October 10, 2019
Everyone with a Facebook account must have come across Farmville, a farm replicating social network game. The player farms a land, raises livestock and gradually builds an estate. A startup from Assam is recreating something similar. The only difference is that this isn’t a digital game, but a real-life experience.
Abhinab Shyam, an IIM Indore alumnus, decided to bid adieu to an ambitious corporate job in order to join his father for a farming initiative in Assam. But his idea was to take the farming experience to the urban dwellers. Agro Origin took shape around this idea with a slight twist: Bringing urban dwellers to the farmlands.
Fusing the concepts of micro-farming and kitchen garden, Agro Origin offers fragments of farmland to the urban residents to grow their own crops, free from hazardous chemicals. Customers can rent a piece of farmland on payment of a subscription fee. Once a micro-farm is subscribed, customers get to select their own crops. The startup offers a wide variety of seasonal crops such as leafy greens, tomato, French beans, carrot, cauliflower and broccoli, among others. Following the plantation phase, the farmers are entrusted to manage the crops and keep the customers in loop about the crop status.
Abhinab launched a Proof Of Concept at Bortari in the outskirt of Guwahati on 22 September’19. The land has had been under cultivation – banana plantation to be precise – for the last 12 years, managed by Abhinab’s father. This has been one of the main reasons for choosing the plot for POC. As Abhinab says, “We are accustomed to the area. Apart from the scenic surrounding, familiarity of the place is something, which, we thought, would score for us at the POC stage.”
30 families have been roped in as clients for the POC, utilizing 1.5 bigha out of the 15 bigha farmland. Each family is rented a 600 sq. ft. of land on payment of a monthly subscription fee of Rs. 1,999 that includes costs of seeds, manure, soil preparation, farm management, crop harvest and home delivery. Though managed by farmers, micro-farm owners are free to lay their hands in the farm proceedings, spend hours in the field and experience the farmer’s life. After all, it’s an inexplicable joy to grow one’s own food!
“Whenever you visit your micro-farm, we will make sure that you forget all your problems and enjoy farming,” Abhinab assures.
The founder has plans to install a live kitchen and a mini library in the coming days. The idea is to offer a unique, unwinding experience to the customers amid a tranquil, agrarian setup with the assurance of growing healthy food of one’s choice. The pivotal motto of Agro Origin is to ensure a transparent ecosystem where the customers can trace the source of their food. “Usually, we do not know where our food comes from. So, despite the tags of being ‘organic’, there remains specks of doubts regarding the claims while making expensive purchases of organic fruits and vegetables. At Agro Orgin, we are trying to assure complete traceability of the farm produce that form the mainstays of one’s food habits,” Abhinab explains.
The startup currently targets dwellers in Guwahati, addressing the urban pain points of chemical-infested vegetables and fruits and the tumultuous lifestyle distanced from the serene essence of countryside.
Despite being at the POC stage, Agro Origin has inspired an impact as a good number of people who had moved to other cities in search of jobs are making a homecoming in order to get involved in the project. Considering that farming hasn’t been a lucrative activity, with the predominance of middlemen and a volatile market adding to the woes, a good chunk of the population from the rural areas have been consistently outfluxing to the bigger cities in search of rewarding opportunities. Abhinab’s initiative, with a 60:40 revenue sharing model, comes as a gleam of hope for these migrating people to come back to the homeland and pursue an activity they are akin to – farming. The startup is expected to make use of its network of 300 farmers for project engagement. As Abhinab says, ‘Agro Orgin strives to build a transparent community of producers and consumers and help connect to the roots.’
Interestingly, renting out micro-farms wasn’t something Abhinab had initially thought of. Early on, the startup founder had contemplated working out a model for rooftop farming targeted towards urban dwellers. But, later on, with inputs from the mentors at Assam Startup, he tweaked the idea for the current model.
A first-of-its-kind idea in Northeast India, replication of the model in other parts of the region can help usher in a metamorphosis in terms of the easy availability of healthy food among urban dwellers as well as improving the condition of the agriculture-dependent population in the semi-urban and rural areas. The pleasure of living a Farmville experience apart.
By: Satarupa Mishra