Cosmos Green aggregates small parcels of unfarmed land to create 100/150-acre hubs

Sathya Raghu and Ayush Sharma have been friends for over 10 years. In college, friends would call them Laurel and Hardy not just because one was lean and the other stout. They would go everywhere together.

But the ways of lives drifted them apart. While Satya cleared Chartered Accountancy and joined PriceWaterhouse, Ayush joined Crisil and then completed MBA.

A few years into their professions, the duo met again to discuss a start-up that could address the challenges faced by rural India. Hailing from a village, Satya was aware of the distress in farming and the poor income that farmers earned.

“On one hand, there is huge demand for farm produce as we all yearn for quality food. On the other, farmers are being driven away from villages due to lack of income. I have seen how they migrated to cities, leaving huge chunks of land unfarmed,” says Sathya Raghu V Mokkapati, Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer of Cosmos Green.

S Raghavan, an ex-marketing director of IBP and Chairman and Managing Director of the start-up, joined the two in evolving a venture to address the issue.

Organic USP

The trio had discussed the issue at length and found that there could be a way out. They thought of a solution – bring the farmer back from the city and help him grow the crops that city folks crave for, add value and gain respectable incomes. The three-year-old start-up is focusing on vegetables on 100/150-acre hubs.

They want to tread the organic route to enter the market without jacking up the prices to sell the organic USP. “We are not selling the produce at a premium. You get organic produce at the same rate as the regular stuff,” Sathya says.

Sathya and Ayush put in ₹18 lakh in the venture.

The start-up believes in helping farmers aggregate 100-150 acres and develop natural irrigation systems that capture and retain water. It has so far created two such hubs – one at Mulluru in Raichur district of Karnataka (130 acres) and the other in Depalli in Mahboobnagar district of Telangana (100 acres).

Buying the idea, P Ramakrishna of Uthishta Fund India and former partner of PwC India, made a personal investment of ₹3 crore in the venture. He has joined the Raichur hub created by Cosmos Green and growing vegetables. Similarly L Jayaraman, a practising Company Secretary and educator, joined the Telangana Mahboobnagar hub.

The start-up provides market linkages by procuring the produce from farmers and supplying it to organic stores in Hyderabad. They opened its flagship store – branded I Am Farmer – at Nagole.

“Besides selling our farm produce wholesale to institutional customers like organic stores, we are selling it retail too. We follow natural farming practices . We are encouraging and handholding farmers in our vicinity to transition towards natural farming. Nevertheless, even the present produce of other farmers is marketed by us to help them get a better price,” says Ayush Sharma, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer.

How did their families react when they wanted to quit their corporate jobs and get into this business?

The start-up has decided not to have financial dealings with farmers directly. “We do not give loans because we do not have the competency to recover them,” Sathya says. Impressed by the model, Team Acumen picked Sathya for a Fellowship recently, where he is trained by professors and industry leaders including those from Harvard to give them a tip or two on better management of the social enterprise.

In order to attract the eyeballs of the organic lovers, the start-up got certification from Vedic Organic for the produce for about 50 acres.

Technical support

Besides the two hubs, Cosmos Green has tied up with farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to grow guar on 1,500 acres.

“We are giving them input and technical support to grow the crop which has huge demand in the commodities markets,” Sathya says.

The start-up is not in a hurry to replicate the idea into other places. “We are not in a hurry. We would like to consolidate the operations before expanding,” Sathya points out. Both the promoters are planning to conduct Agri Tourism rides to the hubs.

“We have already done some pilots. We are planning to sell the idea to schools and some other closed groups.

(This article was published on June 2, 2014)
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