Agri-Business

Makes farming a profitable venture

A view of the Purvabhumi farm in Pudukottai. Photo: A. Muralitharan

A view of the Purvabhumi farm in Pudukottai. Photo: A. Muralitharan   | Photo Credit: A_MURALITHARAN

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An edible food forest raised on zero-cost principle

Purvabhumi, the ‘adisil vanam’ (edible food forest), spread across 107 acres at Mudukulam village of Gandarvakottai taluk in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, was once a cashew grove. It has been brought to this shape over 22 years of hard work, continuous financial loss and a determination to make farming a profit-making venture. The turnaround was made possible with analytical reasoning, costing and application of appropriate technology.

The cashew grove was bought in 1993-94 for raising palmarosa grass when R. Senthilnathan, an entrepreneur of Tiruchi, who now manages the farm, was a student. The project was given up soon as the yield was low. Sugarcane replaced palmarosa, but it was also given up due to delay in receipt of cutting order and payment from sugar mills. It gave way for banana, which again, proved to be labour-intensive and failed to yield profit due to price fluctuation. Coconut was planted in 1997-98 but the revenue was low due to disease and lower yields.

Mr. Senthilnathan returned from the U.S. to look after his farm in 2005. He opted for precision farming after Geographical Information System mapping of the farm, including the co-ordinates of each tree. This helped in identifying the nature and yield of each tree and eliminate the ones that bore less than 75 nuts.

Five hundred trees were removed and fertigation was optimised. The yield went up to 225 nuts per tree in 2010, against 135 in 2006. “Still it was unprofitable as the price was not under the farmer's control,” says Mr. Senthilnathan.

The price has not improved much -- it was Rs.6 per coconut in 1998, Rs.4 in 2008 and Rs.8 in 2015.

At this time, a study of daily weather readings at the farm revealed a truth – rainfall is falling due to global warming. Against an average annual rainfall of 90-120 cm, it was 47 cm in 2012, 54 cm in 2013 and 62 cm in 2014. “I foresaw a problem for agri business in this weather pattern, which paved the way to work with nature. After consulting experts, I tried different schools of scientific methods. The results were good but failed on economics. I realised that the only way out was ecological farming,” recalls Mr. Senthilnathan.

By stopping the use of fertilisers and bringing down the labour cost by focusing on essentials, the cost of production came down. Every rupee that was spent afterwards was only towards planting seedlings, which is an investment rather than expenditure.

A matrix of crops was drawn up for the farm and a variety of trees planted by applying permaculture principles, simulating the features of a natural eco-system. The farm has a variety of timber, fruits, vegetables, spices, sugarcane, coffee and cocoa.

A zero-cost principle adopted in the farm meant that coconuts would be collected after they fall from the tree and not plucked. A solar dryer is used to convert coconut into copra and oil is extracted. “Everything, except the oil, goes back to the soil. Ultimately, I want only profit, not revenue,” says Mr. Senthilnathan.

After continuous losses since 1997-98, the farm registered a profit of Rs.1.5 lakh per acre in 2014.

Today, it adopts multi-tier cropping to enhance the soil quality and profit. “We do not allow sunlight to fall on the ground. The trees and plants harvest sunlight, converting energy into money,” says Ammapettai Venkatachalam, an expert in organic farming. The farm plans to start a centre to offer training in organic farming and various other practices.

More details about the food forest can be had from Purvabhumi, Mudukulam, Gandarvakottai Taluk, Pudukottai District 622203. Phone: 94425 70075 (P. Sunderraj, Farm Manager).

annamalai.s@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 10:21:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/agri-business/makes-farming-a-profitable-venture/article7622235.ece

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