74-year-old retired IRS officer finds his passion in organic pomegranate farming

Muttuluri Narasimhappa has a farm and nursery of pomegranates in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. With organic farming, the ex-IRS officer cultivates some of India’s best-quality fruits which are also exported. He had a gross income of Rs1 crore last year

Aruna Raghuram
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Muttuluri Narasimhappa at his farm in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh

Muttuluri Narasimhappa at his farm in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh

In 1966, when Muttuluri Narasimhappa was in class 12, he was instrumental in bringing electricity to parts of his village Narasimhapalli in Andhra Pradesh. Again, in the late 1980s, he asked himself: “What have I done for my village?” By then he was an officer of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). He was responsible for several developmental activities in his village including bringing roads, bus service, post office, drinking water supply through taps, community toilets, better schooling for girls, and facilities for silk weavers. 

If you are wondering what all this has got to do with pomegranate farming, here is the answer: It is his commitment to giving back to his village that prompted the dynamic 74-year-old to plunge into farming after retirement. 

“I am from an agricultural background. My father and grandfather were actively involved in farming,” says Narasimhappa.  

“It is the income my family obtained from farming that was responsible for my education and my joining the IRS. Agriculture and the village had enabled me to get a good job. After I retired in 2009, I wanted to find a reason to keep going back to my village,” he says. 

Not only did he feel he owed a debt to the agricultural sector, but he also wanted to use his education and network to bring in improvements in farming and help other farmers adopt the latest techniques too. He had land in the village which he did not want to sell. He decided to get back to farming and connect with his village.

Ideal crop

Narasimhappa chose pomegranate farming for two reasons. Anantapur district where his village lies is one of the driest regions of the country. And, pomegranate is a desert crop that is sustainable even with limited rainwater. In fact, heavy soil that retains water is not good for the plant.  

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ideal crop of pomegranates
Muttuluri Narasimhappa grows pomegranates over 16 acres in Anantapur. Pic: Courtesy of M Narasimhappa

Secondly, pomegranate is a high-value crop. Being rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and fibre, pomegranates are in high demand among health-conscious segments of people.  Also, the limited rain had advantages – the crop would be less vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

Today, he cultivates pomegranates on 16 acres of land. Last year he realised a gross revenue of Rs 1 crore (net revenue was Rs 70 lakhs).

He cultivates two varieties ‘Bhagwa’ and ‘Super Bhagwa’ and the cost varies from Rs 50 to Rs 120 per kg depending on the demand and supply conditions, he says. The older ‘Ganesh’ variety has lost its market. Narasimhappa spends at least one week every month at the farm where he also grows millets and groundnuts.  He was honoured with the ‘Grama Pragathi Puraskaram’ (rural development award) in 2016.

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Organic pomegranate nursery

“The first thing I needed was disease-free saplings. Initially, in 2010, I bought 9,000 saplings from a friend who had a farm near Mysore at Rs 20 per sapling. I could transport a lorryload as I was buying a large number of plants. But what would smaller farmers do?” he says.

“I decided to set up a nursery for my own needs and to supply to smaller farmers.  Today, apart from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, our saplings are sold in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,” he says.

The septuagenarian finds it very satisfying to supply quality plants to farmers at reasonable rates. “Our  nursery supplies for around 2,000 acres of land,” he adds. 

Farmers from four states buy pomegranate plants from his nursery. Pic: Courtesy of M Narasimhappa

During COVID-19, the nursery activities were discontinued. It is now being revived. Currently, it is two acres in size. Last year, 45,000 saplings were sold with each sapling priced at Rs 30. 

The saplings are developed without using chemicals using the ‘air layer’ method. As a result, their survival rate is more than 90 percent when transplanted in the orchards, he explains. 

Annually, the nursery produces 4 lakh saplings which are protected in a shade net.  

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The initial investment in the pomegranate cultivation venture was Rs 2 lakh per acre. This included not just the plants and other materials but also the capital investment in a borewell, large tank to store water (where the fluoride would collect at the bottom while the plants would get pumped water from the top free of fluoride), drip irrigation, a work shed for storage, and fencing, he says.  

According to him, the first crop can be harvested after 18 months. On average, the yield can be expected to be 10 kg per plant.

Organic farming practices

Narasimhappa has adopted chemical-free and livestock-based farming practices. As a result, the fruit cultivated is very sweet and tasty. He visited the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth at Rahuri in Maharashtra, a large research institute, and learnt improved practices for growing pomegranates. The Super Bhagwa variety ripens sooner and has better seeds, he says.  

Many of the organic farming practices he uses are ancient Indian techniques focused on cow dung and cow urine.  

He has a gaushala (shelter and care centre for cows) on his farm with around 15 cows. It is hard work to adopt organic practices but it is worth it in terms of quality of fruit harvest and health considerations, says the dedicated farmer.  He describes some of the organic practices:

Mixing tank silt with farmyard manure: Tank silt is available easily and is rich in nutrients. When he was a child, it would be brought in bullock carts to be used on farms. Today, it is transported in tractors. The tank silt is added to the farmyard manure. Farmyard manure is very expensive. So by adding tank silt, quantity can be increased.

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Workers sorting and packaging pomegranates after harvest. Pic: Courtesy of M Narasimhappa

Spraying waste decomposer: Waste decomposer is sprayed on the mixture of tank silt and farmyard manure for quicker decomposition. 

Spraying of Jeevamrut: Jeevamrut is made with cow dung, cow urine, water, gram flour, jaggery, and some soil (so that the soil organisms can get into the mixture). It is then fermented and filtered to get a clear liquid. It is an elixir for plants, says Narasimhappa. 

Charcoal waste: This is collected and added to enrich the soil with carbon.

Vermicompost: This is prepared on the farm with waste material, cow urine and earthworms. 

Fish amino acids: Waste fish parts are rich in amino acids. They are ground and fermented with jaggery. The liquid is sprayed on plants and acts as organic urea.   

Fish waste pesticide: Fish waste mixed with cow urine is sprayed on plants. That keeps away fruit flies and parrots from the pomegranate fruits. 

Neem pesticide: Neem leaves added to cow urine is also used as a pesticide. It is filtered and sprayed on the plants. 

‘Dashaparni’: This is an organic pesticide made of leaves which are poisonous to pests. More than ten types of poisonous leaves are collected and fermented for 45 days. The filtered liquid is sprayed on the plants and it wards off most of the pests.   

These three biopesticides are used to protect the plants instead of using chemicals. 

manure unit
All the organic inputs are prepared on the farm. Pic: Courtesy of M Narasimhappa

High in sweetness

The pomegranate harvest is sold to one big player -- Sam Agritek Ltd -- a Hyderabad-based company, which exports the fruit and seeds of the pomegranate. “They have tested our fruit and found it very high in sweetness. We do not directly export. We also sell in the wholesale market. Traders also come to the farm and purchase our produce,” says Narasimhappa. 

His advice for young farmers is not to lose heart. “Don’t think agriculture or horticulture is not remunerative. Choose a good lucrative crop that will give a good income. There is lots of money in horticulture and ancillary fields. Also, keep yourself updated. There is so much research going on. Keep experimenting and adopt the latest practices. Of course, you must be passionate about farming,” he says. 

(Aruna Raghuram is a freelance journalist based in Ahmedabad. She writes on women’s issues, environment, DEI issues, and social/development enterprises.)

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