Turning a barren land into a garden of Eden
Can desert fruits be grown in Tamil Nadu? Walk into P Raghupathy’s sprawling 28-acre farm in Pollachi and you will be surprised to see Arabian dates and 29 other exotic species of fruits. Stroll around and you will have more surprises: Alien trees like silver oak, teak, pine, avocado, date palms and cocoa can be spotted.
Of course, there is a story behind this endeavour as the lush green farm was once a barren land that was scientifically certified as unfit for cultivation. Raghu moved to the farm town of Pollachi in 1995, admiring the green pastures that lined the roads. In the next two years there were no rains. In 1998 drought hit Pollachi leaving farmers in dire straits.
“This moved me so deeply. I felt the urge to do something, but ‘how’ was the real question,” Raghu says. With an electronics engineering degree, Raghu had no clue about farming or tree plantation. So he embarked on a journey into the world of farming by reading books on trees and cultivation. Then by involving other people, he planted many trees in the town. In six months the trees withered due to lack of shielding and water.
Raghupathy transformed a barren patch of land in Pollachi into a fruit garden
It was then that Raghu decided to look beyond the town for a plot of land. People scoffed at him, “You will not get a piece of good land, but you will definitely get a barren patch.”
He purchased a plot in 2001. His first task was to clean the well and then drill a bore well. “I had to struggle and work my way through to drill this bore as there was no water even at 600 feet,” he says.
After succeeding in drilling a bore well, Raghu contacted a scientist from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) for soil and water testing. The land was certified as unfit for cultivation, leaving Raghu depressed.
Yet he decided to go ahead with his plans. He started off with mango saplings. But he did not follow usual farming techniques. He took an entirely fresh approach to farming through his knowledge of reading and interacting with people, understanding the science behind farming.
For example, while planting coconut saplings, Raghu left a distance of 30 feet between two of them and dug a five feet deep pit. He then covered the soil, added sand to it, mixed it up. Top soil was then added to this and mixed with cow dung. Under normal farming practice, cow dung is added after the tree has been planted. Also, a 30 feet distance is not maintained between two trees. The difference in his approach gave him good results. Though coconut trees took seven years to bear full yield in normal conditions, his coconut trees started giving full yield in just five years.
Raghu’s trees get manure from his own farm. He practices vermiculture and uses compost to feed plants. He follows many other ground rules, which are only path breaking in farming. People who mocked him for buying that piece of barren land then are now lauding him. TNAU, whose scientist found the land unfit for cultivation, presented him with a special award.