Engineering graduates and childhood friends changing the lives of horticulture growers in Karnataka
Two years ago, a few farmers in Karnataka‘s Chikkaballapur district, about 80 kilometers from Bengaluru, were struggling to put their greenhouse investments to good use.
Deep Rooted Co, an Agrigtech start-up, then got in touch with them through its agronomy team and began hand-holding the farmers, providing information on land preparation, resource planning, sowing, and harvest schedules for the entire crop cycle.
It assisted them in getting the most out of their investments, and as a result of Deep Rooted Co., some of them are looking to invest in another greenhouse.
‘We are developing Deep Rooted Co as a farm-to-home brand for fresh, clean, and pesticide-free products in the perishable farm produce space. Our strength stems from our collaboration with small farmers who supply us with products,’ said BR Avinash, co-founder of the Agritech start-up.
Avinash and his childhood friends Arvind Murali, Gururaj Rao, and Santosh Narasipura founded Clover Ventures as a side project in 2017 while working full-time.
‘We quit our jobs in 2018 to pursue this full-time. We established a one-acre farm outside of Bengaluru, complete with a greenhouse, and began hydroponic cultivation. ‘We literally got our hands dirty and learned the challenges that farmers who set up greenhouses face,’ Avinash explained.
To their surprise, the start-up team discovered that greenhouses built with government subsidies ranging from 50% to 90% were sitting idle or unused because growers didn’t know how to farm in them and ended up losing money.
‘They thought it was better to keep them idle,’ the startup co-founder explained, adding that he and his team, who were in the process of building their greenhouse, were aware of the enormous challenge.
‘As a result of these challenges, farmers were not getting the desired results. We then decided to tell the farmers what to grow and when to grow it, and we began to guide them. ‘We had good results in the beginning,’ Avinash said.
Deep Rooted Co began operations 15 months ago, with a team of ten farmers on board. Today, it has close to 100 farmers working with it in and around Bengaluru and Hyderabad, totaling about 120 acres — the majority of whom are small farmers with 2-3 acres and half an acre extent of the greenhouse.
In the beginning, the team contacted farmers and started asking them to work with them all year. The team promised to meet the farms’ couple of times a week or every week and assist them in providing free agronomy services. For the farmers, it sounded excessively good to be true, he has said.
‘At first, it was difficult to convince the farmers that we could assist them. However, once the first crop was harvested, they gained faith in us. Today, we have farmers recommending others or Agri companies asking farmers to contact Deep Rooted Co,’ said the Deep Rooted Co co-founder.
As more farmers began to supply, consumers increased their demand for additional products. Today, the brand, which debuted earlier this year, sells over 100 fruit and vegetable varieties per day, totaling 10-12 tonnes. While most vegetables and fruits are grown by farmers, a few fruits are obtained from vendors for strategic reasons.
Farmers are disconnected
‘A significant amount of investment has been made in the core components of the supply chain, such as cold storage and finance. Farmers, on the other hand, remain disconnected from the market and its shifting consumption trends. Growers continue to suffer from a lack of market access, poor yield, and low production,’ said Avinash.
Deep Rooted Co believes that farmers should not be concerned about demand because it serves as a link between consumers and farmers. The startup intends to position itself as a larger farmer back-end that works with small farmers.
Each farmer who works with it is assisted on the ground by a team of agronomists who provide their services for free. ‘We assist farmers with cultivation pedagogy,’ he explained.
Before assigning a crop – from ladies finger to cucumber to capsicum – the agronomy team visits the farmer’s location and understands everything from the lay of the land, irrigation, the farmer’s practices, his capability, understanding of the crop, and efficiency. It instructs them on how to prepare the land, minimize germination loss, and maintain the crop for a good yield and harvest.
Horticulture has the advantage of allowing farmers to do up to eight crop cycles per year due to the crop’s 30-90 day duration. Each cultivation is a challenge, with farmers unsure of what to grow and traders, neighbor farmers, and others offering suggestions.
Furthermore, despite farmers’ best efforts to maintain a crop with utmost discipline, market forces determine prices. ‘Farmers see structural inefficiency at every turn in the market. With our aggregated demand visibility-based approach, we work with farmers to address all of these inefficiencies,’ the Agritech start-up co-founder explained.
Deep Rooted Co can also tell health and wellness-conscious consumers where their produce is grown, whether chemicals are used, and how clean or fresh it is.’Our greens are harvested in the evenings within 50 kilometers of the city and delivered the next morning. We harvest without the roots, which helps to keep the produce as fresh as the day of delivery, even if it is a few days later,’ Avinash explained.
Because the company wanted its Deep Rooted Co brand to remain a top consumer brand, it is present in modern retail as well as over a hundred kirana (grocery) stores in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. ‘Our plan is to be widely available and easily accessible in a variety of locations. ‘We also don’t want to be overtly premium in our positioning,’ he added.
Consumers can be assured of receiving a fresh product that avoids the use of middlemen. ‘We are confident that we are creating an equitable balance between farmers and consumers. ‘We have created a model that can earn the trust of farmers and consumers,’ said Avinash.
Many farmers have increased their yield by one-and-a-half to three times as a result of Deep Rooted Co’s work with them, and they are now using multi-cycles. ‘Long-term relationships can benefit farmers. We don’t flee or point fingers at one another when things go wrong. Horticulture includes 5-6 crops. We know farmers can recover, so when something goes wrong, we move on quickly. ‘We try to figure out what’s causing it and fix it,’ he said.
Because horticulture crops have a shorter growing season, Deep Rooted Co works with farmers on a verbal agreement. With the start-up and farmers reliant on one another, each recognizes the other’s contribution to their own success. This has aided Deep Rooted Company in developing its brand as one that extends from farm to home.