Friday 26 May 2017 News Updated at 03:05 AM IST
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Getting a business to taste 'organic' growth - Deccan Herald
Getting a business to taste 'organic' growth
Hrithik Kiran Bagade,
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DeccanHerald


The global organic food market, which was estimated at $90 billion in 2015, has been growing at a CAGR of around 12% over the last 14 years. Interestingly, India has the largest number of organic producers in the world at 5,85,000 active cultivators, who produce around 1.35 MT of certified organic products namely sugar cane, oil seeds, cereals and millets, pulses, tea, coffee, fruits, spices, dry fruits, vegetables, and so on (as part of edible crops), annually. In Karnataka, meanwhile, the certified organic area increased to a mammoth 93,963 hectares in 2015-16, from 2,500 hectares in 2004.
It must be noted that 'certified organic’ means that every single product’s supply chain must be audited by a number of different agencies/certification bodies around the country. Once something is certified, it means that the farm should have gone through a three-year conversion period, during which neither chemicals nor fertilisers should have been used - only then can it be claimed as 'organic’.

Besides organic farming as a means, what one is eating in the end must also be known. Millets, often dubbed as poor man’s food, are being popularised as hardy crops requiring a tenth of water consumed by mainstream crops, and even less fertiliser, to become an integral part of one’s balanced diet.

Soulfull, the health food brand of Kottaram Agro Foods, is blending innovation to make millets relevant in the 21st century. "In the mainstream perspective, millet is an underdog among food crops. Still, what we are seeing is a lot of interest coming for these ancient grains from urban pockets. But there is a long way to go, and there is more exposure needed. One must understand that unlike rice which has different 'varieties’, millets constitute a family of different 'types’,” Prashant Parameswaram, MD (Soulfull) at Kottaram Agro Foods, tells DH.

Millet consumption, compared with mainstream rice or wheat consumption, is very small, in the 1-2% range of total staples consumed every year.

"Awareness is on the rise, and the next stage is increasing consumption to 10-20%. The role for companies like ours is to innovate the right product and bring it into the market in a way that is relevant and resonates with consumers,” he says, elaborating with an example: "One is aware that ragi is good for health, and is more nutritious than other mainstream grains like rice and wheat, but how do I get a child to eat it? How do I provide it in a 'more attractive’ form? Today’s children are choosier about what they eat.”
A drive towards fitness due to rising lifestyle disorders and hectic job profiles has led many, especially in urban areas, to embrace an organic and millet-filled lifestyle. With a surge in foreign ideas, Indians have taken to eating oats, muesli, and quinoa as major dietary additions, while there is a need to make them see the beauty of home produce. "For instance, foxtail millets and quinoa are nutritionally the same, with the latter also having been classified as a 'super food’. But, why run after a crop which is grown in South America, when a similar indigenous ingredient like foxtail millet provides the same applications?” questions Parameswaram.

"Hence, we are trying to bring millets back into the mainstream. We’re not telling people to give up rice, wheat or oats, but supplement a healthier alternative in their meals with millets,” he adds.

Conquering challenges
A point in question is about organic food being expensive when compared with regular FMCG food products.

A major reason might be the amount of time, methods and risk involved in the cultivation process. While cheap petrochemical pesticides artificially enhance growth of crops, the amount of harvest will also increase, getting more people to use them. Eventually though, they kill the soil quality, and there will be no crop after several cycles. On the other hand, organic agriculture will not give that much of a harvest, with some yield also being lost to pests since no pesticide is used.

"However, once demand increases, price will go down as more farmers would be encouraged,” believes Namu. "But a big challenge is forecasting that demand, and one has to maintain quality and authenticity,” she says, adding that with government support, it will be accessible to everybody, and even farmers would gain confidence to grow such crops.

Even bigger companies are keenly eyeing this nascent space. MTR Foods has committed to use more millet in its products, while online grocery store BigBasket has signed up with a number of farmers to sell their produce on its platform.

Meanwhile, the state government has allocated a budget of Rs 10.5 crore for agriculture innovation startups, assisting in Series A and B funding by connecting them to investors. Food for thought, anyone?


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