Ramakrishna Thontepu

Can you tell us about your background and your journey so far?
Sure. I am an Agricultural BSc graduate from Hyderabad. I have secured my post-graduation in Horticulture, from Australia. I have always had my own aspirations, so, I returned from Australia, and worked for a year in the State Department. I worked for the State Government in the Horticulture Department, Andhra Pradesh. Gradually I bought a 40-acre farm near Mysore. I try cultivating all kinds of horticultural crops – from vegetables to fruits – on my farm. That is one thing I do.
From around 5 years I have been offering freelance farming consultation. I have also ventured into the input supply business – supply of organic fertilizers etc. Recently, I have also started the output business. I purchase products from my clients and market their products.
My aim is to give end-to-end solution to new agri-preneurs who are keen on venturing into the agricultural industry. There are many people who are not really related to this industry but they are interested in venturing into it. I think they should be supported.
I have assisted in many projects starting from ground initiation to harvest. I usually take up these projects on a turnkey basis and guide my clients in every aspect. I don’t restrict myself to catering only to some areas of farming. In the process, I began getting a lot of requests from many clients seeking assistance in marketing. That is how I ventured into the output business.
Recently, I have only been dealing with certain kinds of fruit like the Taiwan guava. The aim is to produce it in mass quantity and hence, create a better market for it, all over India and maybe even abroad. Gradually we want to move into many other varieties of fruits. So far, we have been doing banana and guava from last year.

Where do you grow these fruits?
I grow it in my farm and in many of my clients’ farms, as well. When they approach me seeking suggestion on what crop needs to be grown etc., I give them a project report of how things are. Details on expenses, requirements, etc. are furnished in the report. Like I mentioned earlier, I provide them with inputs and technological support.

Please give us a few examples of some projects you have worked on.
Sure. I usually work with new farmers who are totally inexperienced and unrelated to the agricultural industry. For example, I have worked with a former builder in Bangalore. He had around 30 acres of land and I have been developing his farm and hand assisting him for around one and half years until harvest. That is one project.
I was involved in a one-hectare green house project at Bangalore. This was in association with a former IT personnel who resigned from his job to adopt agriculture as his main occupation. I was the main person to initiate that project. We were working on a hydroponic farm.
Then, I have a set of business people from Bangalore who have a lot of land tracks, wherein I am developing 50 acres of Taiwan guava orchard from scratch.
A bulk of my clients are people who are interested in venturing into the agricultural field, hailing from totally contrasting backgrounds. But it is not that I don’t assist agriculturists, I do have agriculturist clients as well.

Typically how do you engage with your clients once they come and meet you?
Basically, these are people who have large tracks of land in their custody, but don’t know how far to get into agriculture or what to do. So, I give them a prospect on various crops, and it is up to them which crop they want to cultivate.
I provide an end to end solution – a single-point of contact for everything related to the farm. That is one advantage from my part. They don’t have to knock multiple doors for multiple things.
To begin with, I give them an investment proposal about how much they will have to spend for the proposed project etc. I may not be able to give an exact price that they will realize upon harvest, but, I do give them an approximate yield that they can expect, so they can have an analysis of the project.

Do you have farmers as clients as well?
My clients’ list includes farmers also, yes. When it comes to farmers, they have prior information of agriculture. I deal with such people as well as with people who have no clue about farming.

Since you are dealing with fruits like guava, you are operating in specific agro climatic zones near Mysore Bangalore etc. Do you have any such model in place for Central India regions?
This kind of high density plantation model for guava was developed in Lucknow. It was actually something that came from Central to South India. I was one of the pioneers to introduce it to the Karnataka region. This fruit is quite suitable to be grown in the Central India region as well.

In an average holding of 5 acres, what will be the economics we have to consider?
You have to have ample amount of water supply. For guava, you will need to have somewhere around 15,000 litres per day. Harvest for this project will be nearly about 12-14 months after plating the crops. Hence, the waiting period will be about 12 months – 13 months depending upon climatic factors.
Cost will be dependent on plant material to drip irrigation to fertilizers etc. That will account to about 3 lakh per acre.
After the initial harvest, you will receive harvest 2 times a year. So, if you do a rough calculation, you stand to make about Rs. 9 lakh/- as an income. Taking into account the initial investment, etc. you will be very much in profit by the 2nd year. By the 24th month, you will be earning at least Rs. 3-4 lakh.

Have you factored mulching, etc. and the diseases that can occur?
Mulching is a small factor in controlling diseases. We do mulching only to avoid weeding. We accommodate nearly 1000 plants per acre under the high density plantation methodology.
In my farm, I have bulk production of jeevamrutha. I am talking about a scale of about 30-40 thousand litres in a big tank. We enrich our jeevamrutha with good bacteria. I have also found out different methods of application of jeevamrutha to plants. I have automated procedures for serving plants with jeevamrutha.
We do not have people carrying and pouring jeevamrutha to the plants. At our farm, jeevamrutha is also supplied using drip irrigation channels, which is a very apt method.

Can jeevamrutha be applied through venturies?
Yes, but there are issues of algae development etc. So, one should be careful about such issues.

Jeevamrutha is highly economical right?
Oh yes! Our production technology involves around 70-80 percent of jeevamrutha as the nutrition source, owing to the quantity. Nobody produces jeevamrutha on such scale. People usually do 100 to 200 litres or may be in 1000 litre drums.
I am talking about 30,000 litres per 10 days. So, in a month you are looking at 90K -1 lakh litres of production. That is the volume of our production. We have around 5-6 Nati cows on our farm.

Any specific breed of Indian cows?
Nothing specific. It has to be any local breed. It could be even non-yielding, non-performing, or even a diseased animal. That is not an issue. But it has to be of local breed (Nati).
Animals which do not produce milk yield have been ending up with butchers. So, I suggest farmers to adopt those cows and use them on their farms for the good of the cows and the farm. As per my calculation, I get more income from their urine than their milk.

So, 5-7 cows are sufficient for 1 acre of land?
Not for 1 acre; It is sufficient for 20-30 acres.
That is one point. The other thing is I do not encourage tractor cultivation.
Then, a miraculous job is in the way I cultivate bananas. I yielded my produce in the 8th month. By the 14th month I harvested again.

What is your take on intercropping?
Intercropping can be done for crops such as watermelon, but, maybe, for 4 months or so. Not after that.

What kind of diseases of guava do we need to watch out for?
When we talk about diseases, my simple philosophy is 90% diseases won’t come into the picture if your plant is supplied with ample nutrients. That is my personal observation and this philosophy works well for me.
This is the reason why I am particular about jeevamrutha nutrition. Due to the climatic conditions, although there will be diseases at some point, I ensure that the biological needs are met.

What is the shelf life of jeevamrutha? How can it be preserved better?
Jeevamrutha is the outcome of farm produce materials. It is not a product that you buy. So, there is no question of shelf life. Even if it is packed in the most technological way possible, the essential bacteria keep dying because it is a live organism.
Also, it is a totally viable product to make. We create it for 10p per litre, on our farm. 10p may go up to say Rs 1. But if you buy it from outside, you will end up paying about 100 times than when you produce it. That doesn’t make sense at all. Jeevamrutha production is a simple operation. So, it is quite silly to spend money and buy it. And, it is best to supply it on your farm as soon as it is made. That is most efficient, effective and sustainable methodology to use it.

What things should people who venture into agriculture coming from outside be prepared for?
Basically, most of the IT folks enter the agricultural industry based on the knowledge that they gather from the Internet. There could be all sorts of information out there about the yield and how much they stand to earn. That can be way out of the expectations in terms of income. So, in my first meeting with my clients, I steer clear of what they can expect in terms of income.
The second thing I make them aware of is the hardships that they will tend to face. I give them a feel of the actual ground realities they need to be accustomed with.
The third thing I make them aware of is why usually people lag behind when they start any operation. It is because there is no chain of command. They approach somebody who designs their land and plot. Then, they go to the drip irrigation people, who may have no knowledge about what crop they plan on growing and what are the water requirements, etc. Then, a third person talks about plant material that perhaps doesn’t even have knowledge about the environmental aspects. The climatic zone factors matter a lot. Such people will do their part of the job, take money and go away.
If all these factors miss a chain of engagement and command, people assisting will make money and get the person who took the initiative out of business. That is what happens when you lack knowledge. It can be a big trap that people fall into. In such cases, the project collapses at the planting stage itself. By then, they would have already lost a lot of money.
I started this end to end solution company, based on the said issues that people can fall into. From land preparation to harvest, I ensure that they can come to me for any advice during any stage of farming. We enter into an agreement on a bond paper clearly marking out my duties and theirs.

What will be the responsibility for the investor?
They should source the land and water source, etc. Depending on the water supply, we can decide other things like which crop to plant etc.
Apart from the money part, he/she will need to manage many things. They should get the labour to do all the operations we have advised. The investor handles money. So, the labourers will listen to them alone, not me.
My part is to teach them what and how to do things. Getting it done is the investors’ part of the deal. These are the aspects that are expected of the investor.

In terms of investment, what is the kind of money we are talking about, when it comes to such ventures?
Cost depends on the crop. Let us say you take up a banana project, for instance. Depending on the area, we will decide what type of cultivation we should adopt – tissue culture, etc. If you have all the facilities like godowns etc., it will cost nearly Rs. 2 lakh for cultivation-related things alone.
It doesn’t cater to fencing or bore well etc. It includes only cultivation aspects like drip irrigation, plant material, manure, fertilizers, etc.
I give my clients a projection stating the total cost that they need to plan for with an approximate break up of charges they will incur along the way. I do this part upfront so that they can be prepared.
If they do all the operations which I suggest in the way in which I have told them to, then they can expect the projected yield I have given them.
The risk is when it comes to pricing in agriculture, it keeps fluctuating. Nobody can promise things. A lot depends on factors beyond us. So, I say that when it comes to banana, you can expect a yield of about 40kgs and based on the price of banana today, for instance Rs. 12, you stand to make around Rs. 480 per bunch. Based on that assumptive calculation, they stand to earn approximately Rs. 4 lakh out of an investment of Rs 2 lakh. That is your expected income as per the current day price. We have no control over the fluctuation.
As far as the yield is concerned also, there are certain things beyond me. Natural disasters like cyclone, etc. cannot be controlled or predicted.
Hence, the two things that are beyond human intervention are market pricing and natural variants.

In terms of climatic issues and unpredictable conditions, is there any kind of insurance in place?
There is no insurance party that will play that risk.Unfortunately, there is nothing. I am a strong believer that none of the government agencies or insurance folks will come to my aid – I have prepared myself for that aspect. It is a bitter pill you should swallow.

What are your thoughts about organic farming?
There is a lot of misconception between organic farming and many other farming methodologies that are coming into play.
A huge myth is that people think that they can suddenly venture into organic farming. There are two major aspects:
1.Farming is an opaque ship. It is not a transparent aspect, wherein you throw lakhs of money and you make magic.
There is no point in doing farming when you don’t get the income out of it. If people think that they bought a plot today and tomorrow onwards they can do organic farming, it is a misconception if they haven’t built any sustainable resources in the farm to supplement the needs. For instance, to sustain the production of jeevamrutha, you should have cows, grace them and so create a pasture for them, etc. It takes 4-5 years to make the organic farm 100% organic. You can’t do it overnight. Thinking in that manner is a misconception.

Even I suggest not to go 100% organic in one shot. It is important that the farmer survives first! If you have a surplus source of money, the story is different. My point is – if the farmers should work on an economical and viable venture, you have to cut down your inorganic methodology, gradually. I mean, in the first year your target should be 50% of organic and 50% inorganic. Next year, you should raise the bar to 70% organic. That is the way to trend forward. That way, with a very strong mindset, in 3-4 years you can convert your farm into 100% organic. This is a pragmatic way to approach farming, according to me.

2.The other thing is – expecting a premium price for organic products. Unless you have your own marketing channels, it gets difficult to get into the premium category market. You can even land up having to start with gaining lesser price than what your neighbour farmer makes through inorganic farming.
To gain better prices, there should be a strong marketing strategy planned out. Don’t expect to make premium prices just because your products are organic.
There are so many people who claim their produce is organic but there are no viable agencies that support it. It is a battle the farmer has to fight himself. Organic farming shouldn’t be customer oriented. I think it is something that should be taken up for the farmer’s sake. This way the farm becomes sustainable in the long run and his cost per production decreases along with the vulnerability to disease and pests. As a farmer, these are the major plus points. Yes, as a farmer, I am happy that people pay more but nobody should expect anything extra than the normal pay.
That is how I manage my expectations.

It is a very interesting point. Farms should be made organic for the farmer’s plus points.
I know that out of 100 products that are being sold as organic, 99% of people are not into organic farming. It is just branded that way.

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