How this engineer turned barren land into organic sandalwood and fruit farm

Kavita Mishra has cultivated 2500 trees of sandalwood, which will bring crores of rupees in income by 2027. A strong believer in integrated and organic farming, the computer engineer also grows fruits and raises cattle and poultry at her farm in Karnataka

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
Kavita Mishra at her farm in Raichur, Karnataka

Kavita Mishra at her farm in Raichur, Karnataka

In 1996, when Kavita Mishra was pursuing computer engineering, she got married. She passed out of college in 1998 and got a job offer from IT giant Infosys but her in-laws did not allow her to take it up. They wanted her to remain at home.

“My husband, however, was very supportive. Since I did not want to spend my life only doing household work, he suggested I start something of my own,” says Kavita, now 48. 

Her husband’s ancestral land of about 8 acres in Kavital in the Raichur district of Karnataka was lying unutilized for years. The temperature also exceeds 45 degrees in summer. 

“It was barren land, a rocky and hilly area where nothing would grow. Even producing half a bag of bajra was impossible. He suggested we try farming there,” she recollects.

Engineer turns to farming

Kavita began by removing stones and small rocks and levelling the land. “I then dug many borewells but did not get water. After a lot of effort, I got just 1.5 inches of water. In such dry conditions, I could only grow pomegranates as they thrive well under hot, dry summer and cold winter with limited irrigation,” she says.

Also Read: This CAPF officer quit job for organic farming of sandalwood; creates employment in his village

She planted the pomegranate saplings in 2005 and the first crop was good. But later, the plants started developing diseases. “The repeated issues made me think of an alternative,” Kavita says.

In 2008, she attended a three-day training on sandalwood cultivation at the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), Bengaluru, which made her aware of the commercial value of sandalwood agroforestry. 

It was also well suited to the topography and climatic conditions at Kavital as sandalwood does not require much water for growth. The sandalwood tree is a partial parasite because it completes its nutritional requirements from other plants around it. Its roots penetrate host plants and take nutrients from them. As a result, sandalwood flourishes alongside other plants. 

iron bars
Kavita inspects a sandalwood tree (left) and under a mango tree. Pic: Kavita Mishra Sandalwood Farm

“Moreover, in agroforestry, income is long-term and is generated when wood is sold. In the case of sandalwood, we can expect Rs 4 crore to Rs 5 crore per acre after 15 years of plantation. So I had to combine agriculture, horticulture, agroforestry and animal husbandry to generate regular income through integrated farming,” she says.

“Animal husbandry gives daily income, agriculture income comes once in three months, horticulture is mid-term (three years) and agroforestry is long-term (12-15 years),” she says, underlining the importance of integrated farming.

Currently, Kavita’s monthly income is around Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh. “We expect Rs 5 crore to Rs 6 crore per acre in the next three to four years from sandalwood harvest,” the woman farmer says.

Also Read: Kerala's ‘farmer with an Audi’ shares the secret of his success

How sandalwood farming is done

Kavita bought seeds of sandalwood from Marayur in Kerala. “I prepared seedlings on my farm and planted the first plant in 2012. Overall, in 8 acres of land, I have 2500 sandalwood trees and they will be ready for commercial harvest of wood in 2027,” she says.

Kavita says selecting sandalwood seedlings (a young plant grown from seed and not cutting) is very important. 

“The seedling should be a minimum of eight to 10 months old because when the stem is hard, the mortality rate will be low. Secondly, the host plant should not dominate sandalwood,” she says. 

She keeps a plant-to-plant and row-to-row gap of 12 feet between sandalwood plants. “Sun rays should directly reach sandalwood trees to make the hardwood. Otherwise, the quality of wood will not be good,” she says.

Kavita Mishra regularly gets honoured and awarded for her work in sandalwood farming 

Sandalwood sells for Rs 10,000 to Rs20,000 per kg and one tree, with good farming practices, can yield 20 to 25 kg of wood. The minimum yield per acre is 3 to 4 tonnes. 

Sandalwood is one of the most expensive woods in the world because it is slow-growing and has been over-harvested due to high commercial demand. The wood has many uses in cosmetics, medicine and other industries and retains its fragrance for decades.

“With 300 to 350 trees in one acre, a farmer can get an income of Rs 5 crore to Rs 6 crore. Sandalwood farming is like a fixed deposit, it grows with time,” the agripreneur says.

Kavita uses mango, guava, custard apple and jamun as host plants that provide nutrition to sandalwood. “I have 1000 trees of mango (Kesar, Banganapalli, Suvarnarekha, Mallika and other varieties), 600 trees each of guava and custard apple, and 100 trees of jamun besides other fruit plants,” she says.

For the security of sandalwood trees, which are prone to theft, she has put up iron bars around trees which can only be cut with machines. Apart from round-the-clock guards (in four shifts), and dog squads, she has put up CCTV cameras as well.

with her cattle
Kavita Mishra with the cows (left) and tending to plants (right). Pic: Kavita Mishra Sandalwood Farm

Horticulture for consistent income

Kavita’s farm has 100 trees of curry leaves, drumstick, coconut, lemon and tamarind each besides 800 teak trees. Most of the fruit trees were planted 10 years back and now give good returns. She harvests around 12 tonnes (12,000 kg) of mango every season, which sell at Rs 150 to Rs180 per kg. Mangoes bring an annual income of Rs18 lakh to Rs20 lakh. Kavita Farm’s organic guava sells for Rs65 to Rs80 per kg while the rate for custard apples is Rs80 to Rs100 per kg. 

Also Read: Seven ways to sell organic farm produce without going to mandis

“I have WhatsApp groups of customers. The produce also goes to nearby metros like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and other local markets. Being organic, we get higher rates than the prevailing market rates,” she says.

Kavita has also started a nursery to sell good quality saplings to other farmers. “Saplings of fruits, decoration plants and agroforestry plants are available at my nursery,” she says.

Organic farming

The repeated problems in her first crop of pomegranates in 2005 had made her aware of the importance of organic farming practices, which rejuvenate the soil and are very effective in checking pests and diseases. “I live in harmony with nature. When leaves fall, I don’t remove them, which helps in mulching and soil retains moisture and fertility,” she says.

The nursery has ornamental plants and for horticulture and agroforestry besides others. 

With only 1.5 inches of water, the plants grow well using organic practices. 

Kavita prepares panchagavya, jeevamrutham, dashaparni and sapthagavya on the farm. These organic inputs promote growth and immunity in plants and prevent diseases.

Since cow dung and cow urine are essential to make them, Kavita has 20 indigenous cows on her farm. “We also prepare ghee and other items from their milk for sale to our customers,” she says.

Animal husbandry is an essential component of integrated farming as animal dung is used for making farming inputs. Kavita also has sheep and sells hens and roosters of the Salem fighter breed. “Each cock is sold at Rs4000 per piece; we are multiplying for sale and not for eggs,” she says.

Kavita also gives training to people in sandalwood farming and horticulture. “If you want to do agroforestry, you should do it scientifically and technologically. Even if you have just one acre of land, you can earn enough for your family through integrated farming,” Kavita adds.

Kavita Mishra can be reached for training and consultancy here : 088617 89787

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

Also Read: 24-year-old woman turns family’s small buffalo trading business into Rs 1 crore dairy enterprise

Look up our YouTube Channel