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. Senthil established Kaaikari Farms in 2011 in Coimbatore with the aim to boost the agrarian economy of the region. He felt that it was unfair that an industry like agri-business which was responsible for 70% of jobs in the country was considered a second-rate profession and was largely unsustainable in its practices. He has ventured into farming and helping local communities adopt sustainable, integrated and more lucrative models of production and retailing. He hopes that his model can be replicated across rural India and sees 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 twenty years. I was in a rural branch initially and then focused on SMEs. I wondered why there is no development in the agricultural sector. Why had we not invested in sustainability in food. The takeaway was to get onto the ground and make a difference.
At Kaaikari Farms we cultivate vegetables naturally. We coordinate with local farmers and help them in retailing the vegetables. We started out in 2011 taking lands on lease to get a hands-on experience on the cultivation front. The retailing part we got involved in because we realised farmers had difficulty with that and we wanted to help them with retailing and the creation of byproducts. We started an association of 40 farmers who grow their vegetables and bring them to us when ready. We sort and grade them and send them for selling.
We are now moving into a more integrated type of farming. When we got into this business, we realised that simple vegetable cultivation will not help the local community enough. We had to raise goats and cows. Without cattle, getting into natural farming doesn’t make sense. We have got into the native variety of cows. The kind of milk you get from them is rare. The crossbreeds give more milk, so it is harder to find farmers raising the native variety.
We achieve three goals by raising native cows. They are conducive to natural farming. Healthy milk is provided to consumers. With their byproducts like manure, we are able to grow high quality vegetables. We want this to be a model to be replicated across rural India. We have shown how native cows and natural farming can not only increase income but can also be a big business corporate activity.
We have been striving in this area for 6 years with many learnings. Bangalore is good for marketing for what we are doing in 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. The farmers today are not in a position to get value added products on their own because of financial constraints, and climactic disadvantages. With integrated farming this can be overcome.
We want to make the production of byproducts a significant part of the process. We want to go to every village where they make their own products and help them build brands. We want to build models entire villages can adopt. In Bangalore, our model farm can help source native cows to farmers in the vicinity and we will help them in collecting that milk and distributing it and helping with byproducts.
GL: What are the challenges you have faced in establishing your business?
SK: Google gives you answers to everything but not how to do agriculture! Trial and error is necessary. We had to learn everything the hard way, but we learned 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 for something ‘better’. This is even though 70% of the country is employed in agriculture. People want this activity to be done but are unwilling to get involved in it in a substantial way.
GL: What are some of the milestones of your business?
SK: We have created a community of farmers where farmers have a fixed price and supply to the retail stores. This is something we have done for farmers.
GL: Do you believe that the ‘ease of doing business’ in India has improved?
SK: Bangalore has developed in a very short time. When you have such a fast growth there is a lack of supporting systems, SMEs can play a huge role. The big corporates cannot provide immediate solutions to such a growing place. SMEs can be change-makers 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 with 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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