In 1997, a small businessman was surprised by the performance Deejay Farm’s hybrid coconut palms and advised his father to plant them in his four acre farm. Three years ago, he bumped into David Lobo and proudly claimed that his and his friend’s farms had now grown to 400 acres, all with Deejay Hybrids, and that they were earning very good profit. A year ago, C Mahendran got elected as the Member of Parliament from Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. Mahendran is one of the thousands of small farmers who have grown big using David Lobo’s revolutionary hybrid coconut palms.
David Lobo says he is a happy man today. After slogging for three decades, he is seeing the impact of his efforts with more than two million Deejay Hybrid Palms in southern India. His early-producing hybrid palm and farmer-friendly crop management practices are resulting in his farmer customers making handsome profit. David now wants to popularize Virgin Coconut Oil, coconut milk, coconut sap and coconut sugar. They are known to have exceptional health-giving value added products.
David started his entrepreneurial journey early in 1967 after he realized he was not priest material. A successful poultry farming and poultry hatchery man, he diversified into information technology developing security products with 14 patents to his credit. Yet his passion continues to be coconut farming. He supports micro entrepreneurs and small farmers and is a founding trustee of a leading business school, Xavier Institute of Management & Entrepreneurship (XIME) in Bangalore.
He says he was instrumental in bringing McDonald’s Fast Food Chain to India, building and running their Vista Food Processing Factory for the first 6 years. However, his claim to fame is the patent-pending hybrid palm. This hybrid coconut palm flowers in one third the time [2 years compared to 6 years] and yields three times the number of coconuts per annum [250 nuts compared to 80 nuts] which are also 30% larger, with more water, kernel and oil. This palm seems like a money spinner for the farmer.
Excerpts of a chat David had with Benedict Paramanand on the sidelines of the Development Dialogue organized by the Deshpande Foundation in Hubli recently.
You said you are developing a drone? Why?
Farmers climb every palm at least ten times per month. We are experimenting with using a drone to assist us to reduce the labor component in emasculation and pollination of coconut palms, to take pictures of the bunches, to count the number of coconuts and by RFID recognition automatically complete more accurately our computerized recording systems and to actually do the pollination of the coconut flowers.
Looks like your farming is very high on technology…
We believe we have a better breeding program than anybody else in the world, as we have a bigger and a very exhaustive database. Being the first company in Karnataka to buy and use a computer in 1981 – it was a DCM cupboard size computer – every palm’s monthly/annual growing and production statistics are recorded. Today, our data bank has 23,000 mother palms’ detailed records, one of its kind in the world.
We have the pedigree, i.e. the parentage, of all our palms. We have the strictest selection process any one can hope for. What does this mean? The computer selects 500 out of the 23,000 mother palms based on productivity, and then we painstakingly select the best 200 with all the desirable characteristics in mind. The next generation is the progeny of these two hundred palms. They truly are the crème de la crème. Therefore we believe our hybrids are not just exceedingly good, if not the best, but will continue to improve with time.
Apart from the breeding program, we attempt to incorporate feasible high tech breakthroughs into our management and production systems.
What are Mother Palms?
We produce a hybrid; it’s a cross between two types of coconut palms – the dwarf and the tall. We have a specific dwarf and a specific tall and that gives us a specific hybrid. Two plus two equals eight. The dwarf we have is a wonderful mother. Good qualities are passed on to the progeny from both parents. Hybrid vigour results in earlier, higher and better production.
Presently, these seedlings are produced at Madurai and Ambur in Tamil Nadu, Bailur on the West Coast in Karnataka, Sanguem in Goa and in a few years in Penugonda in Andhra Pradesh, where we are presently planting the Parent Palms.
Does this fall under GMO?
No, GMO is when you do genetic modification. We do selective breeding crossing specific palms with each other.
Beginning of the journey, the Deejay group was in poultry farming for a long time…
I was in the seminary studying to be a priest in Bangalore, 6 years later I left. I am happy today because it’s given me opportunities to do things which otherwise I would never have done. I started with poultry farming. In the poultry hatchery business we grew to be one of the largest in India, producing more than 100,000 chicks per day!
You said you are driven by powerful business philosophies?
Our profit is and must be the legitimate profit from services rendered to society. If we do not improve our product, how can we improve our profitability?
I have three strong business principles: one I picked up from my father and the others I brought into the business. My father taught me that there is only one way to do a job, the best way. After you find the best way find a better way after that.
And a sale is not complete until the farmer gets the anticipated rewards.
You wrote these 30 years back? Most companies are still struggling with their vision and mission statements…
Yes. That’s because this world of competition is creating a lot of confusion in the minds of people. Someone told me – “All of us are honest due to lack of opportunity.” I disagree, but it’s challenging today to hang on to one’s personal beliefs.
I must add that I find these principles actually make business very easy. The first keeps making our business better. The second keeps us focused building for us a huge positive reputation and credibility. And the third leads to more and more sales with our customers becoming our sales people. A customer is happy and every passer bye is told the high yielding hybrids are Deejay Hybrids and our bookings sometimes automatically go to more than a year and a half in advance!!! And although our prices are high because our cost of production is very high, that does not make a difference!
Coconut is your main focus now?
Yes. We have an IT company, Trinity Future In Pvt Ltd. We have 14 patents for our security products that have not yet been hacked. However, changing the life of the small farmer is much more satisfying. I think, indeed, that there is no greater satisfaction than playing a role in his success.
Are you profitable?
After 20 years we became profitable instead of the anticipated ten years. This is also because of unique difficulties faced in Madurai with its climate and rainfall and water shortages. In 2005 we made our first profit.
Where do you want to see these 10 years from now?
In 15 years I hope to see the coconut tree used as a platform by all farmers. This exceedingly friendly tree, allows all types of inter cultivation, be it spices, vegetables, fruit or cereals. In Indonesia the coconut tree gives a small regular monthly income for the farmer whose main income is from other forms of agriculture. In India at a minimum income of Rs. 3,000 per Deejay Hybrid per annum, even 10 trees can create a secure financial safety net for the farmer. One acre planted with our hybrids i.e. 70 palms, earns more than two lakhs per annum and higher depending on the market prices.
It’s said coconut milk is very close to mother’s milk?
Coconut milk is compared to mother’s milk because both contain Lauric acid, a fatty acid that becomes monolaurin in our systems. Monolaurin is the only known natural product that kills or damages viruses. Hence infants seem so resistant to getting ill. [Otherwise specific antibodies via vaccination are required]. Research findings suggest that 16 different viruses are damaged or killed by Monolaurin including the flu, herpes, measles and HIV, and very important the cytomegalovirus, which in my opinion is the main cause for blockage of the arteries. Virgin coconut oil has a far greater amount of lauric acid – between 45 and 52%.
You said the sap is very useful as well…
Few people know that sugarcane is NOT the highest producer of sugar in the world. It is the coconut tree. Toddy or neera, if not allowed to ferment, but boiled, can be made into coconut syrup, honey, jaggery or sugar. Sugar cane gives it juice once in its lifetime. The coconut tree can give sap daily. Sugar cane produces about 8,000 kgs of sugar per hectare, using 12,000 liters of water per kg produced. The normal coconut tree gives about 12,000 kgs of sugar per hectare using 200 litres only to produce one kg of sugar.
Deejay Hybrid can produce more than 60,000 kgs of sugar per annum. Coconut sugar is low in glycemic [35 count] where as white cane sugar has a glycemic count of 80 which is really bad for diabetes.
State governments are now quickly reversing laws that forbid the tapping of coconut trees without a license from the excise department. This is because fresh toddy easily ferments. Fresh, unfermented sap or toddy, is one of the most delightful, tasty, nutritious drink Mother Nature provides us. I believe it is the best natural drink in the world! Work is going on successfully to produce an organic and an inorganic compound that stops all fermentation of freshly tapped toddy.
If that is successful it will revolutionize coconut farming?
Yes, soft drinks will stop using cane sugar and use coconut sap. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index, so straight off you make a healthier drink. Ordinary sugar has no protein, mineral, vitamins, but coconut sap has 7% protein, vitamins, minerals, it’s a fantastic food. Six dollars a kilo is the minimum wholesale price of coconut sugar internationally.
How do you feel currently as an entrepreneur?
Making money in the right way is a blessing, giving one greater capacity to do more good with it. But when you make money and change lives at the same time, that’s really wonderful. To live your passion, to enjoy it and to get great satisfaction — nothing like it! It’s been a tough journey but an interesting one and a very fulfilling one.