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Military Service to Cocoa Fields: How Cocoa Farming Changed the Life of an Ex-Air Force Officer

Ex-Air Force officer Venkata Subba Rao Edpuganti turned post-retirement challenges into triumph through innovative cocoa farming. He now earns over 5 lakh per annum from just 4 acres and has been honored with the Best Farmer Award from Andhra Pradesh.

Shreetu Singh
Venkata Subba Rao Edpuganti: How Cocoa Farming Changed the Life of an Ex-Air Force Officer
Venkata Subba Rao Edpuganti: How Cocoa Farming Changed the Life of an Ex-Air Force Officer

Cocoa, often referred to as the “food of the gods,” has a rich history and significant economic value, especially in tropical regions. In India, nearly 80% of cocoa cultivation occurs in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, offering farmers better prices compared to many African countries. Cocoa farming not only provides raw material for the beloved chocolate industry but also offers farmers a stable and good source of income.

Venkata Subba Rao Edpuganti is a brilliant example of one such farmer. At the age of 78 years, Venkata Subba Rao Edpuganti, a resident of the Eluru district in Andhra Pradesh, carries a wealth of experience and wisdom. As an ex-Air Force personnel, Venkata transitioned from serving his country to nurturing the land, becoming a dedicated horticulture farmer for over forty years is worth exploring.

In 1990, Venkata retired from the Air-force and was facing significant financial challenges. His coconut plantation provided insufficient income, making it difficult to meet daily needs. “I was unable to fulfill the needs of my family,” he recalls. Determined to find a solution, Venkata began exploring alternatives to increase his income.

Through his research, Venkata discovered the potential of cocoa as a profitable intercrop. In 1992, he took a bold step by starting a cocoa plantation alongside his coconut trees. The initial years were tough, but by the third year, he began to see the fruits of his labor. The price of cocoa was Rs. 45 per Kg, and within seven to eight years, Venkata was harvesting 700 Kgs of dry beans per acre. However, due to limited land and increased crop growth, he had to reduce the number of plants, stabilizing his yield at 500 Kgs per acre.

A Steady Source of Income

The consistent income from cocoa cultivation significantly improved Venkata's financial stability. “This income is substantial and better than the primary crop that was coconut,” he states. The continuous yield from cocoa not only increased his living standards but also ensured a steady cash flow throughout the year. Despite reducing his land from 13 acres to 4 acres two years ago, due to his children's relocation to America and the high labor demand of cocoa farming, Venkata's innovative techniques continue to yield impressive results.

Innovative Farming Techniques

Venkata employs limited irrigation to maintain optimal vegetative growth. During cooler months, he avoids extensive irrigation methods, while in summer, he uses drip and sprinkler systems to ensure sufficient water supply. Intercropping cocoa with sandalwood and coconut has proven to be an effective strategy. “Cocoa helps in weed control of sandalwood and assures year-round income,” he explains. His current setup includes sandalwood-cocoa-sandalwood (new saplings) on 2 acres and coconut-cocoa on another 2 acres. Remarkably, he now earns Rs. 4-5 lakh per annum from 4 acres, a figure comparable to his earlier earnings of Rs. 7-8 lakh per annum from 13 acres.

A Commitment to Organic Farming

Venkata practices sustainable farming by minimizing the use of crop protectants and utilizing fallen cocoa leaves to replenish soil nutrients. His approach not only promotes environmental health but also enhances the quality of his produce.

Recognition and Independence

Despite lacking formal training, Venkata benefited from the guidance of Cadbury, which helped him achieve his goals. His dedication and innovative farming methods earned him the Best Farmer Award from the Andhra Pradesh government.

Venkata's story is a testament to resilience and self-reliance. He exemplifies how cocoa farming can transform lives, providing financial independence and improving living standards. Reflecting on his journey, Venkata says, “If I had not grown cocoa, I would never have imagined the life I am living now.”

Impact of Cocoa on Farmers’ Lives

Venkata's success story serves as an inspiration for farmers everywhere. His journey from financial hardship to becoming a recognized and prosperous farmer underscores the potential of cocoa cultivation. Through hard work, innovation, and a commitment to sustainable practices, Venkata Subba Rao Edpuganti has not only secured a better life for himself but also demonstrated the transformative power of cocoa farming.

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