When Telangana-based techie Hari Krishna Devarapalli decided to quit his lucrative job in the USA to return to India, not many supported him, including his own family.
Why would someone leave a comfortable job abroad to revive their family’s 30-acre farm in the village?
About 350 km away from Hyderabad in Mandalapalli village in Bhadradri Kothagudem district lies this farm.
It may have taken him five years of labour. But today, this 37-year-old part-time techie is a full-time farmer who cultivates paddy, coconut, oil palm and cocoa organically, making nearly Rs 10-15 lakh a year!
In an exclusive interview with The Better India, Hari narrates his journey.
Being born into an agricultural family, he was passionate about farming and had a love for cattle. His father and grandfather practised it too.
Growing up, he wanted to pursue agricultural education, but the lack of viability on his 30-acre family farm pushed him to pursue B.Tech.
But he constantly thought of one thing.
“How is it that sustainable farming saw my grandfather and his seven siblings flourish from a small piece of land to 200-acres, but chemical farming by my father on 30 acres of land hardly saw him sustain,” says Hari.
He moved on to working in the United States for four years but was determined to turn the model around. And so, he decided to come back to India.
He worked out of Hyderabad and started visiting the farm with his father. By this time, he had realised that chemical farming had broken the backbone of the sustainable model that his grandfather had once built for the family.
Hari was determined to change this.
“My father was sceptical at first. But when I explained to him how the only way to revive our land and make agriculture profitable was organic farming, he extended his support,” says Hari.
With no external help, the duo started working on the plan right away, aiming to increase the yield per acre. Hari outlined the infrastructural development required to turn the land organic.
Initially, he continued his job and remotely monitored his farm, but after two years, the demise of his father put forth a difficult choice. He could farm full-time or continue working in Hyderabad.
Hari chose to move to the village and revive the farm. But he did not give up his job entirely. While it did cause him to cut down on his paycheck, he continued to work remotely for the same company as an Oracle consultant, in addition to tending to his farm.
What were the methods he adopted?
When his father was practising chemical farming, the yield of oil palm was 10 tonnes per acre. But the cost of production was high.
Hari’s goal was set–to start with five acres of land and cultivate oil palm which could yield at least 7-8 tonnes per acre without the use of any chemical fertilisers or pesticides. He recycled farm waste to improve the quality of soil and began the process of cultivation.
The effort paid off, but over time.
By the third year, Hari expanded the area of farming to introduce the sustainable model on all 30 acres!
After five years, the yield saw a 50 per cent rise from 10 tonnes per acre to 15 tonnes. It also cut down the cost of production by 30-40 per cent.
He cultivates 12 acres of oil palm, 12 acres of tender coconut and five acres of paddy. And while there is no systematic model for selling in place yet, the quality of his produce and his marketing skills have earned him a long list of customers, mainly other farmers, family members, and friends.
Hari now makes Rs 10-15 lakh annually. But he aims to double this figure to Rs 30 lakh in the next three years so that he can earn one lakh rupees per acre.
He says that some of the techniques crucial to organic farming are recycling farm waste and applying this same biomass on the surface of the soil. This is also known as mulching.
A mulch could contain dried leaves, grass, kitchen waste, cow dung, and hay. Mulching helps in conserving soil moisture by preventing water from evaporating. It also improves the fertility and health of the soil, reduces weed growth and also enhances the visual appeal of the area.
The second important aspect he says is integrating livestock on the farm.
While the cows and poultry on Hari’s farm are not for any commercial purpose, they help sustain his household–milk for consumption and dung for manure.
The third aspect he adds is multi-cropping.
“No matter how small your land, do not stick to growing only one variety. Always grow two or more crops. This helps with stability in times of crises. If one crop fails, the other one will help you recover losses,” he adds.
The last and most important aspect of profitable organic farming is marketing.
“If you cultivate and market your produce right, agriculture could be as profitable as any other profession. If I were to sell a bag of paddy simply, it might not earn me more than Rs 1,000. But with the right marketing strategy, I am earning Rs 3,500 per bag.”
Most of Hari’s produce is sold through his publicity by word-of-mouth in his circles of family and friends across a few cities in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
He has created a WhatsApp broadcast list with the customers, where he often sends pictures of the farm, its developments and produce. He also connects with them through his Facebook page.
These efforts over five years have helped him create a strong rapport and loyal customer base.
Hari doesn’t depend on the market for his household consumption. From grains, pulses and spices to vegetables and fruits, he has allocated a separate plot to grow his daily requirements.
“When I sit to have lunch on my farm, I want my plate to consist of everything that I have grown myself,” he smiles.
He aims to soon venture into processing where he can sell products with longer shelf-lives like coconut oil or dry chilli.
His family is extremely proud of him. One of his pillars of support is his wife, Rekha.
“When I started, everyone including my own dad, doubted my ability. I never blamed him because he had first-hand witnessed the downside of the profession. But once I convinced him, there was no going back. I have changed their perceptions of farming. And now, my family fully supports me,” he beams.
For aspiring youngsters who want to undertake farming, Hari says, “Take up agriculture only if you are passionate about it and ready to give it your 100 per cent. There is a misconception that farming is not profitable. But it can be just as profitable as any other profession if done the right way. Focus on the sustainable organic model and market your produce. When you try something different, of course, there will be people who will question your abilities, but with determined efforts, you can turn their mindset. I did the same. You can too.”
We are sure that Hari’s forefathers are proud of him for reuniting the family to their ideals of organic farming. At a time when farmers are moving out of their profession to migrate to cities, he is an inspiration!
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Hari on firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)