6 Jan 2018, 09:24 — 7 min read
When former banker Senthil Kumar felt a deep inclination to work in the rural farming sector, he knew it was time to quit his corporate career of over two decades, and follow his calling. Mr Kumar established Kaaikari Farms in Coimbatore in 2011 with the aim of boosting the agrarian economy of the region. He felt that it was unfair that an industry like agri-business, which was responsible for 70% of the jobs in the country, was being considered a second-rate profession and was largely unsustainable in its practices. So he has ventured into farming, and is helping local communities adopt sustainable, integrated and more lucrative models of production and retailing. The former banker hopes that his model can be replicated across rural India and views the space as a huge business opportunity.
In conversation with GlobalLinker (GL) Senthil Kumar (SK) shares the journey of his company.
GL: Tell us about your business.
SK: I did my MBA and was a banker for 20 years. I was in a rural branch initially and then focused on Small and Medium sized Enteprises (SME). I wondered why there was no development in the agricultural sector. Why had we not invested in sustainability in food? The aim was to get on the ground and make a difference.
At Kaaikari Farms, we cultivate vegetables naturally. We coordinate with local farmers and help them retail vegetables. We started out in 2011, taking lands on lease, to get a hands-on experience on the cultivation front. We got involved in retailing because we realised that farmers faced difficulty with it. So we wanted to help them with retailing and the creation of by-products. We started an association comprising 40 farmers who grow their vegetables and brought them to us when they were ready. We sorted and graded them and sent them for selling.
We are now moving into a more integrated kind of farming. When we got into this business, we realised that simple vegetable cultivation would not be enough help to the local community. We had to raise goats and cows. Without cattle, getting into natural farming doesn’t make sense. We have now got into raising the native variety of cows. The kind of milk you get from them is rare. The crossbreed cows give more milk, so it is harder to find farmers raising the native breed.
By raising native cows, we achieve three goals. Firstly, native cows are conducive to natural farming. They provide good quality milk. With their by-products like manure, we are able to grow high quality vegetables. We want this model to be replicated across rural India. We have shown how native cows and natural farming cannot only increase income, but also be a big business corporate activity.
We have been working in this area for six years with many learnings. Bengaluru is good for marketing what we are doing in the neighbouring rural areas. So, we thought we’d start here for the integrated farms. We have other farms in and around Coimbatore where we do vegetable farming. Farmers today are not in a position to produce value-added products on their own because of financial constraints and climactic disadvantages. This can be overcome with integrated farming.
We want to make the production of by-products a significant part of the process. We want to go to every village where the people make their own products and help them create brands out of them. We want to build models that entire villages can adopt. In Bengaluru, our model farm can help source native cows to farmers in the vicinity, and we will help them in collecting the milk, distributing it and helping with by-products.
GL: What are the challenges you have faced in establishing your business?
SK: Google provides answers to everything, but does not tell you about agriculture! So the trial and error method is necessary. We had to learn everything the hard way, but we learnt fast. The challenges were getting financing and losing our identity. The corporate world gives you an identity. Going into agriculture could make you lose your identity. We want to change that.
Motivation is something that is required in this field. Every person you meet asks you why you are doing this, since you are educated and have the opportunity to do something ‘better’. This, even though 70% of the country is employed in agriculture. People want it to be done, but are unwilling to get involved in agriculture in a substantial way.
GL: What are some of the milestones you have reached with your business?
SK: We have created a community of farmers, where farmers get a fixed price for their milk and vegetables and supply to retail stores.
GL: Do you believe that the ‘ease of doing business’ in India has improved?
SK: Bengaluru has developed in a very short time. When you have such fast growth, there is a lack of supporting systems, SMEs can play a huge role. Big corporates cannot provide immediate solutions to such a developing place. SMEs can be changemakers in this scenario.
GL: What role do you feel GlobalLinker plays in connecting & assisting SMEs?
SK: We are looking to bring a new industry into place. Other industries should view partnerships with us as an opportunity. GlobalLinker lets us connect with people who could help grow our industry. Agriculture is not standalone activity, it has to be linked with other industries. GlobalLinker is a platform that lets us connect with other SMEs that are linked to retailing and other categories and industries that are relevant to us.
GL: What is your big business dream?
SK: We are not looking at growing our company. We are looking at growing the rural economy. We want our model to help create sustainable ways of farming and a product-based economy.
GL: What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs?
SK: The perception of agriculture in our society is very low, whereas the potential of agriculture as a future business is huge. I want to invite my peers and other youngsters to view agriculture as an opportunity.
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Posted byGlobalLinker Staff
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