venture with Andhra Pradesh farmers to transition 600,000 acres of mangos to organic.

ORGANIC INDIA products have certifications from SQF, HACCP, GMP, ISO 9001:2008, and USDA, EU, and India’s National Programme for Organic Production organic certifiers.

Medicinal Herbs find global audience

Dr. Narendra Singh, a pioneering researcher of medicinal herbal preparations for four decades, has given exclusive rights to his formulations to ORGANIC INDIA. Dr. Singh specializes in anti-stress properties and therapeutic applications of classical Ayurvedic herbs. Interestingly, the first farmer who agreed to grow organic Tulsi was from Azamgahr, Dr. Singh’s home village.

Tulsi is believed to support longevity, reduce stress and inflammation, enhance immunity, and improve digestions and metabolism.

Organic, non-GMO status: Core of the Mission

“Our organic umbrella protects us from GMOs,” said Michele. “Our products don’t have GMO alternatives yet…but we are nonetheless absolutely against GMOs, valuing the health of people and the land.”

The company has been very active in GMO labeling efforts, including sponsorship of the Sustainable Living Roadshow (SLR) this year. SLR participated in the Right2Know March from New York to Washington, passing out ORGANIC INDIA tea bags along the way. ORGANIC INDIA also participated in the Just Say No to GMOs rally in Denver; national sales manager Heather Henning acted as emcee.

“Supporting the non-GMO movement is at the top of our list,” said Michele. “Awareness of the devastating effect GMO crops have had on Indian farmers is behind everything we do.”

The Tulsi teas are sold in over 10,000 outlets including natural food stores, crossover groceries such as Wegmans, and through online marketers. ORGANIC INDIA also operates 10 exclusive retail outlets in India.

The financial goal is to make ORGANIC INDIA a Rs. 200 crore (about $40 million USD) company in three years, Krishan said.

The effect on India of this commercial success? In the village communities growing its organic products in rural India, asthma rates have dropped from 70% to less than 5%, miscarriages are at an all-time low, and livestock mortality is down as pesticide use has disappeared. Premiums have paid for children to go to school. Biodiversity is alive again. Women are receiving the same pay as men and are given free education and training. The ORGANIC INDIA Foundation opened its first free health care clinic in Azamgahr, where two full-time doctors treat patients with both Western and traditional medicines. And most important, farming has become a respected profession once again.

“Farmers have dignity in being farmers again,” Mitra said. “They’re no longer slaves of the chemical industry.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, March 2012