“Retirement is not the end of life. In fact, it is a chance to open doors to the things we love,” says Kozhikode native K T Francis, who retired as a physical education teacher in 2015 to start his journey as a successful farmer.
The 63-year-old, who hails from a farming family, always had a fascination for agriculture. Over 120 years ago, Francis’ grandfather reached Maruthomkara from the outskirts of Idukki and bought five acres of land to start farming. After his death, Francis’ father took over the activities.
Despite having a full time job, Francis found time to engage in farming. “Agriculture has never been my hobby. It’s more like a habit I can’t let go of. From the day I can remember, I was with my father and other workers on the farm, helping them and enjoying the harvest,” Francis recalls.
After getting a job, it became hard for him to manage the land. He gave it on lease, but unscientific farming of rubber and fall in crop value resulted in huge loss. He had to sell two acres of the property to pay off the debts.
But this incident was a turning point in his life. — he thought of ways to improve farming on the available land, rather than being disappointed about the loss. Soon, he took up mixed farming, by which he made use of all remaining three acres.
“The first task I completed soon after retirement was cutting off the rubber trees, which were under loss. We already had a few kuttiadi coconut trees that are 120 years old and known for producing healthy tender coconuts. I planted more of those, along with arecanut, pepper, turmeric, ginger, tapioca, yam, and many other vegetables. This mixed farming technique gave great results and I began earning lakhs from it.”
The 250 coconut palms on his land give at least 200 seeds per year, he says. Apart from selling them directly, Francis converts them into oil and cake (food for cattle). Francis also supplies coconut seed nuts for seedling production and produces WCT coconut seedlings. He also provides arecanut seedlings to Krishi Bhavan and other farmers.
Witnessing his successful farming, employees of Krishi Bhavan encouraged him to start a garden nursery to sell Kuttiadi coconut tree saplings. Today, Kaithakulath Coconut Nursery exclusively sells this variety, which, according to Francis, is apt for Kerala’s weather condition. He says that Kaithakulath is the only government accredited nursery in Kerala which sells just this coconut variety.
The farmer says that during coconut farming, it is important to make a two-metre deep hole and construct a proper bed under the sapling. Francis fills the bed with farm waste like dry leaves, branches, and coconut husk, which he says contribute to the healthy growth of the plant and help it retain moisture.
Arecanut and pepper are the other two major crops on Francis’ farm. He explains that after two and a half years of planting arecanut seedlings, he plants pepper beneath it, which grows fast under the areca’s shade. As pepper is one of the most expensive spices, Francis earns a lot of income from it, he says.
“As pepper is grown within the arecanut trees, one round of fertilising is enough for both. Thus, it saves money, space and effort. Mangala, mangala interse cross, mohitnagar and south kanara are the varieties of arecanut I grow. There are a total of 1,000 black pepper vines on the farm including sreekara, subhakara, IISR thevam, panchami, pournami and panniyur 6. Bush pepper plants are also planted,” explains the farmer, who harvested eight quintals of pepper last year.
Robusta, honey and more
“Robusta is the star among all types of banana,” says Francis, who grows the variety extensively. “While the normal variety is sold for Rs 300 per stem, robusta gets around Rs 1,100. This way, I earn at least Rs 80,000 a year.”
Francis has also installed bee hives on his farm to protect the coconut trees and harvest honey. He bottles it and sells it to his neighbours and friends in the locality. In fact, his house is also a farm fresh store with coconut oil, fertilisers, honey, organic vegetables, and fruits.
In addition to all these, his land is also home to three cows, goats, ducks, fishes, turkey and qualis. Some of their cages are placed on the terrace of his house . This way, not even a small space is left vacant. The meat, milk, and eggs of some of these animals are also sold.
The highlight of Francis’ farm is the use of organic fertilisers. “To 100 litres of water, I add 10 kg of cow dung, and 1 kg each of groundnut cake fertiliser, jaggery and green gram to make a homemade mixture that speeds up the growth of plants. The excreta of animals is also used. I have made rainwater pits all over the farm to make sure that there is no scarcity for water even during extreme summer,” he adds.
The farmer shares that he gets an income of more than Rs 35 lakh per year and incurs Rs 5-8 lakhs expense. “Coconut seedling is the most profitable business right now,” says the agripreneur.
He was honoured with the Kera Kesari Award in 2018 for his farming techniques, and says he has also won 13 other national, state and district level awards. He also has a YouTube channel to share farming tips and information. Sanu Francis, his son, says, “I am in awe of my father’s work and would like to get into farming within 10 years. Now my only job is to watch his methods and provide tech support. I am glad that he inspires many youngsters like me.”
Interested in buying Kuttiadi coconut seedlings? Contact 9947142849.
Edited by Divya Sethu