Dharambir Kamboj and his food processing machine (in front). His work has earned him numerous awards, including from the Fifth and Seventh National Biennial Award Function for Grassroots Technological Innovations and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge in 2009 (State award) and 2011 (National first award). He is one of the five innovation scholars selected for First Scholar in the residence programme at the President of India House.
Photo: A. Dey


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There are many farmers throughout the world who have clever ideas when it comes to optimising their work routines or creating new sources of income. However, they usually lack the institutional support needed to turn these ideas into practice or viable market-ready products. The following entrepreneurial example from India shows how the potential of these grassroots innovators can be tapped for larger social good.

Dharambir Kamboj used to be a cycle rickshaw driver in Delhi. While ferrying passengers to a herbal medicine market in old Delhi, he picked up a lot of knowledge about the medicinal plants and their uses. After meeting with an accident leaving him injured and without a rickshaw, he had to return to his village to recover. It was then that he considered putting his knowledge of herbal plants and products to better use to augment his livelihood. He recalled accompanying his mother in his younger days to collect Kesuda (Butea monosperma) flowers. These flowers are used to make natural colours for playing Holi – an ancient Hindu religious festival which is also known as the “Festival of Colours”. He could not afford education after class ten and started helping his father on the farm.

The first steps

When the idea came up to use his knowledge of herbal plants and products to make a livelihood, Dharambir was using a small piece of land of an acre and a half to grow various medicinal plants and exotic fruits and vegetables like strawberries, button mushroom, baby corn, etc.

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