People often say it takes a village to raise a child. But as Rodale Institute’s executive director Jeff Moyer learned on a recent trip to India, sometimes it takes a special individual to raise a village.
While in New Delhi attending the 19th Organic World Congress of IFOAM-Organics International, Moyer had the unique opportunity to meet with Sudheer Mudar, a forward-thinking entrepreneur who is using his organic essential oils export business, Mudar India Exports, to transform poor farming communities in the region. And as Moyer and his travel companions—Tom Harding of The Brice Institute in Wind Gap, Pa., and Pedro Landa, director of OIA in Argentina—discovered during the course of the visit, it all began with a transition to organic.
A Change for the Better
Determined to start a successful business and help cultivate a better way of life for conventional essential oil farmers in disadvantaged Indian villages, Mudar began the enormous task of organizing these laborers and directing them toward a more profitable agricultural pursuit: growing certified organic plants, which by their very nature command higher prices than their conventionally grown counterparts.
Moyer toured Bastara, the first village that Mudar raised into this system supporting his business, which now boasts 23 villages and roughly 3,500 farmers tending 4,000 hectares of land (nearly 10,000 U.S. acres). Each village is made up of hundreds of family farms. All grow plants, including basil, peppermint, spearmint, and corn mint (its oil a source of menthol), and process them using Mudar India Exports’ in-village, on-farm distillation units.
Mudar and his employees purchase these goods from the growers and transport them to a processing facility, where all facets of production take place—from quality control to filtering, blending, packing, and cold storage.
The company then sells the essential oil and menthol crystal end products to clients around the world, including Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, one of Rodale Institute’s major donors.
Unlike in the United States, where individual farms require their own organic certification, farms in India can obtain group certification. Through this allowance, Mudar and crew were able to help all 23 villages—each considered a group—transition to organic. The move has enabled these farmers to charge a higher premium for the product they sell Mudar India Exports—good for the laborers and good for Mudar, who can sell higher quality product to his clients demanding organic, like Santa Fe Natural Tobacco, which purchases the company’s organic menthol.
Now that these farmers are growing organically, says Mudar, they “are earning better incomes and living in a better way than before,” when they were subject to exploitation by local traders. They are “always happy investing low cost and getting higher prices for their products,” he says. The farmers’ families are also benefiting greatly from the transition to organic. Mudar shares that most of the villagers’ children are able to attend more desirable schools and get a superior education since the farmers are making more money.
Upon meeting the villagers—a “magical” moment for Rodale Institute’s executive director—Moyer says it was easy to see that they are proud of their certification and to be employing organic methods, such as using cover crops like mustard to control weeds. “They already worked with their hands. They already had the skill set. But they needed a crop with a higher return for their labor—and being certified organic has accomplished that for them,” he says.
Moyer and his colleagues were encouraged to see small farms, working as a community in sizeable villages, doing big business in India. According to Mudar, the company’s production exceeds 200 mt/annum, which is equivalent to about 220 U.S. tons annually.
Mudar has undoubtedly improved these essential oil farmers’ working lives by helping them obtain and maintain organic certification, the very tool they needed to generate more income. He and his workers oversee each farm’s practices and ensure laborers adhere to the highest standards. But as Moyer and company realized, Mudar’s humanitarian spirit didn’t allow him to stop there.
This extraordinary entrepreneur and his employees continue to advance the infrastructure in the farming villages that feed Mudar India Exports. In Bastara, the team built a brick structure to house community compost piles, which each farm can use free of charge for growing their own food for their families and working animals, as well as for their essential oil market crops.
The team has worked to install wells to provide villagers access to cleaner, safer drinking water, and they even constructed a Hindu shrine for communal and individual worship. Additionally, Mudar reports that to date, his company has installed 46 solar streetlights in the 23 villages he oversees.
Mudar India Exports also works to provide farm children with supplies such as school bags, notebooks, and pens to enhance their education and has gifted more than 200 eyeglasses to farming families in need.
An Essential Relationship
Mudar—equal parts entrepreneur and humanitarian—has certainly brought increased prosperity to Indian farmers. By guiding these skilled laborers toward a better working wage through a transition to organic and harnessing their skills to support his business, one might say he’s been and continues to be as essential to the villagers as the oils he’s selling.
To learn more about Mudar India Exports and its many projects and initiatives, visit www.mudarindia.com.