In his crusade to encourage organic products, Chennai-based Abdul Shukoor is bridging the gap between organic farmers and customers
In recent years, we have seen a growing demand for organic products across households in the country. There is no doubt that the organic industry is making its way into the lifestyles of many, but expensive products are a concern. In Chennai, one man is trying to eliminate this concern by delivering fresh, affordable, and organic produce straight from the farmers to the households.
Abdul Shukoor (34) is happy to have left his high-paying job in the telecom industry about two-years-ago to start making a difference. Stumbling upon a farmers’ market where he saw them selling organic products (vegetables, lentils, oils etc), Abdul was prompted to an idea that would benefit both organic lovers and farmers.
“After leaving my full-time job, I wanted to start something on my own. I sold A2 milk with a friend for about two years, and then I happened to chance upon the farmers’ market, where they were selling organic products. I felt like promoting this in more public places,” Abdul says.
Abdul then decided to procure, pack, and deliver organic products on a small scale to his small but potential customer base. To do this, he associated himself with a small association of organic farmers in Erode called Uyir. It has been a year since Abdul began his journey with the association, and he feels a lot is yet to be done.
“People love organic products and there is a growing demand for it because everyone is realising the ill-effects of chemicals used in farming. Uyir in Tamil means ‘life,’ and this small community of farmers are known for producing genuine organic products. With the culture of home delivery enticing more customers, I decided to start this venture on a small scale. Currently, I have 20-25 customers,” Abdul says
Owing to small customer base, Abdul is restricted to sell organic groceries like lentils, cold press oils, and rice along with salt, millets, sugar, jaggery and honey. To avoid wastage of vegetables which he would have to procure in bulk, Abdul is waiting for his customer base to increase, so that he can help the farmers by selling their vegetable produce as well.
Selling his products in public spaces, word-of-mouth marketing, and keeping constant touch with his existing customers has earned their trust in Abdul’s venture.
“The products I procure now are need-based. Customers give me a week’s notice on the products they require, so I buy the exact amount from the farmers. This way I can also ensure the quality of the product I am delivering to the customer. For the farmers, it’s a big deal that their products are sold in the city. I also courier these products across India with minimal shipping charges, based on the distance,” he adds.
Abdul realised one of the main reason for consumers to refrain from buying organic products was the cost. He felt the brunt of this when he approached several commercial spaces to sell his products.
“It is great that there are so many stores selling organic products, but they are too commercial. I sell my products by adding a margin of 15-18 percent, but the market adds more than 30 percent margin on the actual cost of products. My venture will make no sense if I added the same margin to my products. The idea is to provide quality products at affordable rates to consumers, so they can keep coming back,” Abdul says
Leaving a well-paying job was not the only challenging decision Abdul had to make before setting up YSA Farms. Everyday is a challenge for Abdul who is now struggling to expand his venture with not much support. A one man army trying to do good to farmers as well as his customers, Abdul faces disappointment on a daily basis when he tries to encourage people at home to switch to organic products.
“Charity begins at home, but no one in my family is encouraged to take up farming or even switch to organic products. They tell me that I should rather sell my car, go abroad and work there so that I can earn more money. But that is not what I want to do. I think of this as God’s work, and a little relentless hard work from my end has helped reach at least an entry level in this sector.
While Abdul is optimistic about his venture scaling up, he has set his mind on YSA Farms. He aims to set up his own spinach farm, and has been doing extensive research in the area of organic spinach farming. Currently in talks with land owners across Tamil Nadu, Abdul believes he can soon give many farmers an opportunity to grow spinach and other vegetables in these farms.
“I want to take this to farmers beyond Uyir. There are farmers in Pondicherry, Ooty and other places who can benefit from this system. For this I need to be able to buy more. I chose Uyir because they are very cost-effective compared to the rest of Tamil Nadu. But there are many farmers who have heard about what I am doing and want me to buy from them as well. I can’t do that now, but hopefully soon enough,” Abdul says.
Abdul Shukoor can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org