Starting with just Rs 1,000, social entrepreneur Ruchi Jain now delivers farmers’ produce to places like Taj Palace Hotel and Blue Tokai
Ruchi Jain’s fifth venture began by helping farmers who could not sell their jaggery produce. Today, her startup Taru Naturals delivers five-gram jaggery sachets to Taj Palace Hotel, Blue Tokai, and 70 other restaurants and cafes.
Ruchi Jain used to go on field visits to different villages in India as a government official under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. She was working on rural electrification project funded by the World Bank between j2012 and 2014.
During this time, she came across a farmer in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, who had walked 25 km, selling custard apples for a mere 40 rupees for two kilos.
“That trip was a big game changer and I realised it's more important to work on integrated development of farmers who are the backbone of the country.
She quit her job in 2014 and decided to create a last mile connection in person in rural India. A trip to Israel in between opened her eyes to agri-innovation and the idea that agriculture can be aspirational.
Ruchi believes small-scale farmers of India are also paying the price for climate change due to modern lifestyles.
Two years later in April 2016, she founded organic farming startup, taru meaning ‘tree in Sanskrit’. With this farmer-focused startup, Ruchi hopes to safeguard the interest and livelihood of farmers operating on fragmented land by helping structure what she saw as a ‘highly disorganised sector of organic farming’ with an erratic supply chain.
Her mother, Poonam Jain who is a naturopathy expert and has always been experimental while practising organic farming in their backyard came on board. As a co-founder, she in charge of research and development.
The big break
Ruchi’s road to starting up was anything but straight. She had tried different ideas from clean cooking services and technology solutions to trading food processing technology for farm produce and running a development consultancy services, all with little success.
Recalling her initial days as an entrepreneur, she says, “By mid-2015, I was fed up, I had exhausted all my savings. By then, I needed to make cashflows and money for myself, to survive.”
However, a casual chitchat with a group of farmers eventually led to the big break. Many farmers shared with her their inability to sell jaggery and other produce.
Ruchi then decided to invest the last of savings of around Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 and successfully sold 20 kg of jaggery blocks among her circle of friends and family. This laid the foundation for Taru Naturals, her fifth entrepreneurial stint.
She then got in touch with Suresh Desai, a jaggery powder farmer from Belgaum. Ruchi says a great deal of research and development work went in developing their 5-gramme jaggery powder sachets.
Claiming to have pioneered the concept of jaggery sachets in the country, the active entrepreneur says, "We looked at whether it would attract moisture. And how will the product will sustain inside the sachet? What kind of packaging is have required? It took us a lot of time to surmount these challenges.”
Today, the startup supplies jaggery sachets to 70 cafes and restaurants who are replacing them with sugar. This includes the likes of Suzette Creperie & Cafe, Blue Tokai, Smokehouse deli, and Taj Palace Hotel in Mumbai, among others.
Now looking to enter the B2C market, some of its bestselling products include turmeric latte, khapli wheat flour, sourdough flour, and black rice.
Perseverance pays off
In the beginning, people were not very supportive of Ruchi’s passion for organic and natural farming. She recalls that people often told here there was no use for her Master’s degree in Environment Change and Management from the Oxford University if her goal was to pursue farming.
But Ruchi plodded on and let her action do the talking. When her work started to get recognised with awards from the Women’s Economic Forum, people came around.
Incubated at Sri Sri Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Trust, Ruchi’s startup also secured Rs 1.2 lakhs per year as an Unlmited India Fellow for 2016 and 2017. In 2018, it received a grant of Rs 12 lakhs from Powered Accelerator.
At the end of the day, Ruchi is happy to be able to build a business network for farmers. Her mission is to make the farmer independent by guiding them on every single aspect – including how to catch the bus to the city.
“We don't look at farmers as entrepreneurs when they are actually taking as much risk as any entrepreneur. It’s our duty to build services and systems to make their lives better,” she says.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)