Working professional-turned-entrepreneur-turned farmer — that’s P. Pravin Kumar for you in a nutshell. Oh, did we mention he is a qualified mechanical engineer? After dabbling in various occupations, he came back to his roots after quitting his full-time job last year. Around five kilometres from Arakonam lies his 15-acre (approximately) property on which he cultivates sugarcane, organic vegetables and millets.
Out of all these crops, the biggest issue he faced, was with sugarcane Pravin tells us. “My family had grown paddy and groundnuts before switching to sugarcane. Initially, selling the harvest to sugar mills was the only option but it proved to be high in expenditure rather than profit, because the mills wouldn’t pay us at all — I’m yet to receive three years’ payments,” he says.
Additionally, he learnt how harmful consuming overly processed, refined sugar is for the body so he took off on a journey to learn more about sugarcane. “I travelled across other parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and coastal Andhra Pradesh and saw people making cubes and balls from jaggery, apart from powder. So I thought I would implement the same,” recalls Pravin.
However, when he met with wholesalers, a shocking discovery was that all the products they sold, had additives in them. “They added chemicals and colouring agents to make the jaggery appear more yellow.” To solve the above two problems, he came up with Prakrithi, a retail brand that sells 100 per cent chemical-free powdered jaggery or naatu sarkarai. In addition to growing the sugarcane he requires for this, he also has a contract with farmers in the vicinity of his property, whereby he purchases the raw material from them at government-decided rates and pays them within 30 days of harvest.
“My family, friends and a few tea shops we’d initially distributed the powdered jaggery packets to, gave me positive feedback so when we were debating what our second product should be, my grandmother told me of a herbal powder she would consume with water, as a child,” narrates Pravin. “It was supposed to prevent colds and coughs so called Ayur Panagam, we launched a product that’s a mix of naatu sarkarai, dry ginger, tailed pepper (vaal milagu), Solanum trilobatum (thoothuvalai), tulsi, cardamom and slaked lime (sunnambu).”
Another centuries-old recipe also finds itself among Pravin’s products — liquid jaggery. He explains, “My grandmother and elders in my village told me that in the olden days, families would make a sauce called thaen paagu (liquid jaggery), which they would store for up to a year in earthen pots. It would be served as a side dish for idlis and dosas.” Clearly, reinventing the past is this youngster’s policy so before concluding, Pravin says, “My overall aim is to get Indians to switch to sweets made from jaggery and millets instead of white sugar because it’s healthier in the long run.”