HYDERABAD: Post pandemic, the demand for healthy, pure and organic food has grown by leaps and bounds. Growing awareness about the number of chemicals and artificial colours and tastes has led to people looking for trusted organic brands and the same has led to the boom of such companies. But one man saw the need for it way before it was cool — Shashi Kumar.
The IT employee-turned businessman’s dream of finding organic solutions to meet the health and taste needs of people led to the birth of Akshayakalpa Organic. Quitting his well-paying job of 17 years to become an entrepreneur was no easy ride for Shashi. “We, a group of nine people from Wipro started this business in 2010, with my co-founder Dr BNS Reddy. Our initial idea was to identify farmers from different villagers and groom them to be entrepreneurs. Until then, the concept of organic milk was non-existent. We had to start from scratch and the model took us two years to make,” he tells CE.
Twelve years later, the firm today has 700 farmers, producing around 60,000 litres of organic milk. “We have been able to make a substantial impact on farmers and their livelihoods. We set them off from a typical livelihood programme to real wealth creation opportunities. That is the reason we work with a very focused set of farmers. In and around, we have trained over 500 people to serve three markets — Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai. We’re producing organic milk and milk products in all three markets,” Shashi says.
The success the company sees today did see a lot of bumpy rides on the way. “The biggest challenge we faced was thinking that organic farming was easy to take over, given our technology background, but we were so wrong. It’s only after we got to the farm site that we realised how they had no idea about the ABCs of many basic methods of farming, data or finance. Banks don’t easily lend farmers money based on their requirements, the turnaround time is very high.
Also, training framers was a substantial challenge. In the process of producing organic milk, educating consumers too is a big challenge. As an enterprise, we faced challenges to mobilise capital, but over the period of 12 years, 27 friends of mine from WIPRO supported us at various stages, so it’s almost like a crowd-funded initiative.” Shashi names Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer and author of One-Straw Revolution, as his inspiration behind the initiative. Talking about Hyderabad in terms of the organic market he says, he says, “Hyderabad is as good as Bengaluru, in terms of consumer preference, looking for healthy food. In fact, the market is much more robust than in Chennai.”
Mentioning the sustainable practices at Akshayakalpa he says as part of the production system, a lot of external inputs are taken in, like manure, weeds, pesticides, etc.: “All of these come from outside, what an organic system does is that it technically eliminates any external inputs and tries to localise whatever we do locally into what is available. We also try to discover the local market and focus on organic farming in and around where the market exists. These are the two key sustainability trades we follow.” Shashi will soon be opening up his venture in Pune and hopes to widen the market in the three cities that he has targeted.