Lucknow: Even as farmers across the country are taking to the streets against the central government's three new farm laws, a 23-year-old law graduate, Gurleen Chawla, is silently bringing a farming revolution in the parched Bundelkhand area, by growing strawberries.
Her efforts were lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his first 'Mann Ki Baat’ address of 2021. In his radio address, Modi said that “Gurleen’s successful experiment has given a new hope -- that growing strawberries is possible in Jhansi as well”.
“I just came back from Delhi on Sunday morning, only to be thrilled that the Prime Minister has appreciated my strawberry farming experiment,” she said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has already acknowledged her feat and made her the Brand Ambassador of the month-long ‘Strawberry Festival’ in Jhansi, which began on January 16.
Overnight, Gurleen has become a celebrity. She is now known as the 'Strawberry Girl' across Bundelkhand, where farming, least of all strawberries, is a distant dream for many due to the poor soil, hot weather conditions, parched land, less rainfall, and no irrigation facility.
Talking to the Free Press Journal, Gurleen claimed that it started during the lockdown, when she helped her father Harjeet Singh Chawla, also a businessman, in maintaining their terrace garden.
“I never had any inclination towards farming. It all started when I bought ten seedlings of strawberry and sowed them in pots filled with coco-peat at our small terrace garden. I was excited when small plants started bearing fruits,” she said.
“The fruits were small in size but they were juicy and tasty,” she recalls.
Her father then went on to encourage her and she developed 4.5 acres of a barren land, that was bought by her father years ago, but was lying vacant at the moment.
“I bought 20,000 strawberry seedlings, grown with tissue culture, and sowed them in 1.5 acres using organic fertilizers and the latest techniques in October last year,” she said.
Gurleen claimed that since strawberries need little water retention and a maximum temperature up to 35 degrees, the climate and soil in Jhansi just did wonders with the strawberry seedlings.
“All of them are now bearing bigger and juicier fruits. I am expecting a total yield of 10,000 kg this season. We pluck daily and sell it to local supermarkets at Rs 250 per kg,” she said.
To market her produce online, she has developed a website -- www.jhansiorganics.com -- to sell the strawberries outside Jhansi as well.
“I have a marketing consultant who is exploring bigger markets for the next season,” she says.
Besides growing strawberries, Gurleen is using the remaining three acres of land for growing organic bell pepper, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, and other seasonal vegetables to increase her income.
In less than six months, the ‘Strawberry Girl’ from Jhansi has set an example before the farming community that policies don’t increase the income from the farm sector but progressive approach, newer technology, and sustained efforts help double the income from farming.