A management professional returns to his Kurukshetra roots with an organic agro-food business

2nd Nov 2015
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They say that a momentous occurs when there’s a confluence of the right time, right place and right reasons. For Jitender Sangwan, the time came when he wasn’t able to get the type of job he wanted despite having a successful corporate career with ICICI Lombard and Aviva, among others. That’s when he thought of doing something on his own, but wasn’t sure what. A visit to his ancestral village of Thol in Kurukshetra district (Haryana) got him thinking about farming as an option.

“Every time I visited Thol, it was so clear that the farmers weren’t happy. They didn’t want their children going into farming because they didn’t think it had a rewarding future,” he recalls. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that if he was going to make a living out of this, he would have to take an alternate route within farming. That’s when he hit upon the idea of doing organic farming.

A whole new world for everyone involved

There was just one problem – Jitender himself had no previous experience in farming. His father was an IAF officer and he’d studied in Kendriya Vidyalayas before going on to do his bachelors, and then an MBA from Symbiosis, Pune, which was his gateway to a corporate career. Naturally, his parents and friends were skeptical too. “Not only had I given up my career, I was going to stay in a village with no electricity, forget internet,” he laughs. It took a lot of convincing but his support system eventually rallied around him, backing him both emotionally and financially because his conviction was so strong.


Farming

Anubal Agro Products Private Limited opened in November 2013 with a seed capital of Rs 1 lakh and the goal to farm and sell organic food products directly from its own farms in Kurukshetra to homes in Delhi/NCR. Despite all the research he did, the biggest challenge for him was to gather knowledge about organic farming as everyone was doing traditional farming using pesticides and chemicals.It was slow going, but things began coming together and Anubal was able to harvest and begin selling its products to various communities in the Delhi/NCR region. Anubal Agro’s vision is to promote organic farming in India and create an ecosystem that can help achieve sustainable productivity without using artificial external elements such as chemical fertilizers, growth promoters and pesticides. They want to provide their customers with authentic stable, organic processed food to people everywhere, and in doing so, make farmers self-reliant by adopting organic farming.

Farm to fork, organics only

Conventional farmers are heavily dependent on prevailing mandi rates, seasonal cut-outs and inferior pesticides. However, urban Indians are beginning to go organic in a big way, preferring high-quality natural foods that are healthier. Against this backdrop, Jitender wanted to motivate farmers in the region to go organic, which he does by helping them with free seeds, bio inputs and consultancy.

Jitender claims that they pay 10% over market rates from their own funds to compensate them for the low yield in the initial years.

We sell our products at prices 20-30% lower than that of our competition. As we do not pay any commission to retailers/mediators, nor do we have high marketing/branding costs, we pass on this benefit to the end customer. This eases the burden of spending on seeds and inputs for farmers and encourages them to grow organic. We sign a 10-year agreement with interested farmers and get their land certified under our licence.

Anubal grows a variety of crops, then processes and packages its food products. Its range includes wheat, whole wheat flour, basmati rice, rice flour, whole black gram, whole green gram, red skin potatoes and dalia (broken wheat). What’s really interesting is that Anubal Agro sells directly to customers, for now through kiosks on weekends at various societies. They have no permanent employees because most of the work calls for temporary contract labour.


Jitender

Sales volumes per weekend: Pulses: 2-3 quintals, Potatoes: 4-5 quintals, Rice: 2-3 quintals, Wheat flour: 5-6 quintals, Rice flour: 1-2 quintals and Dalia: 50kg-1 quintal

Agents of change

"We've completely transformed the conventional method of farming and now sell our produce by working on an absolutely no mediators (ANM) principle. Indian farmers have wanted such a model in place for so long, but it is difficult to adopt it in the absence of any support from government and corporate houses,” explains Jitender. “By cutting out the middlemen from this ecosystem, we are people-centric in a way where our users can speak with our farmers or even visit our farms. This hasn't been done before and we feel this is going to be a game-changer in Indian agriculture as this will improve farmers’ living standards and help revive the farming occupation again."

Given the current situation of the Indian agricultural industry, where desperate farmers are regularly driven to committing suicide, it is difficult for anyone to initiate a new way of delivering organic farm produce under their own brand directly to consumers, without any financial assistance and government support. Ventures like Anubal have the potential to inspire farmers to produce and deliver more organic products and are looking to invite large corporations to invest in processes that involve directly dealing with farmers.

Expansion plans

With more than 80% of their orders being repeat purchases, Anubal Agro is planning to export its products to European and Asian countries. Within India, it wants to other metros like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata, and launch organic processed foods like cornflakes and other breakfast cereals, besides noodles, pasta, juices, and spices. It expects to generate revenue of Rs 50 lakh in 2016.

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