A poor farmer’s son who had to live in an orphanage has become one of the most successful farmers in the drought-prone Vidarbha region and wants others to follow his footsteps and end farmer suicides.
Savi Thangavel, 68, can be seen attending to farmers from all over Vidarbha, foreign delegates, ministers and even bollywood actors on his farm, which is just 25 km from Nagpur in Mahegaon village.
What is unusual about Thangavel’s farm is that he doesn’t grow crops like soyabean, paddy, cotton or sugarcane, usually grown by Vidarbha farmers, but you can see 130 organically grown date trees loaded with at least 25 kg to 30 kg of dates on each one of them.
One has to think out of the box. It is time that Vidarbha farmers come out of their usual methods of farming and stop growing the traditional crops, which is not earning them enough. There is huge potential in our Vidarbha land and the high temperature is a boon only if we grow right kind of crops,” says Thangavel.
Thangavel, who loves the soil and weather of Nagpur originally belongs to a very small village called Pudupaliyan in Selam district of Tamil Nadu. His father was a poor farmer and both his parents had to work as farm labourers to manage one meal a day for him and his six siblings. Being the youngest of all, Savi was sent to an orphanage at the age of six so that he could study. After studying till class 10, and a year in pre-university, Savi got an opportunity to work in a hospital in Nagpur in the year 1974. According to him, language was a huge barrier for them in Nagpur and hence none of the students showed interest in the job, but looking at his family’s financial condition, Thangavel took up the opportunity.
“While leaving for Nagpur, my father gave me a piece of advice which I always followed and which is the reason for my success today. He said: ‘Never put your money in the bank or in your hand rather put the money in the soil’ and I did so,” he says.
Thangavel would buy a piece of land whenever he would save some money. He also continued his education and would work on the farm once he finished his office work and studies. Slowly, people knew him for the fresh vegetables in his farm. However,Thangavel was also not unaffected from the problems that a Vidarbha farmer faces. Everyday, he would see a farmer dying out of distress. He then started researching on the crops, which will remain unaffected by weather conditions and can also earn well in the market. His research took a systematic approach once he was retired in 2010.
Thangavel realised that date was one fruit which is grown in the deserts, and can survive in extreme temperatures and does not require very fertile soil and regular watering.
High temperatures like Vidarbha’s is also a boon for this tree as higher the temperature, the sweeter the fruit becomes. Moreover, the fruit had great value in the world market.
Thangavel’s idea of date farming became stronger when he visited one of his friends who had worked in various date farms in Saudi Arabia and had started his own date farm in Dharampuri, Tamil Nadu. After learning the procedure of date farming from Tamil Nadu, Thangavel also visited few date farmers in Gujarat. He then bought 130 tissue culture date plants and planted them in his 2-acre land. The experiment was completely new in Vidarbha. It was the first time that someone was doing date farming here and sadly,Thangavel became a laughing stock there.The cost per plant at thetime was Rs 6,000, so it was an investment with a huge risk.
However,within 3 years the plants bore fruit and in the fourth year, Thangavel harvested nearly 25 kg- 30 kg of dates from each tree.The dates were sold for Rs. 300 per kg, giving him a huge profit, though marketing the product was also not an easy task initially.
“Many people did not know about this fruit when I started selling them. What people know is the normal dried Khajur, which is available in the market. We have to create awareness among the people about fresh Date fruit. What I did was I went to the busy roadside and distributed the fruit to people. Many said that it is Ber, many appreciated, some laughed at me, some looked with suspicion but I did my job. It is your outlook, how you see the situation. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Certainly I see a very bright future for these dates,” says Thangavel.
At present,Thangavel owns 25 acres of land. He has planted 300 new date plants of six new varieties in another four acres. Each tree now produces almost 100 kg of dates. Thangavel has reduced the price to Rs. 200 per kg for local customers.
As people started hearing about Thangavel’s success, there were farmers coming to him from across the country to learn his techniques. Thangavel understood that there were many people who wanted to invest in date farming but did not have the knowledge or skill to do so. Thus he started The Thangavel date plantation organisation with a motto of ‘Helping people to help themselves’.
The Organisation helps people in preparation of their land for date farming and marketing the dates.
According to Thangavel, though the rate of a tissue cultured date plant has come down to Rs 3,600, it is still a big deal for a normal farmer to invest in it. So far he and his son have helped ready around 25-30 farmlands for date cultivation; however, all of those belong to people who are financially stable. To encourage marginal farmers to start date farming could likely require government subsidy.
“In Maharashtra date cultivation doesn’t even come under horticulture and hence there is no subsidy. We urge the Maharashtra government to give subsidy to these farmers like Rajasthan and Gujarat government. We dream of a Vidarbha that grows dates throughout its area. All the farmers live with lots of self-respect and financial help. Agriculture becomes a respectable occupation. We see a situation where dates are exported and farmers enjoy higher income than any other job. This is our dream for Vidarbha and we sincerely believe this will become a reality in the near future,” he says
As Thangavel loves to experiment with various types of cultivation, two years ago he also started planting mushrooms and strawberries, which has also given him good returns.
In winter,Thangavel opens his farm for visitors to pick their own strawberries.
“I had been to Aberdeen in Scotland in 2014 to attend wedding of a friend’s daughter. The family had a huge strawberry farm next to their house. They offered us fresh fruits from there. I loved the taste and that very moment I decided to try growing them in my farm. But since I was already preoccupied with Date cultivation, I waited for the right time and tried strawberry cultivation in October 2015,” says Thangavel.
According to Thangavel, farming is the only field where there is endless opportunity to experiment and one can keep learning for life. The only way for farmers to come out of distress is to go out of the way to do unusual things.
Thangavel Date Plantation
Near Zilpi Lake,
ZilpiMohegaon – P.O,
Nagpur – 441110
Phone :Mr.Thangavel : +919923086994, 9822743228
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
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