One day as I was working in my office in Australia, a thought struck me. I asked myself if this was what I really wanted to do in life. I shut down my laptop and started pondering. A seven-figure salary and an air-conditioned office were no longer giving me happiness or satisfaction. I applied for leave and came home. On reaching Coimbatore, the sight of the lush green trees made me decide to take up farming
This is the story of a software engineer who graduated from Coimbatore Institute of Technology, Tamil Nadu, did a masters from the University of South Australia, and worked for five years in a software company in Adelaide, Australia and later returned to become a farmer.
Belonging to a Coimbatore-based agricultural family, Suresh Babu Palaniswamy had grown up seeing two generations of his family — his grandfather, father and his uncles — tilling the land. Though he used to work in the fields lending a helping hand in his leisure time, farming was not something that he had in mind to take up as a profession.
Just like most students of his time, he too opted for the IT sector when it was at its peak.
"Back then my aspirations were to get a well paying job and settle in a foreign country. I was able to achieve it. I was so happy when I was in Australia that I even took up its citizenship. But it was not long before I came to realize that this was not giving me peace," he said regretting his decision of taking up Australian citizenship.
Taking leave from work and reaching his hometown, he met local farmers, did some research about the market conditions, took inputs from government agricultural departments and the state agricultural university (TNAU), and purchased a few acres of land at the foothills of Marudamalai in the Western Ghats.
"My father already owned some land there but it was left barren because of the persistent attacks by elephants and wild boars. I learnt that electric fencing could solve this but the problem was that the state electricity board did not have power lines till here."
Soil erosion was also a reason why farmers hesitated to cultivate in that region. Besides, it took two years to get an electric connection. However, Suresh Babu was not one to wait that long. He invested in solar photovoltaics and set up a solar-powered fence for his 9.5-acre farm, using which he operates a 5 HP pump.
Suresh has planted areca-nut and banana in his fields and is trying to practice organic farming. His father has a dairy farm from where he gets cow urine which he uses in his farm along with neem leaf extract as an insecticide. He also gets fish waste from the local market which he mixes with jaggery and stores in airtight containers for almost a month to get liquid fertilizer. To conserve water, he has set up a drip irrigation system.
Yet he says that a completely organic farm in that region is almost impossible given the drastic decline in soil fertility because of top soil erosion.
After having switched to farming full-time, 32-year-old Suresh Babu is a very happy man now. He was recently awarded the ‘Young Farmer Award’ by a farmers' collective in Chennai.
His message for young minds who wish to take up farming is this: "Farming is a very honourable profession and one must proudly say that he is a farmer. For young people to get into farming, money is a very important factor. I would suggest them to work for a few years, save enough money, and then take this up. Credit facilities are available but there is a risk involved in agriculture for it is still dependent on external factors. What crops you cultivate is also important; it is not that you must cultivate what the majority are doing. Government departments and agricultural universities are of great help in giving advice. I am really thankful to them for giving me good advice."