This MBA quit his job to grow organic figs; harvests 4500 kg per acre

Katla Srinivas quit his job with Red Chillies Entertainment in Mumbai for organic farming in his village in Telangana. He gets 100 kg of organic figs (anjeer) daily during the three-month harvest season and sells directly to customers at Rs100 per kg

US Anu
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katla srinivas

Katla Srinivas at his farm in Karimnagar, Telangana

After completing his MBA from the Government City College in Hyderabad, Katla Srinivas pursued a VFX course and got a job at Red Chillies Entertainment in Mumbai. While working in the megalopolis in 2012, he would often read about the rising cases of cancer and other diseases due to the chemicals used in farming and food production. 

“Once I read that pesticides had seeped into our food chain to such an extent that even mothers’ milk had traces of chemicals. That prompted me to return to my native place after working for a year in Mumbai,” says Katla, who belongs to Thirmalapur village in Karimnagar district of Telangana.

“I read magazines, met agriculture scientists and in 2013, I joined an agri equipment company. It supplied equipment to seed companies and working there for one year enhanced my knowledge of organic farming. I also met Agriculture University scientist Dr RVSK Reddy, Vinod Kumar of Gadwal and Mallepalli Ravi of Kothagudem besides others,” he says.

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The switch to organic farming

In 2014, Katla left the company to grow organic vegetables on his 6.5-acre family farm. “From 2014 to 2017, I cultivated bitter gourd, tomato, chillies, bottle gourd and other vegetables and sold them at higher-than-market rates because they were organic. I used only farm manure and vermicompost and organic biofertilizers for the plants,” he says. 

The Brown Turkey fig (left) and Katla Srinivas prepare organic inputs on the farm. Pic: Katla Srinivas

In 2018, he decided to diversify into a new crop and read about the successful cultivation of fig (anjeer in Hindi) in the Raichur district of Karnataka. The demand for dried and fresh figs is increasing in India because the nutritious fruit is rich in fibre, potassium, and antioxidants and can help control blood pressure, aid digestion, and weight management. 

India imported figs worth 65.3 million dollars in 2022, mainly from Afghanistan and Turkey, according to data from OEC World. This makes figs a lucrative crop for cultivation.

The import of dry figs into India jumped to 22.5 thousand metric tons in 2021 from 18 thousand metric tons in the previous year following rising demand.

With its medicinal properties, Katla knew finding buyers for figs would not be difficult. “I visited the farms in Karnataka and learned about fig farming,” he says.

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The fig plant is a bush-like shrubby plant, native to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean region but is now widespread throughout the tropics and subtropics. There are about 20 varieties of fig grown in different parts of the world. Varieties like Poona, Dinkar, Brown Turkey and Daulatabad are grown in India.

crop on the farm
Katla Srinivas harvests 100 kg of figs daily durin the three-month harvest season. 

Organic farming of fig

Katla decided to cultivate the Brown Turkey variety that yields large, mildly sweet and flavorful, dark brown figs. One acre can accommodate 400 plants. “I purchased 800 plants at Rs 50 per piece from Radha Krishna Reddy, a farmer in Raichur. I planted them over two acres,” he says.

Katla prepared the land by ploughing and making raised beds for plantations. 

“I installed drip irrigation and used around 600 kg of vermicompost per acre to enhance soil fertility. Then I added 2 tonnes of farm manure per acre before starting plantation in mid-January 2019,” he says.

In fig or anjeer cultivation, the plant-to-plant gap is 8 ft X 8 ft while row-to-row space is 12ft X 12 ft. “I set up a small vermicompost unit with three beds to ensure a regular supply for the plants,” Katla adds.  

The net protects the crop from bird attacks. Pic: Katla Srinivas

“Fig plants require two to three vermicompost applications annually. I started the plantation in the middle of January and they started flowering after 11 months,” he says. In arid regions with harsh climatic conditions, insect infestation in figs is rare. 

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However, birds often attack the crop and Katla put up nylon bird nets over the orchard for fig protection. “The cost of bird nets is Rs70,000 per acre,” he points out. 

While the harvest in the first year is low as plants are young, it increases from the second year onwards. “Now, we harvest 100 kg of figs per day from two acres. The harvesting starts in mid-February and continues till mid-May. We get around 9,000 kg to 10,000 kg of figs per season,” he says.

The figs are sold directly to customers in packaged boxes. Pic: Katla Srinivas

Katla sells the organic figs at Rs100 per kg, earning around Rs 9 lakh per season. 

“I sell them directly to customers through WhatsApp and wholesale buyers also come to my farm to buy organic figs,” he says.

Fig is fairly resistant to drought conditions and is rarely irrigated in most cultivated areas. In a state like Telangana, it has to be irrigated mostly during the first two years of planting and then during the dry summer months of May and June. At that time, the plants are watered every four or five days. 

Katla also grows vegetables and chillies, including the red and yellow varieties, over the rest of the 4.5 acres.

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

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

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