Give the city life a miss with Beforest, a startup that helps people set up farm collectives
The city, with its bright lights and fast-paced life, can leave a person jaded after a while. For those tired of running the rat race and yearning to seek a simpler, green life, Bengaluru-based Beforest has the perfect solution. The startup not only helps people purchase agriculture land, but also come together to form self-sustainable farm collectives that generate income.
Sunith Reddy, Sameer Shisodia, and Shaurya Chandra gave up their corporate careers to build their dream project. IIT-Madras grad Sunith Reddy, BITS Mesra-pass out Sameer, and IIT-Rourkee alumnus Chandra worked in tech, hospitality, and capital markets, but soon recognised the burning desire to create a meaningful platform.
They wished to be the catalyst for future generations to take to farming. Thus, they founded Beforest in 2018 to change the way people took to collective farming.
"Farming has been the most critical of professions throughout our existence," says Sameer, 47, pointing out the disconnect between man and nature caused by migration to urban centres.
Beforest offers farming as a service. Interested people can come together on the startup’s website to buy a large farm. They interact with an expert team that Beforest puts together and finalise the details of the farm—feasibility, due diligence, acquisition, design, the structures, and the techniques. The farm owners are involved in the planning and execution as far as possible.
Sameer and Sunith met through a common friend when Sameer was actively involved in the operations of his business, called Linger Vacations. Sunith at that time was looking for a way to run a property he owned in Uttarakhand. Sunith and Shaurya, who worked together in a capital markets company, had similar conversations. The trio soon joined hands when they realised they had common interests.
They brainstormed for over five years before starting up with Beforest in 2018. In those five years they experimented with a farm collective, which saw success near Thagatti in Tamil Nadu.
How the farm collective works
BeForest plays the role of an enabler, facilitating interactions over the platform, and is present on the farm as the needle moving in a certain direction.
“For all this, we take 25 percent of the revenue of the farm over the next few years. Different farms have different time spans. The members can renew the contract for farming with Beforest upon expiry or choose to run it themselves thereafter," says Sunith Reddy.
Beforest is working on a complete solution and helps groups of people purchase cultivable land and provides other services such as construction, staffing, and consulting. "So far, we are a B2C model but we are exploring the option of going B2B as well," says Sameer.
The process begins when Beforest receives requests for starting a collective in a particular area or city. When these requests reach a sizeable number, say five or six people who are ready to commit, Beforest announces a possible collective in that area. A commitment fee is charged in the beginning to filter out people who are not serious about the collective.
The startup then scouts for land and identifies a few options that fit the parameters of size, cost, distance, and time. The committed members now choose from the available options and arrive at a collective decision.
"We then zero in on the specs in more detail. This includes a more specific price and the size of each member’s commitment. We then do the due diligence, prior to which the process for farm acquisition and setup begins. In parallel, more members are signed up," says Sunith.
Not your typical investment option
The first collective, called the Tamarind Valley Collective, in Tamil Nadu, did so well that it pushed the founders to scale the model to multiple locations. BeForest then added the Hyderabad and the Coorg collective in 2018.
"The concept of growing food as a food forest really appealed to many people and garnered a lot of interest in the early days. However, this is not a product for everyone, as we don’t propose it as an investment asset class, which is typically the mindset when it comes to buying a piece of land. We are very particular that BeForest is only for people who own a farm or have made up their minds to own one. It just makes more sense to buy it together," says Sunith.
An average collective is 75 acres in size and has over 50 members. The land is owned by the collective and not the startup.
Each member is sold units of 1.25 acres with a small portion of it being in the common pool and the rest registered in the individual owner’s name. The common pool would contain all the construction projects necessary to run the collective—staff quarters, roads, hospitality infrastructure, etc.
The startup has three collectives in operation currently.
"The biggest hassle and also what excites us the most is that every landscape is different. The techniques and the methods of farming we use in Coorg would be very different from what we would use in Hyderabad. In fact, the same techniques won’t work within the same collective as well," says Sunith.
The business model
The revenue model is twofold. Each member buys into the collective, which adds to Beforest’s revenue. BeForest also manages the community and landscape for the first 10 years. During this period, Beforest claim 25 percent of all revenues gained from the collective, mostly through the sale of agri produce and the cost of real estate.
Each member typically contributes around Rs 40 lakh to the purchase of land, but this number varies according to the location and farm needs.
The founders are beginning to explore different models of produce distribution and sale with small quantities through their BeWild brand. Here, they compete with the likes of CropIn. They add that their revenue for the last year was Rs 3 crore.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)