Nek Ram Sharma, a farmer from Nanj village in Karsog sub-division of Mandi district, has been awarded the Padma Shri by President Droupadi Murmu for his efforts in promoting traditional crop systems and sustainable agriculture.
For the past 30 years, Sharma has been utilizing intercropping and organic farming techniques, taking advantage of the indigenous seeds given to him by his elders. He has resuscitated the traditional crop system of nine food grains, which were in danger of disappearing, and identified crops that need less water, increase soil fertility, repel bugs, and develop rapidly in smaller areas of land.
Sharma's journey to organic farming started in the mid-90s, as he noticed the hazardous effects of chemical fertilizers on the soil fertility of the valley. By the mid-2000s, he had eliminated the use of chemical and fertilizers on his land and reinstated millet cultivation - a highly nutritious grain that helps restore land nourishment.
By the turn of the century, he had revived seven types of millet that were in danger of being lost forever: finger, foxtail, proso, kodo, buckwheat, sorghum, and pearl. Sharma's work is an inspiration for farmers across India, who face decreasing crop yields and diminishing soil nutrition levels due to the excessive usage of chemical fertilizers. He not only works in the farming industry but also backs up local artisans, pushing their handcrafted items to a bigger number of buyers, aiding them to become self-reliant and maintain their livelihood.
The promotion of indigenous farming techniques and organic farming methods has helped make farming land sustainable. His efforts have also helped in identifying crops that need less water and repel insects, while growing faster in small patches of land.