MBA woman farmer harvests 55,000 kg tomatoes per acre; turns around her family farm

Smarika Chandrakar quit her job in Pune and grows tomatoes, cucumber and other vegetables in Chhattisgarh. Now one of the biggest vegetable growers in the state, she harvests 60,000 kg of brinjal per acre and sells veggies in local mandis and other states

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
Smarika Chandrakar, an engineer-MBA farmer, at her farm in  Charmudiya village in Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district

Smarika Chandrakar, an engineer-MBA farmer, at her farm in Charmudiya village in Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district

After working for five years in the telecom sector in Pune, Smarika Chandrakar wanted to get back home. Her father and grandfather had been farming in Charmudiya village in Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district for almost six decades. She had grown up seeing them on the farm and wanted to follow in their footsteps.

So after quitting her job in 2018, she first shifted to Raipur and took up a job with an NGO working for maternal and child healthcare. She used this time to learn closely about farming when she visited her family on the weekends and holidays. Her family was cultivating paddy at that time.

“By 2021, I was ready to take the plunge in farming. I quit my job and moved to my family home in Kurud,” says Smarika, who did her MBA from MIT School of Telecom Management, Pune. Before that, she completed her engineering from Raipur.

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

“Between 2018 and 2021, I observed that paddy was not a very profitable crop as costs were high. Mono-cropping is also risky as one bad season can wipe out all gains. My father (Durgesh Chandrakar)said vegetable farming is a good alternative and I decided to start with vegetables,” says Smarika.

durgesh chandrakar
Smarika with her father Durgesh Chandrakar (middle) and brother at the farm. Pic: Courtesy Smarika Chandrakar

Vegetables are cash crops with short growing cycles, and bring higher returns compared to grains like rice and wheat. Vegetable farming also reduces vulnerability to risks of mono-cropping, she says.

Smarika began by understanding the land, its elevation and soil quality. She also consulted agriculture experts before starting work on 20 acres of land. She installed drip irrigation as it minimizes water loss, cuts irrigation costs and can be used to provide liquid fertilisers directly to plant roots (fertigation). Smarika also took subsidies for drip irrigation provided by central and state governments.

Also Read: Rajasthan’s 10th pass woman converts family land into a profitable organic farm; gives free training to farmers

Profitable tomato farming 

“After ploughing the land, we added 12 trolleys (1 trolley is around 1200 kg) of cow dung to 20 acres and allowed the soil to absorb sunlight for some days. I also added micronutrients and enzymes to improve soil fertility. Then we made beds for tomatoes and began plantation. We also planted brinjal (eggplant) separately (not intercropping),” says Smarika, whose younger brother also helps her on the farm.

Tomato is one of the most profitable crops in India, with high demand in the market, both for fresh consumption and processed products like ketchup, sauces, pastes etc. India is the second largest producer of tomatoes in the world after China. 

During FY23, India exported 78,000 metric tons of fresh and chilled tomatoes worth over Rs 1600 crore, according to market research firm Statista. The main export destinations are Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates.

At the farm with workers. Pic: Courtesy of Smarika Chandrakar

At Smarika’s farm, the bed-to-bed gap in tomato farming is six feet and plant to plant gap is one foot. Planted in August-September, it is ready for harvest in November. “You can continue harvesting till February-March. Since tomatoes cannot withstand water stagnation, we have to ensure a good slope in the field while preparing land,” she says. 

With her MBA knowledge, Smarika knows the importance of good marketing and now earns crores annually. She has made her family business profitable and generates employment for locals.

“Farming is a profitable business and must be treated as a business only. Good marketing and human resources are as important in farming as in any other business,” she says.

So before the first harvest season, she visited local mandis, spoke to other farmers and then formed a network of shopkeepers and traders to sell her vegetables. “We harvested 55 tonnes of tomatoes per acre from 13 acres of land in the season that ended in March this year,” says Smarika. 

Also Read: Kerala couple turns barren land into organic paddy farm, sells native rice at up to Rs225 per kg

The wholesale rate for tomatoes varies between Rs5 and Rs20 per kg and can even go up to Rs80 depending on the demand-supply situation. “We have tie-ups with brokers and decide rates a day before harvesting. The vegetables are then packed and loaded for sale to brokers. Our vegetables go to various places in Bhubaneswar, Patna, Kolkata, Guwahati, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Vishakhapatnam,” she says, adding that a part of the production is sold in local mandis. 

Sorting and packaging of tomatoes. Pic: Courtesy Smarika Chandrakar

Brinjal farming and other crops

The brinjal output at Smarika’s farm is 60 tonnes per acre. “It is sowed in June and ready for harvest in about 45 days. The season lasts till March-April,” she says. 

Smarika buys all manures and other inputs and does not prepare them on the farm. “After tomato and brinjal harvest, we leave the land vacant for about three months for the soil to rejuvenate and add manure and vermicompost etc. Then we plant the next round of crops,” she says. 

Also Read: This innovative farmer earns Rs 10 lakh per acre with olive farming; sells oil at Rs1500 per litre

“This year, we are doing bottle gourd and cucumber after which we will again plant brinjal and tomatoes. The plan is to expand the area under horticulture from 20 acres to 35 acres,” she says.

Smarika with some of the farm workers who now have assured employment. 

Smarika employs around 70 people on the farm, who help in harvesting, packaging, loading and other work. “Vegetable farming has created employment opportunities in my village. Now people don’t have to go to other cities for work. During peak season, I also hire more people to help with the work,” the woman farmer says.

Her parents, grandfather (96) and grandmother (86) are extremely proud of her achievements. “It is a matter of pride for all of us that our daughter is a good farmer and a good businesswoman,” says her father.

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

Also Read: How Maharashtra’s MBA farmer built an organic food supermarket

Look up our YouTube Channel