‘FeelGood’: A Whatsapp group inspiring farmers in Uttarakhand

‘FeelGood’: A Whatsapp group inspiring farmers in Uttarakhand

‘FeelGood’: A Whatsapp group inspiring farmers in Uttarakhand

Vikas Chandra was inspired by the WhatsApp group to start 'integrated farming' and is now glad that he doesn't have to migrate to the city like his peers in the village.  (Picture provided by Chandra)

A Whatsapp group created in 2017 has become a space to connect hill farmers with new agricultural and horticultural ideas, techniques and solutions.

Pauri: "I farmed my whole life but remained a simple farmer. My 30 nali land (a unit land measurement in the mountains area; 1 nali equals 0.05 acres) was lying barren for 50 years. There wasn't even a bird there. But now I have 421 trees of 19 species, including mango, guava, walnut, jamun, apple, orange, kinnow, apricot and amla. I have become a farmer as well as a gardener. Not just the common people, but even officials from the Agriculture and Horticulture Department have come to see my garden," said Harish Chand Mundepi.

In the last two and a half years, a lot has changed for this 62-year-old farmer. Hailing from Khed village, situated in Pauri's Pokhra block in Uttarakhand, Mundepi has been running his household by farming in the challenging mountainous terrain. However, a Whatsapp group that Mundepi joined at the end of 2018 has shown him the true potential of his land and his experience. 

Formed in 2017, the 'Feelgood Whatsapp group' is a virtual space for discussions about farming, agriculture and horticulture in the mountains.

Speaking about the inception of the group, admin Sudheer Sundriyal said, "After 18 years in Delhi, I returned to my village in Pauri in 2014. Even while I was away, my mind used to keep wandering these mountains. So when I came back, I started farming in the village. I constantly tried new experiments in gardening. During this time I also used to meet other successful farmers and gardeners. Then one of my friends suggested creating a Whatsapp group where we can help each other and share information related to agriculture and horticulture. In the year 2016, I created this group and named it Feelgood. In Garhwali language, it translates to Bhalu Lagad."

Sundriyal said, "In this group, we refrain from politics, jokes, or viral posts. People talk only on topics related to science, agriculture, the environment and its education. The group's purpose is to promote and improve agricultural and horticultural activities, settle barren fields and encourage water conservation." 

'FeelGood' about all things agriculture

Indeed, the purpose seems to be met for Mundepi who appears to have been inspired by the WhatsApp group and benefited from it. "After joining the Feelgood WhatsApp group, I started getting information about new farming and gardening techniques. When people in the group shared pictures of their gardens, I also got inspired to do something in the fields. So I prepared my barren land for gardening by asking for a power tiller. In the spaces where the tiller couldn't be used, I prepared the land with a pickaxe," shared Mundepi. 

Harish Chand Mundepi said he discovered new 'wisdom' after joining the WhatsApp group (Picture provided by Mundepi)

He added that, in this group, people help each other with several issues, such as ways to tackle infestations or obtain certain speciality plants. The Whatsapp group helped him find saplings of the Amrapali species of mango, for example. "I had got ten saplings from the Horticulture Department, but I was not satisfied with the quality. Then, I asked for information about Amrapali plants in the Feelgood Whatsapp group. With their help, I got 40 plants of good quality. This species starts bearing fruit within three years," Mundepi said.

The discussions in the group have opened up opportunities in farming for both experienced farmers and the youth.

Vikas Chandra (27) lives in Bhatti village of Kaljikhal block of Pauri. Many young people in this village have migrated to the cities for employment. He said, "I used to do traditional farming. My family members would ask me to move to a big city like Delhi for a job. When I joined Feelgood and saw people discussing agriculture, my understanding developed. I started ‘integrated farming’ that includes animal husbandry, beekeeping, poultry and mushroom production. Now I don't need to go to the city for a job."

The e-magazine 'Whatsapp Vani' 

Over time, important messages and ideas would get lost in the virtual space. So the members of the group began producing a monthly e-magazine in 2019 that features selected highlights from the Whatsapp group along with positive/success stories. 

These stories have reached many people and inspired them. Nupur Navani, a group member who works in Dehradun, said, "There is a lot of scope for work in Uttarakhand. But I didn't know people have already been doing so much. I saw how people are rejuvenating barren lands that had no hope of nurturing anything. Now I too want to do something by staying in the mountains. I feel very inspired by the conversations happening in the Feelgood Whatsapp Group."

It's not just those living in Delhi or Maharashtra, but even Pahadis from America are associated with this group and help each other when required, said Sundriyal.

His words ring true in the Nandurbar district in Maharashtra, about 1500 km from Pauri, where Ravindra Kunwar farms on the banks of the Tapti river. He met Sundriyal in Delhi and joined the WhatsApp group to learn about farming techniques and improve his exports.

Screenshots from the WhatsApp group (left) and the monthly e-magazine (right) produced by the group featuring some of the topics discussed in the group and success stories.

Kunwar grows crops like papaya, banana, sugarcane, cotton, chilly, turmeric, and ginger. "The mountainous villages of Uttarakhand that are affected by migration cannot be inhabited unless the agriculture there is improved. Farmers need to be aware that agriculture has changed in several ways since the time of our fathers and grandfathers," said Kunwar.

On this Whatsapp group, he shares information about various things such as the quality of seeds, the soil requirements for crops, the right time to fertilise plants etc. After joining the group Kumar claims to have made many friends in Uttarakhand and visited the Garhwal region. 

The group, which is already 250-members strong, is slowly nurturing conversations and rejuvenating not just barren lands but also employment opportunities making everyone in the region truly 'feel good' about the future of farming. "While living in Delhi, I used to have many friends from here who also wished they could return to their villages. Now they feel they too can come back and take up farming. That feels good," said Sundriyal.


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