What Pulled This IIM-Graduate Into Organic Farming 12 Years Ago

Two things crucial to agritech startups - winning consumers' trust and convincing farmers about new technology
What Pulled This IIM-Graduate Into Organic Farming 12 Years Ago
Image credit: 24 Mantra Organic

Organic farming was a concept that existed in the early 20th century. However, with dwindling water resources and growing awareness amongst consumers, the market for organic fruits and markets has seen a accelerated demand recently.

Here is Rajashekar Reddy Seelam who in 2004 founded 24 Mantra Organic with 250 farmers - at a time where agri-startups weren't the talk of the town. Seelam belonged to an agricultural family and hence was familiar with the struggles and trials of farmers. While graduating at IIM Ahmedabad, Seelam knew that he wanted to contribute to the agriculture industry. He started working at a company, which produced pesticides and sold to farmers, which further opened his eyes to the miseries that pushed farmers into piles of debt and havoc.

Joining him was N. Balasubramanian (aka Bala), CEO at 24 Mantra Organic, who quit his lucrative job in the FMCG sector to support the cause.

Potential organic farming market

Speaking to Entrepreneur, Seelam said that organic farming is at a very nascent stage in India. "Worldwide about 5 percent of the food is grown using the organic method and in India if we can get similar numbers in the top cities then we are talking about a few billion dollars worth market," he said.

Over the last 12 years, the company has created a market for farmers to sell organic produce and also sustain themselves. The company works with the Andhra Pradesh government to enable 20,000 acres under cultivation and has also helped Sikkim - which recently became an organic state -to convert close to 11,000 acres (20% of the entire land) over 3-4 years.

What does one need to start a agri-tech startup

Seelam agreed that working and convincing farmers about novel techniques and winning their trust could be challenging at times. The company today has a base of 1,50,000 acres in 15 states with a farmer base of 25,000.

Seelam said apart from Andhra Pradesh, governments of other arid areas like Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka are leaning towards this mode of agriculture.

While startups have are gradually pouncing onto various genres of agri-tech sections - from weather predictions, to water supply and farming. However, according to Seelam, the first and foremost thing that entrepreneurs need is winning the trust of the farmers.

"Two things that one needs for sure are consumers' trust and convincing the farmers about the new technology," he said.

According to Seelam, with more people choosing healthy food over regular consumption of vegetables, he sees a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs to explore various strategies of technical assistance. Addressing critical pain points like hiring expensive mechanics, water management techniques and novel cultivation methods can resolve several existing issues.


Edition: November 2016

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