Agri Business

Changing horticulture growers’ lives: Bengaluru-based agtech start-up shows the way

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on October 05, 2021

Deep Rooted.Co brand to market small farmers produce

Two years ago, a few farmers at Channakeshavapura village in Karnataka’s Chikkaballapur district, about 80 km from Bengaluru, were struggling to put to good use their investments in greenhouses.

It was then an agtech start-up, Deep Rooted.Co, got in touch with them through its agronomy team, which began hand-holding the farmers providing information on land preparation, planning resources, sowing and harvest schedules for the full crop cycle.

It helped them to get the maximum from their investments and today, some of them are looking to invest in another greenhouse, thanks to Deep Rooted.Co.

“We are working in the perishable fruits and vegetable space, building Deep Rooted.Co as a farm-to-home brand for fresh, clean and contamination-free products. Our strength emanates from working with small farmers who supply us the products,” said BR Avinash, co-founder of the agtech start-up.

The agtech firm was started as a side project by Avinash and his childhood friends — Arvind Murali, Gururaj Rao and Santosh Narasipura — in 2017 as Clover Ventures while doing day jobs.

Greenhouse challenges

“In 2018, we quit our jobs and did this full time. We set up an one acre farm outside Bengaluru with a greenhouse and began hydroponic cultivation. “We literally got our hands dirty and in the process learnt the challenges the farmers who set up greenhouses face,” Avinash said.

To its shock, the start-up team found that greenhouses set up with government subsidies ranging from 50 per cent to 90 per cent were lying idle or unused since the growers did not know how to go about farming in it and ended up with losses.

“They thought it was better to keep them idle,” said the start-up co-founder, adding that he and his team in the process of building their greenhouse understood the huge challenge.

“Due to these challenges, farmers were not getting the right results. We then decided to tell the farmers what and when to grow, and began hand-holding them. We got good results in the early days,” Avinash said.

Expanding base

Deep Rooted.Co got into the groove 15 months ago with a team of 10 farmers working with it. Today, it has close to 100 farmers holding about 120 acres — most are small farmers with landholdings of 2-3 acres and half an acre of greenhouse — working with it in and around Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

In the early days, the team approached the farmers and asked them to work with it round-the-year. The team promised to visit the farms twice a week or every week and help them, offering agronomy services free. It sounded too good to be true for the farmers, he says.

“Initially, it was a tough job telling the farmers we can help them. But once the first crop was harvested, they got confidence in us. Today, we have farmers working with us recommending others or even the seed companies with whom we work asking growers to approach us,” said the Deep Rooted.Co co-founder.

As more farmers began to supply, consumers also came up with demand to add more products. Today, the brand, launched earlier this year, sells over 100 fruits and vegetables varieties totalling 10-12 tonnes a day. While all vegetables and most fruits are grown by the farmers, a handful of fruits are obtained from vendors due to strategic reasons.

Farmers’ disconnect

Deep Rooted Co sells its products on its own app, website and also through third party platforms. With offtake becoming organised today through an aggregated demand platform, the core backend of farmers and farmlands are unorganised.

“A lot of investment has been made in the core part of the supply chain such as cold storages and finance. But farmers are still disconnected from the market and its changing consumption trend. Growers are still suffering from lack of market access, poor yield and low production,” said Avinash.

Deep Rooted Co outlook is that farmers should not worry about demand as it lays the bridge from consumers to farmers. The idea for the start-up is to position itself as a larger farmer back-end that works with small farmers.

Each farmer working with it is helped on the ground by a team of agronomists with the services being provided free. “We help farmers with cultivation pedagogy,” he said.

The agronomy team visits the farmer’s location, understands everything from the lay of the land, irrigation, practices of the farmer, his capability, understanding of the crop, efficiency before assigning a crop — from ladies finger to cucumber to capsicum. It tells them how to prepare the land, how to ensure minimum germination loss and maintain the crop for a good yield and harvest.

Advantages

The advantages with horticulture is that farmers can do even eight-crop cycles a year since the crop is of 30-90 days duration. Each cultivation is a challenge with farmers not knowing what to grow with traders, neighbour-farmers and others giving their own suggestion.

Also, market forces determine the prices despite farmers maintaining a crop with utmost discipline. “In the market, farmers see structural inefficiency at every point. With our approach that has aggregated demand visibility, we work with farmers to address all these inefficiencies,” the agtech start-up co-founder said.

Deep Rooted.Co is also able to tell consumers, who are health and wellness conscious, where the produce is grown and whether chemicals are used and how clean or fresh they are. “Our greens are harvested with 50 km of the city in the evenings and delivered the next morning. We harvest without the roots and this helps in keeping the produce as fresh as it was on the day of delivery even a few days later,” Avinash said.

Since the start-up wanted its Deep Rooted.Co brand to remain a top consumer brand, it is present in modern retail and over a hundred kirana (grocery) stores in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. “Our idea is to be largely available at various locations and extremely accessible. Our idea is also not to be overtly premium in our positioning,” he said.

Equitable balance

The consumers are assured of a fresh product that comes to them bypassing middlemen. “We firmly believe we are building an equitable balance between farmers and consumers. We have built a model that can earn farmers’ and consumers’ trust,” said Avinash.

Deep Rooted.Co’s work with farmers has seen many of them increase their yield by one-and-a-half to three times and take up multi-cycles. “Farmers can benefit from long-term relationships. We don’t run away or blame one another for failure. There are 5-6 crops in horticulture. We know farmers can recover, so we move on pretty fast when something goes wrong. We try to find the causes and set it right,” he said.

Deep Rooted.Co works with farmers on verbal agreement since the horticulture crops are of shorter duration. With the start-up and farmers depending on one another, each one appreciates the other role in their own progress. That has helped Deep Rooted.Co it to build its brand as one from farm to home.

Published on October 04, 2021

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