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

Chennakeshava M began planting exotic fruits like longan, rambutan, mangosteen, and water apple between coconut trees on his farm in Tumkur in 2015. He used organic farming to improve soil fertility and now sells the fruits at Rs350 per kg and above

US Anu
New Update
Chennakeshava M with water apple plants at his farm in Tumkur, Karnataka

Chennakeshava M at his farm in Tumkur, Karnataka

When Chennakeshava M joined his family farm in 2010 after completing his studies, it only had plantations of coconut, areca nut and finger millet (ragi). While millet was cultivated seasonally, his father Mrityunjaya had planted coconut and areca nut decades ago at their 8-acre farm in Mashanapura Village in the Tumakuru (also Tumkuru) district of Karnataka. 

Tumakuru is also called 'Kalpataru Nadu' because of the high production of coconuts in the region. “The coconut trees at our farm were at a gap of 30 feet x 30 feet and we only had plants of areca nut between them. The rest of the space was unutilized. I thought of using that land more optimally,” says Chennakeshava. 

He read about integrated farming and intercropping – growing various crops nearby for maximum land utilization and higher yields. “At that time, my father was using chemicals to improve production because the dry soil in this region is not very fertile and good only for millets and pulses. I decided to stop using chemicals and switched to organic farming,” he says.

Also Read: How this Goa family earns Rs 42 lakh per acre from organic coconut farming

He added cow dung of the native breed ‘Hallikar’ to improve soil fertility followed by vermicompost. Then he began his intercropping experiment in 2011 by planting black pepper, cardamom and coffee between the coconut trees.

water apple and mangosteen
A variety of water apple (above) and mangosteen (below). Pic: Chennakeshava M

“I also bought saplings of traditional Indian fruits like jackfruit, mango, and custard apple and planted them on vacant patches of land,” he recollects. After three years, he harvested the fruits and went to the organic farmers’ weekly market in Tumkur city. 

“At that time, in 2015, I used to get Rs150 per kg for mango because they were organically grown. I saw other fruits being sold there and realised that expanding the cultivation to dragon fruit, longan etc. would get me even better rates,” he says.

Moving to exotic fruit farming

So Chennakesava began to find out about the best nurseries selling saplings of exotic fruits like longan, mangosteen, rambutan, chamaliang (luna nut), water apple, butter fruit, dragon fruit, avocado, passion fruit and other varieties. 

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

“During 2015-16, I began buying saplings of exotic fruits from Kerala and Mangaluru in Karnataka. The cost varied from Rs 100 to Rs 500 per plant depending on the age of the saplings. I planted them between the existing plants on my farm,” he says.

passion fruit
From left: Chamaliang, passion fruit and cluster fig at Chennakeshava's farm

Today, he has 70 varieties of fruits on his farm including both traditional and exotic, which provide sustained income throughout the year instead of seasonal bonanza.

“It provides a stable income. I have many varieties of water apples. From January to March, I sell water apples at Rs350 per kg apart from other traditional fruits. From April to July, I harvest and sell mangosteen at Rs 350 per kg while rambutan is sold between June and August at Rs400 per kg,” he says.

July to August is also the peak time for harvesting butter fruit (avocado), which sells at Rs300 per kg followed by custard apple and, Ram phal and Lakshman phal, called Soursop or Graviola in English. Longan also sells at Rs400 per kg from July to September. 

All these fruits are high in antioxidants, stabilize blood sugar and are rich in nutrients. 

“I get up to 50 percent higher rates because I grow them organically,” says Chennakeshava.

Alongside, he sells banana mango - a mango in the shape of a banana - dragon fruit, coconut, areca nut, mace, pepper and other fruits and spices. 

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

Success Strategy

“I have 300 plants of coconut that give 45,000 to 50,000 coconuts annually. I dry them and the dried coconut sells for Rs 10,000 per quintal. Now I am planning to start making cold-pressed coconut oil,” he adds.

Early on, Chennakeshava realised that there were two strategies for success in horticulture -- organic farming that cuts costs and direct sales to customers. 

Chennakeshava's father Mrityunjaya actively participates in farming operations. Pic: Chennakeshava M

“So I began to prepare all the inputs like panchagavya (a mix of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, jaggery, ghee, banana, tender coconut and water), agni astra (made using cow urine, tobacco, neem leaves and other components), green manure, jeevamrit etc. on the farm,” he says.

Jeevamrit is a mixture of fresh cow dung and aged cow urine from indigenous Indian cow breeds, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil. It enriches the soil. “I also rear desi cows of Hallikar breed and use their cow dung and urine to make these organic manure, pesticides, and sprays,” he adds.

Chennakesava adds jeevamrit once a month and 5 to 10 kg of cow dung per plant once every three months. He uses dry fallen leaves for mulching as it reduces water requirements and also improves soil quality over time.

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

“I also have one big bed of vermicompost that yields one tonne every three months. Apart from that, I have put up ten honeybee boxes. I also sell honey to customers who come to the farm for purchase,” he adds.

Chennakeshava examining mace production. Pic: Chennakeshava M

Honeybees ensure pollination in cross-pollinated crops and also provide additional income through honey and other beehive products. “Honey bees play an important role in sustaining plants biodiversity and pollination and are friends of farmers,” he says, adding that integrated farming while rearing honeybees and cows increases overall incomes for farmers.

Now Chennakeshava has also set up a nursery over half an acre of land where he sells saplings of exotic as well as traditional fruits including lemon, custard apple, coconut, soursop, orange, sweet lime (mosambi), rambutan, mangosteen etc. “The plants are priced between Rs 50 and Rs600 and the annual sale is around Rs2 lakh right now,” he says.

(US Anu is a Madurai-based writer. She specialises in stories around human interest, environment and art and culture.)

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

Look up our YouTube Channel