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How this Kerala scientist-turned-farmer grows 1500 exotic fruit varieties

Dr Hari Muraleedharan grows thousands of exotic fruit varieties using natural farming over just 0.6 acres. From Australian cherry and Spanish lime to wax apples, he has fruits from across the world. He sells their saplings and offers consultation services

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Chandhini R
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Dr Hari Muraleedharan began exotic fruit farming after quitting his job in 2009

Dr Hari Muraleedharan began exotic fruit farming after quitting his job in 2009

In 2009, Dr Hari Muraleedharan quit his job at Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre in Chennai as a senior scientist and moved to his native village Kottarakara, Kerala, to take care of his mother who was sick. "I then started a small business to help students learn subjects with an easy methodology. In the process, I was developing fruit charts for my students and that is when I discovered that there are not just bananas, apples, mangoes and jackfruits, but much more,” he recollects.

“The list of fruits went beyond 40 sheets and I was curious to learn about them. That developed my love for exotic fruits," Hari shares.

As the first step towards exotic fruit farming, he began to gather information about fruits grown in different countries and which could be cultivated in Kerala. He connected with farming enthusiasts worldwide, navigating different time zones, and leveraging his social media network and friends to source the best and most authentic seeds from Malaysia, Thailand, African nations, and several other countries.

"I spoke to people from Spain, Portugal and where not. If we could not communicate in English, I would use Google Translator. That was the level of my interest in learning about the fruits," Hari says.

Also Read: How this farmer created an evergreen farm of exotic fruits in Karnataka's dry lands

He recalls that one of his social media acquaintances offered him 80 percent of the fruit seeds in his garden now.

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Langsat fruit (left) and Jamaican apricots with crab eyes (right). Pic: Green Grama

But Hari had his share of struggles. When he quit his high-paying job, people taunted him for returning to native to grow bananas. "However, instead of wasting time explaining my vision, I shifted my energy toward actually making it happen. After five years, when I had almost cultivated 500 varieties, my work was noticed. I believe my golden period began after that," shares an elated Hari.

Varieties of fruits

Today, his farm Green Grama boasts over 1500 varieties of exotic fruits. The garden is open to visitors free of charge.

Hari’s collection includes rare and commercially valuable varieties such as the Mamey apple, green apple, black sapote, Green Grama Sweet 17 Plum Cherry, Australian Cherry, Jaboticaba, Mocambo, 24 types of Longan, 34 types of wax apple, Cuppassu, Madd fruit, Kubal, Spanish Lime, Alupug, Salak, Luc Mangosteen, Jamaican Ackee, White Chamaluang, Giant Amazone Araza, Ice Cream Bean, Chupa Chupa and much more. 

Also Read: Engineer quits US job to cultivate exotic fruits in TN, earns four times more per acre than traditional fruits

Interestingly, Hari took almost eight years to breed his Green Grama Cherry with a sweetness value of 17 Brix.

"I have cultivated the sweetest fruit in the world called Flavour, its sweetness is 10,000 fold higher than our sugar. It is an African fruit," Hari adds.  

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Needle fruit from West Africa is extremely sweet. Pic: Green Grama

Natural farming 

Hari, a microbiologist with a doctorate, emphasises that he follows science closely, especially when working with the soil. Soil science is crucial, and understanding soil acidity is the first step. Neutralizing soil acidity is essential because if the soil is too acidic, plants can't absorb nutrients effectively. 

"For irrigation, I use direct water (where water comes into direct contact with the harvestable portion of a plant). It is important to get the irrigation right because overwatering can harm the plants. Besides, I use natural fertilisers made of cow dung, pea plant, microbes enriched soil, saccharine, etc," he shares.

Also Read: Kerala farmer harvests 6000 kg rambutan per acre with high-density farming

Fruits only for visitors and birds; saplings for sale

Hari says he developed Green Grama solely for the love of preserving these fruit varieties, and sharing them with fellow human beings and birds. So he does not sell them to earn income. His commercial activities are focused on selling plants and saplings, alongside offering expert farming consultation services.

The prices for saplings start at Rs20 and go up to Rs 2800 for the imported varieties.

"I have a team of more than ten people who help manage the farm. Within a month, we can establish a thriving garden for anyone interested. I have done over 47 farm establishment projects for celebrities and people across all South Indian states," he adds.

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Dr Hari Muraleedharan has collected exotic fruits from across the world. Pic: Green Grama

Hari also believes in sharing his wisdom with fellow farmers and nature enthusiasts. He runs a YouTube channel called Green Grama to share his farming practices, promote natural agricultural methods, and offer farming tips. Overall, it serves as a one-stop shop for exotic farming knowledge. While Hari does not focus on the sale of these fruits, he believes they have a potential value in the market.

Also Read: How this farmer harvests 41,000 kg banana and 25,000 kg potato per acre with crop rotation

"For instance, imported fruits like Dokong can fetch up to Rs 1200 per kg. Longan, with its 28 varieties, currently sells for around Rs 600 per kg. The Brazilian variety of Longan commands a price of around Rs 800 per kg. A similar higher price range also applies to fruits like the Mamey apple, Blackberry Jam fruit, Cuppassu, etc," he explains.

"My collection of exotic fruits is growing bigger by the day. I want to establish a botanical garden of exotic fruits over 10-25 acres. Currently, I have collected around 20,000 saplings. I want to expand this to a large farm for exotic fruits and spices which will be open to the public. That apart, with some varieties of fruits, like berries, I want to create value-added products for sale," Hari signs off. 

(Chandhini R is a Kerala-based journalist specialising in human interest, entertainment, and art and culture stories)

Also Read: Father-son trio reaps bumper mangosteen harvest; older trees yield 300 kg per season

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