If you ever visit Pennagaram village in Tamil Nadu border, you may come across forty-something Hari Nath toiling in his fields. You are most likely to brush him off as just another farmer unless you google Dr Hari Nath Kasiganesan. A drug researcher of global repute, he left his lucrative job as a high-profile drug scientist in USA to promote organic farming and traditional medicines in his village. His humility, which he professes to be inspired by his former supervisor Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, is rare to find in a dignitary of his stature.
Dr Hari Nath has worked for 12 years in the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) in India before moving to USA, where he coordinated with top international pharmaceutical companies to discover patented drugs for cardiac ailments. He did not lack any comforts in his perfect life abroad until an incident motivated him to think otherwise. Fast forward today, Pennagaram is blessed with a true son of the soil who is incorporating his refined medical wisdom to transform the dynamics of rural farming.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
“I was born into a family of teachers in a village full of farmers.”
Brought up by his mother after his father’s death at a very young age, Dr Hari Nath was exposed to farming right from his childhood. Moreover, the proximity of a forest from his village helped him enjoy a “very lush green childhood”.
After completing his Masters from Chennai, he worked briefly as a lecturer in CMC, Vellore. He joined DRDO in 1993 as a senior research fellow in the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, where he was assigned to research on the health of the soldiers working in extreme environments. During that period, Dr Hari Nath fondly recalls, “I was lucky to have personally interacted with Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on many an occasion. His magnanimous personality had an awe-inspiring effect on me or anyone who stood near him.”
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In 2005, he shifted to USA to join the faculty of Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. For a decade, he worked as an eminent drug researcher in Cardiology. “I have published numerous papers and have many patents on the drugs I discovered,” shares Dr Hari Nath.
The turning point
“After a point, I realised that most of my research was not penetrating into the lives of those who needed it the most. I was merely adding to the profits of corporate pharmaceutical houses,” preludes Dr Hari Nath, while narrating the personal incident that compelled him to rethink. Back home, after his retirement, Dr Hari Nath’s mother was diagnosed with advanced Arthritis and Spondylitis. As per the standard medical procedure, her physician prescribed painkillers, which failed to remove her pain. Instead, she developed gastric ulcer due to their side effects.
After that, topical painkillers and painful intravenous injections were administered regularly, but she stopped responding to all these drugs. “Her condition was getting worse day by day. I was in the core medical field myself, it pained me to see that I am failing to take care of my own mother,” shares Dr Hari Nath.
He started looking outside conventional treatment methods and came across a review article about the health benefits of Moringa oleifera (drumstick leaves), which found mention as a medicine in local folklore. “Upon my suggestion, my mother started drinking boiled Moringa juice every morning. She was completely cured in no time,” he said. With a hearty laugh, Dr Hari Nath says that his mother now plans to build a temple for Moringa trees.
Soon after this, he decided to return to his village permanently and start a societal mission to spread awareness about traditional herbal medicines and organic farming.
Before moving back in January 2015, for two years, Dr Hari Nath did extensive research in London on organic farming.
With his mother’s encouragement, he bought a plot of land and ensued chemical-free cultivation of grains, herbs, fruits and vegetables. “I travelled across Tamil Nadu identifying rare and forgotten varieties of rice like mapillai samba, kichili samba, karung kuruvai and vasanai seeraga samba which have high medicinal potency. These have found mention in Siddha literature (ancient Tamil medicinal doctrine). I started growing these in my farm alongside Moringa, curry leaves, Amla etc,” he narrates.
In addition, he has prepared the Moringa bullet, a nutraceutical product made with Moringa extracts, alongside other traditional herbal concoctions. The Moringa bullet has worked wonders for many locals suffering from Arthritis, Diabetes, Anaemia or High Blood Pressure. “I wish to put our local folklore under the scientific parlance. I have submitted some of my natural medicine samples to the DRDO for further research.”
Today, he and his family members reached out to the local farming community through women’s groups and farmer’s markets, spreading awareness about organic farming. He has also established an institute near Chennai that teaches about agricultural medicine.
Why we should switch to organic food
“A packet of urea says 45% urea, do you know what the rest 55% is? Nothing but chemical fillers that completely erase the soil microbial population. When we eat the crops grown in such soil, we are becoming nutritionally deficient. The shops sell bigger and colourful hybrid vegetables by branding them as ‘farm-fresh’. But nobody understands the amount of toxin entering their body when they eat these.” Dr Hari Nath expresses with concern.
“I remember once I donated traditionally milled gingelly (sesame) oil from my farm to the local temple for a community feast. The priest was doubtful about the oil’s purity since it didn’t have the bright golden tint like popular oil brands. He was shocked when I revealed to him how synthetic toxins bring that golden tint.”
He goes on to explain the beautiful symbiosis of nature and human that has persisted over thousands of years of evolution, and how uncontrolled use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides is destroying this ecological balance. The plants acquire over 100 nutritional elements from the soil, in a synchronised exchange with the soil microbes. Also, the soil microbes assist in the immune defence system of the plants, negating the need for synthetic pesticides. On consuming these plants, humans are benefited with wholesome nutrition.
He adds, “Organic crops activate the detoxification system in your body that drains all those harmful chemicals you have ingested so far.”
“Even a small child can tell organic vegetables from conventionally farmed ones. You see, the basic difference is the taste” Dr Hari Nath reveals.
He started as an individual, but today he has successfully motivated his village to adopt organic farming. He remains to be an unsung hero who has truly dedicated his life and wisdom to the very soil of his motherland.
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
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“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.