Why land restoration entrepreneurs should partner with government programmes
For all entrepreneurs, government partnerships can help them thrive as they compete in both global and domestic markets. And for entrepreneurs whose young businesses restore land – by growing thousands of trees and helping farmers produce more sustainably, and a host of other business models – government support is especially important.
From creating and maintaining a viable operating environment to providing startup capital and expertise, governments have supported impact-minded entrepreneurs and mitigated their risk of failure for decades. But in recent years, government agencies have acknowledged that the public sector alone cannot solve social challenges and deliver key services on its own. To fill that gap, they are calling for innovative entrepreneurs to build public-private partnerships with government agencies.
Land restoration entrepreneurs are in a prime position to partner with these government programmes, like Startup India, which can help them secure their intellectual property rights, navigate the public procurement process, and benefit from special tax exemptions. By turning a profit and creating jobs while restoring valuable services like healthy soil and clean water, they can help central, state, and local governments meet their rural development, agriculture, food security and environmental goals.
How land restoration entrepreneurs are tapping into public sector support
Several entrepreneurs from the first cohort of the Land Accelerator South Asia – an intensive training and mentorship programme for these entrepreneurs led by WRI India – have benefitted from these national and state government programs and made further connections through the programme. Here’s what they told us.
Some companies received direct grants. Led by Subhankar Sanyal, Rhodotion, which works with small farmers and tribes in the Himalayas, is growing indigenous products like wild teas and lemon pepper in sustainable mixed-farming systems. Bastar se Bazaar Tak, led by Satendra Lilhare, helps tribal farmers in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh develop sustainable value chains for forest products. What ties these two companies together? They recently received grants from RKVY-RAFTAAR, a programme of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW), that supports growing agripreneurs with approximately Rs. 5 lakh ($6,800).
As a more established start-up, Jeev Anksh, which connects organic farmers in the Northeast with international markets, qualified for a bigger grant of up to Rs. 25 lakh ($34,000) under the same RKVY-RAFTAAR programme, according to founder Gunajit Brahma. Importantly, all three companies received technical support from research institutes to help them navigate the application process.
Governments can provide important logistics support, too. Anubhav Mittal from IBANSS, which converts bamboo fibres into biodegradable pellets that can replace single-use plastics, received land for his pilot from the Uttarakhand State Government. The National Bamboo Mission subsidised 50 percent of his project costs (including his processing plant), and he received a Agri Infra Fund loan at a low 3 percent interest rate.
In Chattisgarh, the district administration is helping Satendra Lilhare from Basta se Bazaar Tak set up a processing factory run by women entrepreneurs, and the local forest department is organising villages to help the company ensure its supply of forest products. The state and central governments are helping him navigate smoothly tricky government processes and comply with the law.
The Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals (ISAP), a non-profit development agency, helped Amit Godse, the founder of honey-producer Bee Basket, form a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) of 8p00 honey collectors in the Sunderban mangroves. Godse says that ISAP, which is helping the national government mandate of creating FPOs, shepherded him through the registration process (and paid for it) and will also connect him with other relevant ministries to grow his business.
During the COVID-19 crisis, governments have supported these early stage entrepreneurs with funding from their COVID-19 Assistance Package. Jestin Pauls from Aadhimalai Pazhangudiyinar Producer Co. Ltd. received a grant of Rs 10 lakhs ($13,600) from the Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation Project. That funding is helping him set up a processing facility for non-timber forest products that sources its raw materials (like beeswax, honey, soapnut, and pepper) from up to 40 families in the Nilgiris.
Three ways governments can best support land restoration entrepreneurs
While the central and state governments have already introduced helpful initiatives, they can adopt the following strategies to help entrepreneurs leverage the full environmental, social, and economic impacts of start-ups:
Build connection: Governments can bring the right mentors, investors, and advisors to land restoration entrepreneurs and encourage peer-learning. The Startup India, Invest India, and AGNII programs are helping the Land Accelerator South Asia do that now. They can also help build physical spaces, like innovation labs and coworking spaces, where businesses can tap into well-resourced communities. With that support, first-time entrepreneurs can build their unique value proposition outside of the overcrowded e-commerce, fintech, education technology and mobility industries, while bringing diversity to the economy.
Target women agripreneurs: Governments have launched initiatives to empower women entrepreneurs, but these innovators need access to capital, high-quality data and market access to encourage more female participation and equal opportunities in the land restoration sector. Given that women are the lynchpin of rural economies, tapping into their deep knowledge and experience will be key.
Reach beyond major cities: The most innovative land restoration start-ups are working in rural communities across India. Helping them access public programs and grants can provide entrepreneurs more opportunities to create local impact at scale (and rural wealth). With their impressive local communications capacity, governments can also help build relationships between start-ups, FPOs, and individual farmers. These government programmes are helping communicate these opportunities and programs (like the Land Accelerator South Asia) to communities and women’s groups.
The government has made strides toward a “new restoration economy” in India, building off the decades of experience that have made it home to the world’s third largest startup ecosystem. But it’s still early days: The opportunity to help these entrepreneurs restore land to create food security, rural development, and sustainable livelihoods is not yet realised. It’s time to get to work.
Edited by Diya Koshy George