Fostering organic farms

Mother-daughter entrepreneur duo create Terra Greens Organic to encourage organic farming; 4,000 farmers in fold.

Hyderabad: For many years now, M Padmaja has been growing fruits and vegetables sans use of chemicals. What started as a hobby, years later, has turned into an entrepreneurship that encouraged more than 4,000 farmers to turn into organic cultivation.

Ably assisted by her daughter Likitha, the duo have established an empire in the organic products under the brand Terra Greens Organic. Now the Hyderabad headquartered company has presence in 16 States and has more than 650 touch points, touching a turnover of Rs 10 crore. “Our effort is to ensure that farmers should get the right price for their produce. The farmers associated with Terra Greens get at least 20 per cent more than the market prices,” says Padmaja. “I have been into organic farming even before the term gained currency. It is not a new thing. For ages, it has been practiced by many. We have never bought any fruits and vegetables from the market for many years now. In fact, the produce was in surplus so we started distributing them among our family and friends,” recollects Padmaja, who earlier stayed in Assam for a few years. That kindled her love for organic produce.

Likitha, who grew up watching her mother nurture the plants the organic way, took a liking to the process. She completed her biotech in 2010 and decided to support her mother. “I have been inspired by the way mom spent her time and resources on the thing that she loves the most. I started helping in small way and over time got involved into it,” says Likitha.

Success did not come overnight. “When we scaled up the operations, we realised that it is more hardwork. Our first success came in 2008, after four years we scaled up the operations,” recalls Padmaja.  She grew papaya, mango, vegetables in their three- acre land at Shankarpally, on the city outskirts. “We used to get the produce to the city to give it to our dear ones for free. To cut down on the logistics costs, we used our car to transport them. The AC in it helped too,” says Padmaja.

As quantities increased, she thought of selling it. They went commercial with Terra Greens Organics in 2013-14. “Customers have to be willing to pay for the hardwork of farmers. There is no point in short-charging them,” she says recollecting an incident where she called a vendor and informed of papaya stock.

He paid her Rs 300 for 30 papayas at Rs 10 each. “We were waiting outside. We saw a customer who bought the same papayas. We enquired about the cost she paid for them. She said she purchased at Rs 60 each. We were stunned. The vendor paid us Rs 10 for growing it, transporting it to his shop. He made five-fold by selling it. We asked the shop owner about this and merely said he had to do to meet the overheads,” says Padmaja about the incidents that helped her understand the markets better.

“Customers should pay for good food. When they do, it helps the farmers’ morale,” she says asserting that the farmers associated with her firm get 20 per cent more than the market prices. But the work is rigorous. “We train the farmers on the methods to be used. They have to record all activities as traceability is a key aspect in organic farming,” she says.

There is use of RFID and barcodes too. Packaging is down in transparent containers. “People should be able to see our produce,” adds Likitha, about the care being taken about all matters in the supply chain. Terra Greens Organic is also focusing on millets, many of which are native to Telangana. It has also made a foray into the ready-to-cook as well as ready-to-eat segments and is also supplying to many restaurants as well.

Are organic products costly? “Yes they are by about 20-30 per cent compared to conventional farm products. But if you don’t spend on good food, then on what else would you spend on? Good food is good health. But again the cost is higher slightly as fewer farmers are cultivating them, as they are not assured of the demand. If more people use organic products, more farmers will take up organic cultivation and the prices will come down, says Padmaja.

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