This is how Carmel Organics is using technology to improve the lives of organic farmers in India’s heartland

27th Sep 2016
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This article has been sponsored by Intel India as part of its Ek Kadam Unnati Ki Aur Heroes campaign

There is a burst of colour and fragrance as you enter the Carmel Organics warehouse in Neemuch, a small town in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. A group of men and women is sifting through a heap of cinnamon, while another is sorting and packing desiccated pink rose petals. A few women are sieving spice powders, while some men are checking the quality of freshly ground turmeric, which has just arrived. The atmosphere is imbued with the smell of spices and herbs that evokes the feeling of an age gone by.

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The scene in a room adjacent to the warehouse seems a world apart. A group of 20 youngsters is busy looking at computer screens and typing furiously. Some are keeping track of purchasing, processing, and timely dispatch to clients, while others are tracking customer requirements and metrics related to the day-to-day operations. At Carmel, everything, from business development and record-keeping, to research and communication, is done on the Personal Computer (PC).

Shailendra Dhakad, the co-founder of Carmel Organics, has just finished responding to two mails, one of which was a business development mail to a new customer, and the other, a client’s increased order volume. He says,

“Carmel Organics could not have grown to what it is today, without the help of PCs and the internet. Otherwise, who would have heard about a small organisation like ours hidden in the hinterland of India? How would we get in touch with clients in countries we have never even had the chance to visit?”

Today, Carmel Organics markets over 50 herbal products and spices to more than 120 clients in India, and exports to more than 40 global clients across 10 countries.

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A different calling

Coming from a family of a farmers, agriculture was not new to Shailendra. He says, “It was when I was pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Bio-Technology that I learnt about the advantages of bio-fertilisers, organic farming, and medicinal herb farming. While working on projects in these areas, I saw the positive impact it had on the lives of consumers and farmers.”

After college, Shailendra worked with a certifying agency for a few months to understand the intricacies of the business and realised that there was a gap in demand and supply of medicinal herbs and spices.

He teamed up with his friend, Rajesh Sagitla, and the two young men started Carmel Organics Pvt Ltd in 2012, with just two computers. The first few months were spent streamlining the sourcing and production of medicinal herbs. Next, it was time to search for relevant markets for these products. It was here that PC played a central role in their success story. Shailendra says, “We would browse for companies we thought would want to use our raw materials, and send them a mail. Our first client was a large pharmaceutical company with a factory in Bengaluru. After the initial set of mails, I travelled to the IT city and came back with business worth Rs 2 lakh. That was our first big break.”

Carmel has gone on to expand their product range after studying global demands, industry trends, and other factors. In fact, Shailendra says, “Every day, I spend at least two hours researching the industry, and reading up on business strategy, organisational management, and production.”

He adds, “With the help of the Internet, we are able to understand what herbs will grow better in a particular climate, how to ensure better produce, etc.”

The startup’s annual revenues have grown significantly, from Rs 1 crore in 2012 -13 to Rs 7.4 crore in 2015-16. Rajesh says, “We might close the current financial year with an annual revenue of Rs 12 crore.”

Taking care of business

Shailendra oversees market development, strategy, and people management, and Rajesh is a veritable encyclopaedia on the use of herbs. He is also the man behind integrating procurement, processing, and sales channels at Carmel.

The core of Carmel Organics’ philosophy is to build and sustain partnerships between farming communities and customers. These communities mainly comprise marginal farmers who are encouraged to take up organic farming of traditional herbs that can thrive even in unfavourable conditions to yield a good harvest. The company eliminates the need for middlemen to ensure that farmers get a fair share of the premium on the harvest, which translates to better socio-economic conditions in rural communities. Simultaneously, by setting up an end-to-end integrated supply chain, Carmel Organics is able to provide quality herbal products from the farm to customers around the globe.

The co-founders and the team at Carmel Organics train and educate farmers on how to improve productivity, while empowering them to innovate with newer techniques and technologies in organic farming. Shailendra still remembers the day a farmer from the village came to the Carmel Organics office because he had heard that they help farmers reap better revenue. He says, “Today, that farmer grows roses on his one- acre plot, which brings him nearly Rs 2 lakh in revenue, which is something phenomenal for him.”

The startup works directly with more than 1,500 farmers and has impacted the lives of hundreds more by procuring their produce at a fair price. “A farmer who has an acre of land is able to earn anywhere between Rs 2-4 lakh depending on what he grows,” explains Shailendra.

This, for the founders, is “very satisfying.” Shailendra says,

“Coming from a family of marginal farmers and a village that was solely dependent on agriculture for its livelihood, I know the pain and trouble the farmers go through. Today, the fact that I am able to help them double their income and bring a change in their lifestyle makes me very happy.”

Growing organically

Carmel Organics is at the start of yet another exciting venture – their own e-commerce platform Truu. The platform will retail various types of herbal teas, herbs, and spices under its eponymous label – Truu. Rajesh says, “Truu has a dedicated team that manages everything, from adding new products, to tracking the status of orders, and customer service.”

They also operate Flavoherbs, which offers unique custom and spiced tea blends for both co-packaging and individual branding. Rajesh says, “Our forte is reproducing proprietary formulation to specification, or even creating entirely new custom blends. The in-house sourcing and printing team helps clients with sourcing ingredients and packaging materials such as tea bags, boxes, or pouches. The ingredients and packaging materials are both stocked in-house to reduce lead-time and ultimately time-to-market, which we believe is crucial.”

Carmel Organics is a perfect example of how technology can change lives. And all it took was two enterprising youngsters from an agricultural family, two computers, and a dream.

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