The AgriPulse Accelerate North-East programme works with early-stage entrepreneurs in the Northeast to help them scale their businesses.Shruti Kedia
While agri startups in India have made headway in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and even Odisha, the agri startup boom is yet to proliferate in the Northeast region of the country. The area is blessed with the bounty of nature, and the region is largely rural, with horticultural production dominating the agri landscape. But despite several development schemes being launched by the government, largely focusing on the farm and rural sector in the area, there remains a gap.
Manisha Acharya, CEO of Indigram Lab Foundation, a technology business incubator, says,
“There is a need for partnerships for training and competence building, investments, marketing, processing, projects, and infrastructure development to accelerate growth and economic activities, leading to more jobs, incomes and opportunities for the people belonging to these eight States - Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.”
Hence, Manisha started the AgriPulse Accelerate North-East programme with an aim to recognise “potentially game-changing early-stage entrepreneurs” from Northeast India. To create a “supportive ecosystem” to help them scale their businesses, Indigram Labs teamed up with association with National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD), Department of Science and Technology, and the North Eastern Council, Govt of India. The programme identifies and supports innovative, sustainable and scalable early-stage agri and food entrepreneurs from the Northeast.
The programme, which was started in 2018, has roped in the Central Agricultural University in Imphal, Manipur, to provide training and enable additional incomes to the youths, and double their monthly incomes within the year 2022.
Despite the high literacy rate of 79.85 percent in Manipur (the national average is 74.04 percent), the state remains socio-economically backward. The economy of Manipur is characterised by a high rate of unemployment and poverty, low capital formation, inadequate infrastructural facilities, geographical isolation, communication bottlenecks, and practically no industrialisation. Agriculture continues to be the mainstay of the economy, with more than 70 percent of the population dependent on it for livelihood.
“We need to develop the idea of ‘agripreneurship’. Unemployed youth in these states will be trained in mushroom cultivation, piggery, fishery, poultry and other allied fields. We will train the youths as job givers rather than job seekers,” says M Premjit Singh, Professor and Vice-Chancellor of the Central Agricultural University.
The Agripulse Accelerate North-East Programme brings together key stakeholders--startups, investors, mentors, and subject matter experts--in the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“These stakeholders together will help unlock the huge potential of the Northeast states by unleashing the innovative energy of the emerging entrepreneurs of the region. This, in turn, would have multiple benefits – create more employment opportunities, reduce or reverse migration of local youth, energise the local business ecosystem, and help facilitate the socio-economic development of the region, etc.” Manisha adds.
The programme provides the identified startups the opportunity of intensive mentoring and training from the pool of experts on various aspects of business, and help them mature and establish not only in the region but also beyond. The platform aims to help the startups to connect to the market and investors, and gain visibility in the ecosystem.
Their area of focus includes agro and food processing projects, horticulture, tea, spices, floriculture and medicinal plants, poultry, fisheries, piggery, and dairy, coir, bamboo and rural craft products, eco, agro, and nature tourism, and farm-to-fork and organic farming.
Identified as potential “game changers”, the following startups have received training and financial support from the incubator programme:
1. Krushi Karma Naturals
Founded by TISS alumni Pawinson Kipgen, Krushi Karma Naturals is a wholesale supplier of chemical-free naturally grown Queen Victoria pineapple, wild fruits and herbs, and organic wild bananas, which are produced in Imphal. The organisation has tied up with Gurugram-based NE Agro Products, to sell their locally produced pineapples across the country. Pawinson is a serial entrepreneur who founded two other organisations to further the cause of the farmer: Kshitiz for the Change, for the socio-economic welfare of the famers, and Quip’s Kitch, a restaurant that serves traditional Naga and Manipuri cuisines cooked from organically grown local vegetables.
2. Assam Aquaponics
Founded by college friends Rupak Medhi, Ujjal Das, and Tridib Barman, Assam Aquaponics aims to change the way vegetables and fruits are grown in Assam. Designed in the Institutional Biotechs Hub (IBH), an incubation centre of Cotton University, Guwahati, the startup combines two different technologies— hydroponics and aquaculture— to grow plants without soil.
Aquaponics is a form of agriculture that combines raising fish in tanks (recirculating aquaculture) with soilless farming (hydroponics). The nutrient-rich water from raising fish acts as a natural fertiliser for the plants while the plants help to purify the water for the fish. It is a great way to do year-round, indoor farming, irrespective of climate conditions, and can help raise fresh fish and vegetables for private or commercial consumption. As there is no discharge of water, because the waste is cleaned by the plants, the farming method is very sustainable.
3. Hill Wild Pvt. Ltd.
Founded by Leiyolan Vashum and Zeinorin Stephen with a vision to build a healthier lifestyle and community through food, the Manipur-based startup engages in the production and marketing of natural agricultural, and industrially processed food products. An alumnus of Fergusson College, Pune, Zeinorin also runs an NGO called Phiva, which trains and works with women to make pickles and doughnuts.
4. ZoEi Enterprise
With an aim to help farmers in Mizoram get fair price for their produce and engage in sales of exotic herbs and vegetables exclusive to the region, K Thanzami and PC Lalawmpuii founded ZoEi Enterprise. The startup sources exotic herbs, like birds-eye chilli, taro plant, and bamboo shoot, locally from farmers, and processes and packages them to sell online. The founder duo are biotechnologists presently researching ethnomedicinal plants in Mizoram.
5. Meira Foods
Founded by Hanjabam Shubra Devi in 2004, this Manipur-based startup sells locally grown processed food with an aim to boost the consumers’ immunity. They claim that their products add extra vitamins to a person’s daily diet. The startup preserves and promotes the indigenous food of Manipur while providing food processing skill training to educated unemployed youth in the region. All products are produced and processed by Manipuri women.