Growing a Green Revolution in Arid Southern Tamil Nadu

Growing a Green Revolution in Arid Southern Tamil Nadu

Submitted by Editor on Sun, 2016-01-24 13:10 Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu: Welcome to Akal Farms in midst of deserted, wild growth of arid lands – an oasis of greenery with fruit-bearing trees presenting a pleasing sight.A small band of industrious, ingenuous and hard-working Sardars from Punjab’s farms in Sangroor, Moga, Sangrur and Ludhiana have sown the seeds of Punjab’s Green Revolution in the midst of barren, dry, bushy and intimidating lands in southern Tamil Nadu’s worst drought affected region of Kamuthi taluka in Ramanathapuram district.Yes, they have already grown a little Punjab in Tamil Nadu’s Vallandhai village. Local administration officials troop in now and then, express wonder, and give their example to neighbors – if they can do it, you too can.The sardars of this ‘Akal Farms’  are today a source of both “inspiration as also a source of jealousy” to their many neighbors, some of whom have sold their ‘waste lands’ as they thought them to be then – not so long ago in 2007.But today, many are repenting -- like 48 year old Karruppuswamy, a marginal farmer, who gave away his land at Rs 10,000 an acre. Today he has to look for work as a daily wager doing odd jobs even as the Singhs are prospering in the same farms.Unmindful of the sentiments they are generating, the Singh farmers as they are called here, carry on with their good work in the manner they best know – immersing selves in their grow more mission and expand their operations.Which is why, their target is to replicate their success in turning 115 acres into lush green fruit orchards in some 400 acres in two years. They may well do it, given their success.The Sardar Success Story has also had its resonance in far-away homeland of Punjab with as many as 50 families arriving or shortly arriving in the backward region of Southern Tamil Nadu to try their luck with farming here.The contrast cannot be more striking: for few kms as one approaches the Vallandai village, on either side of the broken metaled road, lie acres and acres of barren, dry parched lands which sport wild growth of bushy, thorny plants and trees.Suddenly, as the sign board of Akal Farms springs up in welcome, the fields dress themselves in dark and light green, in mango groves and coconut plantations.When I visited Akal Farms, Sardar Manmohan Singh, 65, a towering six foot farmer owning one of the most famous names in the country, was interviewing Alaghu Kannan who holds a doctorate in horticulture,  for a consultant's job at the farm. Darshan Singh -- another farmer hailing from Sangroor in Punjab, is the other panelist. Manmohan Singh shoots a few questions to the small built Tamilian scholar, and evaluates answers carefully. In half an hour, the matriculate has hired the PhD holder for the job of a consultant on horticulture and agricultural practices and for the expansion programme.Yes, from 115 acres of farming now, Sardar Manmohan Singh has fixed a goal of 400 acres within the next two years -- 400 acres of fruit orchards and inter-crop vegetables to supplement farm income.In all, Punjab farmers have bought up nearly 900 acres of land, scattered in four or five villages nearby. Some land would be sold off, when the price is right. Already, land prices have shot up many fold, and land is not available even for Rs one and half lakh per acre or so.For the present, Sardar Manmohan Singh is also developing another chunk of 80 acres of fruit orchards, from the saplings and plants reared at the 4 acre test farm. “We have got the results of the test farm and we will take what we need for our expansion programme,” Sardar Manmohan Singh said. In 40 acres we will do Amla and add Papaya also as a fruit, he said. “The idea is to eventually develop 80 acres to 100 acres every year,” he said.When we visited the farm, there were 17 people living 24X7 at the farms – all of whom owe allegiance to Baba Sant Guru Iqbal Singh. It was on his advice that they fanned out to Tamil Nadu as lands are cheap there. “We began purchasing lands here in 2007 and spent the first three years till 2009 to develop the land,” said Darshan Singh, the nuts and bolts man elaborated. “At first they must have thought we were committing a mistake by taking up lands there. But today, they are astonished and now some surely regret having sold off their lands,” he said adding that “one positive result of the farming success is  that land prices in this village and surrounding villages have shot up by ten times.”“We spent six months, flattening the surface, removing shrubs and trees and waste from the jungle like area, using earth movers,” Darshan Singh said. “They said there is no water, but we found water and use drip irrigation for our farming,” he said.Their native intelligence came to the fore when they sought scientific advice, took help of local experts on soil, nature, weather and kind of fruits and plants they can raise. It was cash crops --  fruits and vegetables (for steady income till the fruit crop begin to give yield in three or four year’s time).At present, Akal Farms have fruit plantations of Mango, Guava, Amla, Sapota and Papaya. And for inter-crop, vegetables being planted are cucumber, water melon, pumpkin, musk melon.Money wise, the vegetables give the farm an income which is used for daily expenses. For example, every day 200 kgs of cucumbers are sold. For the first time, the Mango plantation gave crop after Akal Farms started operations and the sale of different mangos put together yielded a sum of Rs 10 lakh, Sardar Manmohan Singh said.“I expect the farm to break even and even start making profits from the next season,” he saidadding for the present the farm is yielding sustenance wages.Sardar Manmohan Singh, was happy with the latest recruit, Kannan, who has already begun planning ahead for expansion operations.Kannan found Akal Farms to be the most scientific farm in a drought prone region of Ramanathapuram district. His advice was to concentrate on high cash crops and increase “inter-crops” for regular cash flow. He advocates use of plastic mulching technique and some tools to increase the yield of crops."In two years, you will see a much bigger Punjab here,” a beaming Sardar Manmohan Singh, waving to the dining table laid out for the group. Aroma of Punjabi food wafted through the air as we settled down for a daal, subji and chapatti lunch, accompanied by kheera raita and gud (jaggery).After lunch, he took us to orchard and showed us the various fruit trees. The forest of fruit trees comprise the  choicest of Mango brands – Banganapalli,  Alphonso, Ratna, and Himampasand – Guvavas and Sapota. The demonstration effect on the villagers nearby is that now they are hanging onto their lands, and some have even begun copying. And even learning from the Sardars, who are willing to share their knowledge. As they want to be good neighbors.A renowned doctor in Madurai, Dr G Natchiar, vice president of Arvind Eye Care who is an organic farmer herself, has become a fan of the sardars.  “Yes, they have done a commendable job for which they must be appreciated,” she said.“They are an inspiration, their dedication and hard work are lessons that anyone can learn,” she said.K Karruppuswamy, a 48 year old farmer of Vallandai village who sold his two and half acres of land to Darshan Singh and company for a mere 25,000, is disappointed today. “At that time, the land was waste, and I thought I had got a good deal. No one was buying any land then and so it was profitable then,” he said adding now “I repent. But it is no use now to regret as we have sold off.”What the villagers find it a bit galling is that the Singh farmers do not give any jobs to the locals. Barring few odd women, most of the work force is imported from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.The villagers have an explanation as to why the Punjab farmers succeeded – theirs is a huge money investment and they can wait for long period for returns. They have staying power and money and can do farming on huge area of lands and get benefits from economies of scale.But most of the villagers are marginal farmers with small holdings. “We have to get money back quickly and cannot wait for cash crops with long gestation, so we cannot replicate the success of the Akal Farms,” said Karruppuswamy.“What we never got was government help, which the Singh farmers are getting,” another loca farmer alleged. “The Singh farmers are also utilizing all the government schemes and getting benefits that the state government gives to the farming sector,” said an agriculture department official in Ramanathapuram.This comment more or less sums up the grudging admiration the villagers have come to show and accept the reality, that hard work does indeed pay off.