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City farm collective keeps it green, clean, sustainable
Nalla Santhai is an agricultural start-up that took roots in Chennai as an organic farm initiative called Nallakeerai seven years ago.
The idea was to grow good greens without the use of any chemical pesticides or fertilisers and sell it to the consumers in the city. Today, the business model has evolved and branched out as the demand for and the volumes of the produce grew.
Jayakumar Sridharan, an IT industry professional who made his transition to agriculture and took on the role of the Director of Nalla Santhai, tells us, “We started off on the subscription model where people pay Rs 4,400 upfront for 44 weeks and get five different varieties of greens every week. We cultivate as many as 40 varieties of greens in our farm and have about 120 subscribers as of now. The team has about 15 acres of farm land spread across different locations. We have also started supplying to three outlets of Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam in Anna Nagar.”
On the genesis of the mission, he says, “We also established a farmer producer company. Through this, an individual can bring together, say 100 millet farmers from a certain region and start an agri-enterprise to avail of government subsidies for logistics, warehousing and marketing facilities. We called ours Nalla Santhai (which translates to Fair Trade). We networked with 1,500 plus farmers involved in organic cultivation and about 20,000 acres of ‘organic’ land was brought under this model. These farmers work with us to distribute their produce and our marketing division Farm2Consumer sells their produce to consumers.”
On the corporate customer front, the company has put up stalls in many tech parks across the city. Sridharan says, “The staff from Virtusa DLF, for instance, are customers of our produce.
Tech Mahindra employees have been our patrons as well. Following research of many years, the founder of the farm, R Jagannathan had come up with a farming model that was self-sustaining and did not require constant tilling of the land and weeding. Today, we have a target of supplying at least 5,000 bundles of greens every day to our customers. This is a miniscule amount considering the ‘green’ requirement of Chennai – 1 lakh bundles of produce every day.”
A big challenge faced by the firm is convincing farmers to switch from chemical-based farming to organic farming. So, now the team is taking its message of cultivation under the ‘25 cents’ model across Tamil Nadu and training people to take this up. It involves creating raised bed farms in a quarter of an acre and cultivating organic greens. They assure farmers that they can grow at least 5,000 bundles a month. Even at the price of Rs 5 per bundle, that’s Rs 25,000 for 25 cents. They also grow greens that can be cultivated in both paucity of water and abundance of it.
Sridharan’s wish-list involves setting up close to 600 odd ‘25 cent’ farm models across the state and getting into the value-added products segment, an area where TN and India are sorely lacking.