Tamil Nadu

The Indian Young Farmers Forum, a collective where successful farmers mentor those new to farming

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Six years ago, Pradeep Kumar Manickam, 39,began farming on his arid ancestral land in Karur, Tamil Nadu. The barren five-acre farm is now a flourishing ‘food forest’ with 200 varieties of edible native species. Similarly, A Jai Ganesh, 45, conducted repeated trails with dragon fruit cultivation for over five years, before converting his one-acre plot at Illupanagaram village near Udumalpet into a thriving farm with 4,000 plants, of which 80% are already fruiting.

“It’s time to talk about economic success in farming,” says Saravanan Chandrasekaran, 32, who has formed Indian Young Farmers Forum, a collective where successful farmers mentor newcomers. “Identifying success stories is the first step, followed by farm visits to replicate the model.” The forum has 75 members, with an age cap of 45. However, experienced mentors of different ages form the advisory panel.

Saravanan points to a growing trend in the last 10 years, where many young people are making a mid-career drift to invest in agricultural land and start farming. Kailash Nandan, 27, worked in Bengaluru for a few years before returning to his ancestral land at Narasipuram. “I wanted to try out non-conventional farming atour Nandan Agri Farms. We have coconut, arecanut, turmeric, groundnut, and sesame on a commercial scale. The forum is a neutral place to collaborate and learn from each other. We have verified members who supply customised agriculture equipment. Then, there are others like the team of Kultivate, an agri-tech startup by people who have returned from the US after working there for over a decade.”

Future plans
  • Register the forum as a Farmer Producer Organisation
  • Conduct short-term workshops and training programmes with experts
  • Encourage scientific farming and share core expertise, for example selecting quality seeds.
  • Make regular farm visits across Tamil Nadu to learn from successful farmers
  • Promote farm internships -an opportunity to intern at a model farm
  • To know more, email youngfarmerforum@ gmail.com or call 90030-99166

Some of the members are part-time farmers, including Saravanan who works as an administrative officer at Kumaraguru Institute of Agriculture. He owns over 15 acres in Pollachi where he is developing a food forest with native guava, sapota, and tamarind trees. “The forest is taken care of by Nature. There is no intensive farming. We just harvest. People pay a premium to source good food from an authentic source. We have to understand and adapt.”

Jai Ganesh, an engineer and a part-time farmer is experimenting with a drought-resistant variety of apple ber (ziziphus) at his dragon fruit farm in Udumalpet. “We tried avocado, and Manila tamarind too. Purchase of healthy raw material is the key. Those who are new to farming often buy young plants from nursery that may not survive.”

The forum also encourages use of technology in farming “In the West, farmers master it. Our country is a land of small farmers; the average land holding of an Indian farmer is 1.5 acres. We cannot push a futuristic thought or technology to experiment. That’s why this forum is significant, as young farmers here are economically stable, have a good volume of land, and are willing to experiment. We expose small farmers to technologies that are already a success,” says Saravanan.

He also quotes the example of Pradeep, an IT employee in Bengaluru and a part-time farmer who owns Rangamalai Organic Farm in Karur. “ His farm has a revenue model of ₹ 35,000 a month from half an acre of land. This is an income-generating model that may be a newcomer can try. Another member has a large scale dairy farm with over 100 Gir cows. He can easily adopt technologies in livestock and show the way for newcomers.”

Agrees Sivaram Ayyasamy, a 30-year-old IT employee and part-time farmer, “We want to help farmers and newcomers have a sustainable economy, right from purchase of land to marketing. At my farm in Arasipalayam we have free range chicken and Kangeyam cows. We have organic coconut, and grow corn and other millets and mahogany plantation. We have set up a percolation pond at the farm for rainwater harvesting and recharge ground water table.”

The spotlight is on sustainable farming, adds 32-year-old K Gnana Saravanan, an award-winning agripreneur of Deesan Farm at Meenakshipuram, on the Tamil Nadu- Kerala border. He adds, “We have integrated farming of coconut and other inter-crops like banana, nutmeg, and arecanut. We are also experimenting high-density guava plantation.” Deesan Farm is identified by the Kerala Government as a model integrated farm in Palakkad district. “A lot of farmers visit us. I conduct classes on natural farming for youngsters. A farmer has to be self-reliant.”

So, how does one become a farmer? Pradeep Kumar replies, “Well, you become one.” In his internship programme, aspirants from across India stay at his farm for up to three months and get exposure in end-to-end farming. His farm has a community seed bank to conserve native species. “We practise farming just like our ancestors: we thrive on value additions. If we cultivate groundnut, we ensure to extract oil.”

His social media pages document natural agriculture methods and how a farmer can create a sustainable business out of agriculture. “When you choose farming as a way of life, you better ensure that it’s the most profitable business on Earth.”

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