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Reaping profits from perishables

Preeti Mehra | Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 18, 2020

Preservation of produce was the aim of both Bastar Se Bazaar Tak (above) and Sabzi Kothi (below)

Through innovation, two start-ups help tribal and marginal farmers in Chhattisgarh and Bihar preserve and market their produce

For the country’s marginal farmers and village gatherers, there are literally only two choices — profit or perish. This is so, because the fruits and vegetables they grow or the forest produce they gather have a limited shelf life and spoil if they do not reach the market in time. Sometimes farmers lose as much as 70 per cent of their produce due to climatic conditions or a delay in selling.

To address this gap between the producer/gatherer and the market, two start-ups have come up with unique ideas that are not only taking root on the ground but have also won cash prizes this week at the 3M-CII Young Innovators Challenge Awards as innovative rural initiatives.

Processing of produce

‘Bastar Se Bazaar Tak’, based in the Lakhanpur village of North Bastar, Chhattisgarh, is aimed at stabilising the livelihood of tribals with micro land holdings, whose 50 per cent income comes from collecting forest produce. Registered as a start-up with four founders — of which three belong to the village — the project helps forest gatherers earn more from their produce and ensures them a good price without middlemen profiting from it.

Bastar Se Bazaar Tak buys custard apples, palash flowers, jamun, raw mango and tamarind from the gatherers in and around the village. It has set up processing units to turn the produce into products with a longer shelf life that can be sold in the urban centres of Raipur, Bhilai, Durg and Bilaspur, where there is a demand. The custard apple is turned into pulp, shake and a sweetmeat; the raw mango into amchur powder; tamarind is pressed into high-shelf life cakes with hydraulic machines and the palash flower is used to make natural colour. “We are exploring a joint venture where the palash flowers will be dried in solar driers and will be added to organic tea leaves,” says Satendrasingh Lilhare, the Azim Premji University alumnus who started the venture a year ago with Sandip Sahu, Haresh Kashyap and Ambika Kashyap.

“There is a big market for pure ingredients and a lot of produce was perishing because it took time to reach the mandi. The forest dwellers who collect the produce earned very little for it. We pay them double the price by weight and many are also employed in the processing units, giving a further fillip to their income,” explains Lilhare, who is from Maharashtra. He came here to work, but stayed on to form a start-up that would stop forest produce from perishing right under the nose of the gatherers.

Storage solution

Prevention of produce perishing was also the motivation behind young Nikky Kumar Jha from Nayatola village, Bhagalpur, Bihar, setting up an agri-tech start-up, Saptkrishi. Through the venture, Jha has built an entire ecosystem to ensure that fruits and vegetables grown by small and marginal farmers do not go to waste.

As a first step, Jha built a fruits-and-vegetables storage system for farmers and vegetable sellers. “Our ‘preservator’, called ‘Sabzi Kothi’, is a low-cost, storage-cum-transportation solution for extending the shelf-life of horticultural produce anywhere between seven to 30 days. An IoT-based system, it requires 20 watts of power and 1 litre of water per day, with no further maintenance, to store up to 300 kg of fruits and vegetables. It comes with an integrated battery that lasts for a day and has an option for solar charging. Also, the product has a regulator that can switch on the microclimate (a temperature control device), which cools sufficiently to store a broad range of horti-products and is a single storage unit for multi-commodities,” explains Jha, who has co-founded the start-up with his father and sister.

Dummy head

 

Sabzi Kothi now also has an app through which buying and selling can be done, and currently the team of 13 employees is testing through a pilot project how the product, the growers, consumers and the app can be linked into an ecosystem, which will be a win-win for all. The start-up has also begun grading the produce, agri-processing some of it to avoid wastage, and employing members of the grower families in the processing units. “Our aim is to become the Amul of fruits and vegetables in Bhagalpur and beyond,” says Jha, who is an electronics engineer with a Masters degree in ecology and environment. He later trained in creating sustainable start-ups in Oslo, Norway.

Both Lilhare and Jha hope to expand their enterprises now that they have won the 3M-CII Young Innovators Challenge Awards. At the awards ceremony, Ramesh Ramadurai, Managing Director, 3M India, stressed the increased importance of innovation in the current day ecosystem. He said, “In 3M, it is our understanding that innovation must never come at the expense of inclusiveness, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability. To that end, we believe that among the best ways to create an environment to foster talent is to creatively promote STEM education and to make it more accessible.”

Bastar Se Bazaar Tak and Sabzi Kothi are showing the way…

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Published on September 18, 2020

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