The sun shines brightly in the Vallandhai village in Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu. A soft-spoken farmer in a colorful turban heads out to the field to do what he loves – till the land. He has a smile on his sun-tanned face, moving around. A lady in a salwar-suit walks into the fields with a thermos of chilled lassi, for his turbaned man. Confused?
Well, what if I told you there is a mini Punjab in Tamil Nadu?
It all began close to a decade ago when Manmohan Singh and his friend Darshan Singh traveled 3,000 km from home, under the guidance of their mentor Baba Iqbal Singh (former Director of Agriculture, Himachal Pradesh), who had suggested that they try their hand at farming on this arid land.
They transformed 300 acres of arid, dry, barren land into a lush green patch of land replete with orchards of mangoes, guavas, gooseberries, and watermelons.
The transformation from barren land into a productive field is a result of the tireless efforts of a group of hard-working farmers from Punjab who migrated here about ten years ago.
“If you love nature and understand the interconnectedness of life, you can do farming anywhere,” says Darshan, in chaste Punjabi.
Back home, it was getting difficult to find cultivable land and the duo wanted to provide a better life for their families. Despite the warning from the locals that the area was prone to prolonged dry spells, Darshan and Manmohan decided to take on the challenge.
The friends pooled in money and bought 300 acres of land as the local farmers, skeptical about the fertility of the land, sold them at throwaway prices.
For the next three years, their work in the farm (named Akal) involved clearing the rocks from the land, digging borewells, installing sprinklers for drip irrigation, and preparing the soil for plantation.
They planted mango trees on 80 acres, amla and guava trees on 40 acres, papaya and coconut trees on 10 acres, and a mix of cashew nuts, dates, and almonds on five acres. Additionally, they also planted carrots, cucumber, pumpkin, custard apple, chikoo, and watermelon, in an inter-cropping pattern.
And boom! Five years later, in 2015, the group’s hard work, patience, and spirit of enterprise finally started yielding results. Today, the farm is earning a good income, meeting most of the kitchen needs of the families by their kitchen gardens.
The farm’s ‘Lucknow 49’ variety of guava and prized ‘Imam Pasand’ mangoes are famed in the regional markets for the size and taste.
The friendly farmers built warm relationships with the locals, devoting much of their free time to learn Tamil. From lending their tractors to imparting tips about the latest farming techniques, they were quick to lend a helping hand to others in the village.
The farmers also participated wholeheartedly in the local festivals and functions, and slowly, the villagers started doing the same.
“As farmers, we are bound by nature and greenery and it does not matter where we belong to, where we stay and where we work. Our camaraderie is beyond food, language and boundaries now,” said the farmers, adding that they feel at home in Vallandhai.
Their success has become an inspiration for the local farmers who now come to the Akal Farm to learn about farming equipment and arid land cultivation. They are also invited by the District Collector to address the farmers from the region.