You are what you eat. That mantra has been drummed into our ears since childhood. Back then, all our mothers wanted us to eat our veggies. Now, the conversation on organic and natural foods is a little different. Going organic has immense benefits that are too many to mention. Not only will you live a healthier life free from certain diseases, but you’re also more likely to live longer. This is why the organic food industry has grown exponentially, with even more growth yet to come.
Organics Food Market and Brightcrop Agro Products Private Limited are two ventures striving to lead the organic food industry in India. They aim to positively impact both small and marginal organic farmers all over Nagaland, Assam, West Bengal, etc.. The ventures were founded by Manjul Kumar Choudhary and Harsh Rakhecha, along with a team of agro professionals.
Taking a multi-pronged approach, Manjul and the rest of the team have one objective; to help organic food growers in production, processing, and domestic and export sales of certified organic and natural food products. “Our efforts are largely driven towards the promotion of sustainable agriculture in India, specifically the North-eastern region of India which has a huge potential for its products due to its location advantage and a broader understanding of organic farming by farmers in these states,” says Manjul.
He describes their business as one that solely focuses on benefitting farmers in the Northeast, especially those who may have complained in the past about the lack of modern and innovative methods of production and processing.
Brightcrop is presently recognised by the ministry of micro, small & medium enterprises, Government of India; the department of industrial policy and promotions, Government of India, and the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA). Organics Food Market is a member of IFOAM Organics International.
On the issues that Organics Food Market has set out to solve, Manjul says, “Apart from impacting the livelihood of small and marginal organic farmers in the Northeast, we have also educated farmers regarding proper organic practices and provided constant guidance. Working directly with more than 1,000 small and marginal organic growers in Assam, Manipur, West Bengal and Maharashtra, we have been successful in the certification of over 800 acres of farmland and have successfully developed an effective supply chain for the products.”
Speaking further, the social entrepreneur says “Our farmers receive better value for their harvest, 30% more than the conventional equivalent, simply by employing organic methods of farming. Their on-farm expenses have gone down by 60% due to the non-usage of external farm inputs like fertilizers and growth hormones. We are using mapping technology extensively to monitor our farms continuously against adverse weather conditions, and we carry out farm coverage for better forecasting of crop yield.”
“We also support micro-entrepreneurs in these regions, who aid our practice by supplying packaging materials and performing other tertiary jobs,” he added.
A major factor in the growth of organic farming is the increasing awareness of the need for optimum health and wellness. The consciousness about the changes that need to be made in their lifestyle is a precedent for the adoption of organic and natural products by many people, especially after the pandemic hit. As the second wave has continued to shake people and nations, the demand for a healthy lifestyle has skyrocketed.
As a result of increased demand during the pandemic, farmers had to make necessary adjustments towards production, and so did Organics Food Market which faced their fair share of challenges during this period. “The COVID-19 situation affected everyone, even the farming community. The first wave in 2020 came in the early days of the Kharif season when our farmers started preparing farms for sowing. Although there were no restrictions on farming activities, we were hit by a shortage of manpower.
“The recent second wave has touched every household, even in rural areas where the healthcare system is not well-equipped to bear the brunt of the pandemic. It has been a challenging time for everyone around. We are still trying to cope with the situation. Luckily, we’ve had good weather, and the monsoon season has come as expected and we are expecting a robust harvest soon,” Manjul says.
Speaking about other challenges the duo has faced so far, Manjul adds, “Every journey comes with its challenges. For us, understanding the root cause and fetching the right solution was one of the toughest challenges. The organic value chain is robust and takes time to be understood and implemented. Explaining the standards to the farmers and monitoring them, so that they follow the guidelines from sowing to harvesting, did not come easy. Today, most of our farms are certified organic as per the standards set by authorities in India and also the United States of America, National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and National Organic Program (NOP) certified. Sourcing products from them requires a lot of funds and we have not raised any money from the market yet. These are some of the endless challenges which we’ve faced so far.”
Coming to the revenue generation model, the company that started with just Rs 2 lakh has now grown 300% year-on-year from 2020 and their sales figures are showing a continuous positive trend. Manjul informs that one of their revenue streams is B2B. They support a list of businesses across the country in supplying organic and natural products. They are also a D2C brand where they sell products under the brands – Organics Food Market and Brightcrop. “We are available on all the leading eCommerce marketplaces in India. We feel that the market for organic products is still nascent in India with few brands and low penetration levels amongst urban consumers. The presence of multiple middlemen in the supply chain of organic products and multi-layer margin has cascaded the product costs. That is where we come in with our D2C model that has been hugely successful. We have crossed a million USD in sales since inception and we are seeing good growth in the top line,” he explains.
While Manjul and Harsh’s efforts and contribution as an early-stage start-up were recognised and awarded by the Bengal Innovation and Business Acceleration Center (B-IBAC) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), more recently Shri Sanjay Agarwal, secretary, department of agriculture, cooperation & farmers welfare, the government of India awarded them as the Best Start-up (East Zone) at the Agri Startup Awards 2021, held by MANAGE, Hyderabad and Samunnati. Earlier this year, they received a grant of Rs 25 lakhs from Northeast Agriculture Technology Entrepreneur’s Hub (NEATEHUB), under the RKVY-RAFTAAR scheme of Govt of India and supported by NITI Aayog and Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat.
Measuring the success of both the ventures, Manjul says that the improved earnings of farmers, coupled with the high-quality natural products that the consumers are getting are very indicative that they’re doing an amazing job. For plans, he outlines a simple strategy for expansion.
“As a young company, we are constantly working on the next best idea for new products. Innovating and developing new products enhances the value of the produce cultivated by our farmers. All our existing products are grown in our farms rather than simply procuring from traders. While we do target a consistent growth trajectory in terms of expansion, it is of utmost importance to us that we do it responsibly, that is sustainable for our farmers,” he concludes.