A small band of hard-working farmers from Sangruri in Punjab turned 200 acres of arid land of a village in drought-prone southern Tamil Nadu into lush green fruit orchard – evoking awe and jealousy in equal measure.
Till Coronavirus induced lockdown halted all sales and marketing operations, the fruit business from Akal Farms, set up by Sardar Manmohan Singh, 70, has collapsed. The ban on vehicular movement and unavailability of labour has meant the fruit crop lying waste and damaged.
Yet to count his losses, the Sardar with a white flowing beard, is unfazed for the moment.
“O phair khada kaar laenge ji,” (we will resurrect it again) was his comment when Tricity Scoop caught up with Sardar Manmohan Singh on his Akal Farms, located at Vallandhai village, Kamuthi Taluka of Ramanathapuram in southern Tamil Nadu on Wednesday (May 20, 2020).
“At a rough count, one crop of our mangoes sold for Rs 10 lakh,” Sardar Manmohan Singh said. The Akal Farm has several varieties of Mangos in its plantations.
Situated some 120 km from the temple town of Madurai, the Akal Farm, was all but a wasteland in 2007 when the band of Sardars led by Sardar Manmohan Singh bought them up dead cheap from local villagers.
The prolonged and successive droughts in the region turned the lands fallow and turned wastelands.
“We bought them at Rs 10,000 per acre,” recalled Sardar Manmohan Singh. His friends and relatives came from different parts of Punjab and began preparing the fields – much to the amusement of the local populace who dismissed them as a “bunch of jokers”.
Now the joke is on them, after the Sardars turned farming into a profitable venture. From a few areas in 2007, today the 10 families together own some 200 acres of farm lands in Vallandhai and surrounding villages.
The contrast cannot be more striking: for a 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 that sport wild vegetation of bushy, thorny plants and trees.
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, that seem almost like an oasis in a desert.
Dr P Kannan, a Ph.D in Horticulture from Madurai University is a consultant with the Akal Farms.
“Akal Farms was most easily the most scientific farm in this part of the world. It is amazing to see this kind of a farm in a drought prone Ramanathapuram area,” he said and added,
“We would use plastic mulching technique” and some tools to increase the yield of crops,” Kannan said.
The Akal Farms is on an expansion programme.
Sardar Manmohan Singh points in the direction of their 4-acre test farm and said, “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.
At present, the Akal Farms has 17 member-owners. “For two years we worked only on developing the land, said Darshan Singh, said another key member of the Akal Farms.
Today, because of our farming success, the land prices in this village have shot up by ten times, he said.
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.
Now locals too seek out Sardar Mahmohan Singh, for advice. And he is ready to give them all he has learnt.
“Afterall, we have to live with them and if we help them, there will be peace and harmony,” Sardar Manmohan Singh reasoned as to why he did not mind sharing his success formula with owners of neighbouring farms.
Mr. Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political issues across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached at email@example.com