Startup Mantra: Agritech will get pesticide-free, wholesome meals in your plate

PUNE Have you ever ever questioned the place the meals we eat comes from? Is it contemporary, nutritious and wholesome to devour? What sort of practices are adopted throughout farming, harvesting and eventually transporting the produce to your close by mall, retailer, vendor or residence? Pondering this, two professionals – Ganesh Nikam, an agri-finance marketing consultant from Pune and Sanket Mehta, a banker from Mumbai – got here collectively to construct agricultural startup ‘Nutrifresh’ in 2019 with the thought to supply wholesome, pesticide-free and residue-free meals to customers at massive.

At first…

Mehta was working as a supervisor at Central Financial institution of India, Pune when Nikam met him for a number of agri-financing-related proposals in 2012-13. The duo constructed a robust rapport as they interacted recurrently concerning their work.

Says Nikam, “I got here from a farmer household background and needed to do one thing for farmers. After my MBA, I did a job in an organization. I used to be working as a funding marketing consultant with a particular deal with agriculture and agriculture-related actions. I helped a number of dairies, agro-processing industries, and meals items to boost funds.”

“Once I met Mehta, he stated he was being promoted and needed to relocate to Assam. He was unhappy and never prepared to go. So, I counsel to him that he can be part of me in consulting actions with the main target being on agriculture and associated actions. Mehta had religion and belief in me after which left his job and we each began our consultancy service,” stated Nikam.

Palms on agricultural actions

Earlier than truly stepping into the ‘enterprise’, Nikam and Mehta continued with their consultancy providers for a number of months. Mehta used to journey from Mumbai to Pune recurrently and skilled the standard distinction between the agricultural produce obtained at Mumbai and Pune and on the farm supply itself.

Sharing their preliminary days of the journey, Nikam stated, “We generated some income from our skilled providers and determined to speculate that quantity in agricultural actions. We thought why not begin one thing of our personal. Since my father had a 4-acre land in Daund we determined to do sugarcane farming there. Earlier, we used to do flood irrigation however as a substitute of that, we determined to go for precision farming and normal agricultural practices together with drip irrigation. In 2015-16 we cultivated sugarcane on that farm and received bumper produce of 110 tonnes. We had been persevering with with our session initiatives and used the income to fund the agricultural mission.”

Shift from sugarcane farming to floriculture

With the preliminary success of sugarcane farming, we determined to attempt our fingers in floriculture stated Nikam. “We received on lease one other 4-acre land which was subsequent to a dam. Whereas doing the market survey of flowers, we realized that there’s inconsistency and gaps within the provide and demand of flowers. Whereas researching, we narrowed down on orchid which is imported in India. We thought why not produce it right here and therefore we arrange a polyhouse on the 4-acre farm,” added Nikam.

Nikam and Mehta had been helped by Nikam’s brother Yogesh Memane to arrange the poly home unit as he was earlier working at an identical unit. Nevertheless, the unit economics of poly home and floriculture wanted to be matched.

Nikam stated, “We had taken finance from banks to start out the mission in 2016-17. As a substitute of doing orchids on the complete farm, we did 3 acres of Orchid, 20 guntha of roses and gerbera every. The rationale behind this was orchid has a gestation interval of 1.5 years, which meant we needed to bear the bills for this era earlier than the precise flowering might begin. We determined to recuperate the bills like labor expenses, electrical energy and different bills by way of the income generated from roses and gerbera.”

“In the meantime we had began advertising and mentioned the flower produce with some merchants. We finalized one of many merchants who, with an exclusivity clause, determined to buy the complete produce from us. With this, each our ventures proved to achieve success in a brief span of time,” Nikam added.

Hydroponics or soil-less farming

Although the floriculture experiment was profitable, Mehta and Nikam knew that it had limitations in scaling up. The flower market is restricted to cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. Whereas researching new experiments within the agriculture sector, Mehta got here throughout the idea of hydroponic or ‘soil-less farming’. Mehta and Nikam noticed a variety of movies of this system and looked for some profitable initiatives in India. The duo realized that there have been a number of such items in Goa, Chennai and Pune, nevertheless, both the items had been too small in scale or mismanaged.

Mehta was on the lookout for profitable hydroponic items when he got here throughout one in Talegaon. It was properly managed and one of many promoters was shifting base to Singapore. Mehta and Nikam had supplied to accumulate the complete unit; nevertheless, it did not undergo.

“We had been on the lookout for land for nearly one 12 months. We needed to realize two issues – hold the land price low and the situation ought to be such that the produce provide ought to be in line with the market. Therefore, we had been exploring the Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Konkan areas. In 2018-19 we received 10-acre land simply behind our present polyhouse unit at Devadi close to Ketkavale in Pune itself. It was a bit expensive however we determined to go forward and received financial institution finance and accomplished all crucial authorities formalities,” stated Nikam.

The founder duo additionally received a chance to get a 250-acre land plot on lease in Phaltan. “It was out there on an 11-year lease and we had submitted our tender software. We introduced this barren land plot below cultivation inside 3 months with crucial natural certifications, and many others. We’re producing fruits there and the plant is run completely on automated processes. The fruit produce from there’s exported,” Nikam acknowledged.

Lockdown challenges

With the polyhouse unit prepared and produce in hand, Nikam and Mehta had additionally accomplished tie-ups with e-commerce gamers, five-star motels, malls and different distributors. Inside every week of truly beginning gross sales, the Covid-19 outbreak began and the lockdown was imposed by the federal government.

“We had planted capsicum and cucumber and equipped it to malls, motels, and many others. Sadly, all these institutions had been closed and all our agreements had been placed on maintain. We had a few export consignments to Dubai and Singapore which had been additionally caught halfway. It was a struggling interval for us,” Nikam stated.

“Initially after we started our operations, we needed to choose one possibility – to be on the retail facet or manufacturing or manufacturing facet of the enterprise. The retail house was already captured by the massive gamers and we had no alternative however to be on the provision facet. All e-commerce, malls and distributors had just one request that the provision ought to be constant. Nevertheless, the lockdown modified the complete situation. We had by no means thought of branding our personal merchandise however we needed to do it in the course of the lockdown. We had the Nutrifresh model identify with us already so we determined to go forward with it,” he added.

“When lockdown kicked in, we had 3.5-tonne cucumber able to sale however we had been unable to move it. Since roadside garages and motels had been closed, drivers weren’t out there. So, we made preparations for lodging and meals for drivers and labor at our polyhouse unit itself. With all precautions and Covid-19 pro
tocol, we began delivering contemporary produce to clients,” stated Nikam.

Empowering girls

Nutrifresh partnered with Tigressmoms, a community group of passionate and financially impartial girls, who helped them market and distribute their hydroponic farm merchandise throughout Mumbai and Pune.

Nikam stated, “We developed our personal packaging, branding, web site and cell purposes on Android, and iOS. We deliberate the manufacturing as per demand and requirement. We had approached townships and huge residential societies when Tigressmoms group which labored on girls health received in contact with us. They posted our message on teams and we supplied fee primarily based on gross sales to all girls who participated within the actions. Every lady participant had a novel code by way of which product sale was recognized and fee paid.”

Mehta stated, “The affiliation helped us with an excellent attain throughout the size and breadth of the cities with our merchandise. With girls forming 80 per cent of our workforce, we strongly imagine in empowering girls and this partnership will solely reaffirm our dedication to it.”

Future plans

Sharing his views on the way forward for agriculture, Nikam stated, “Agriculture depending on monsoon won’t be sustainable. We have to undertake protected cultivation and at current hydroponics is one of the best expertise out there on this section. The one disadvantage of hydroponics is that it’s capital-intensive.”

“We want to increase within the retail house however that section wants extra cash-burn and powerful distribution channels. We do not want to be a cash-burning firm. Even the HoReCa section wants grade B produce however we do not produce it and therefore that section contributes solely 10 per cent of our gross sales. We’re presently focusing solely on massive townships in Pune and Mumbai to maintain our supply prices low,” says Nikam.

Revealing future plans, Nikam stated, “We have now began salad supply at residence. If we think about solely Pune and Mumbai area, the full inhabitants is about 3.5 crore. Out of this, 10 per cent (35 lakh) is taken into account to be consuming unique greens and salads. At the moment now we have reached solely 15 thousand clients. We have not even captured 1 or 2 per cent of the market. Simply to cater to the Pune and Mumbai market, we are going to want 150 to 200 acres of land and even after enlargement we will seize solely 3 to 4 per cent of it.”