October 28th, 2015
Source and Image: economictimes
Every ice is inevitably ordained to melt in its own water.
This say seems perfect for a techie who gave up a coveted business and lavish Life in San Jose & offered distressed farmers a new reason of life in Mandya.
It took just 13 months for this decision to perpetuate which would change the lives of 300 farmers in his home district of Mandya with an enterprise that will generate annual turnover of at least Rs 36 cr for them.
The story begins with a 37-year-old. software developer who decided to return back to his nation from where he came from. In mere 13 months, this decision has reaped its fruits which changed the lives of 300 farmers in his home district of Mandya in Karnataka, through a rural cooperative and an enterprise that will generate annual turnover of at least Rs 36 crore for them.
Lying in the state of Karnataka, the green Mandya district has seen the highest number of farmer suicides this year, mainly due to debt. With his arrival, the local boy’s farmer-friends see a ray of hope, a means to come out of their Hopelessness. They want to spread his ideas, scale up his model and distribute the returns to whole region.
The story revolves around Madhuchandan SC, “Madhuanna” to the Mandya farmers. Till August 2014, he was living up the American dream, a life of comfort and luxuries with his wife and daughter in San Jose, California. He went places, worked with various companies worldwide and finally landed as the cofounder of a company in San Jose. He had his whole world at his feet, as the product he designed for this company has become the pioneer in the field.
At that point in time, MC — as he calls himself — was on a high. “A very big IT company had junked their own product and replaced it with the one I developed,” he recalled to ET Magazine.
With the high came the U turn. “I felt I had already done all that I wanted to in the software field. What more was left? Be chief executive of yet another company? That was not fun, anymore.”
This spark got fire in his mind on the morning of August 1, 2014 when MC told his wife, Archana, his classmate from their engineering college in Mandya: “I want to go back to Mandya and live the life of an organic farmer. Do you want to go live that life only after we are old, or can we do it when we still have some energy left?”
The call from the soil
Archana and their daughter, 11-year-old Aditi, thought about it for the whole day. As a matter of fact, Aditi’s school year was to begin in 15 days. By evening, Archana and Aditi gave their approval for the move. And that’s what all he was looking for, following which he speedily booked tickets to leave for Bengaluru, within 10 days, on August 10 and lightened himself to his core being by paying thousands of dollars against the pending mortgage for his house and SUV, fulfilling all his obligations and formalities, left behind or gave away all that he owned and attended the call of his soil.
“I was always crazy about farming. Now I wanted to live that dream in a small farmhouse on our land in our village,” he said. When he came back, though, the son of a former University of Agricultural Sciences vice – chancellor (S Chikkadevaiah) found that everything was not as simple as he had planned. He surveyed around in Mandya, realised that farmers were distressed despite owning irrigated land since there was no marketing mechanism for organic or even for the district’s major crops of sugarcane and paddy.
That kept his immediate plans of a small farmhouse near his village Sunaganahalli in Mandya at bay. He settled his daughter and wife in Bengaluru and vowed to began working on a solution to the situation in Mandya, an out-of-government one and make things better there. He revitalized the strong roots and ground-level network that he has in Mandya, which was represented by his late maternal uncle SD Jayaram, a minister in the Janata Dal government in Karnataka in the late ’90s.
Then came a year of toiling, endless conceptualizing, brainstorming with friends, reaching out to farmers. The crux of an idea came on view that there was a big market for organic products in Bengaluru, just two hours away. Several farmers, influenced by zero budgets natural farming pioneers Subhash Palekar’s workshops in the region, were already practising it.
All that was necessary was a link that will connect the product to its consumer. MC didn’t kept any reasons to step back, a friend in Mandya suggested him to consult Narayana A, a professor at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, a London School of Economics alumnus. Narayana suggested that a cooperative society to source and market organic farm products would be the best business model.
Things began working
Garnering the rural cooperation was not hard. MC had the enthusiastic support of progressive farmer Venkatesh from Panakanahalli in Mandya.
Panakanahalli, a place which had witnessed a suicide by a 35-year-old farmer, Mahesh, on June 30, and was also visited by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on October 9. Venkatesh, nicknamed “Sakkare” (sugar) Venkatesh, has been growing sugarcane the organic way from over a decade. He is aware of all the ground level problems and his solution is: “We need to go organic, use natural methods to retain fertility of our soil, generate useful byproducts and ensure that it goes to the right market,” he told ET Magazine.
Venkatesh and MC teamed up to put together the Mandya Organic Farmers Cooperative Society comprising progressive farmers, ayurvedic doctors and agriculture scientists. The youngest member is 22-year-old Sachin from Maddur taluk, and the oldest is 62-year-old Doddalingaiah, both equally enthusiastic and intrigued on the subject. Simultaneously, MC got four friends from Mandya, all blooming in the IT sector, to pool together Rs 1 crore in a company, Organic Mandya, which took on the job of planning how to reach the 22 products grown in the district to customers.
With the indomitable enthusiasm and 10-yearold seed of desire, started its germination when MC translated the dream into action by setting up an integrated organic zone at Budanur, Mandya, on the Bengaluru-Mysuru state highway. This is the second-most passenger-heavy highway in India after Pune-Mumbai — MC did a research — and the location was ideal to attract lot of eyes.
The zone has a many things to offer, like a supermarket, with a farm growing organic sugarcane, vegetables, coconut, pulses and oilseeds planned right next to it. There is also a restaurant selling only organic food, shops selling organic juice, a one-stop-shop for terrace gardening. Adding to the wonders, there is even an equipment set up to churn out fresh oil: the shopkeeper puts groundnut or sunflower seeds into it and the customer gets fresh oil instantly. Opened on October 1, this integrated zone has generated a turnover of over Rs 12 lakh so far.
“It is all about design and packaging,” MC pointed out. He applied his corporate knowledge to the farm marketing field. “If you call jaggery as just that, it won’t sell. We worked on promoting joni bella, a liquid form of jaggery. This is a stage just before the jaggery solidifies. We figured out how to preserve it in this form and sell it as a new product. It has high calcium and iron content, tastes better than honey and can be used in any dish.” The unique product, priced at Rs 65 for 250 grams, has sold like hot cakes, with customers coming back for more.
Yet more has to come
MC did a lot of homework before realizing his dream; he also set up a Facebook page for the company and a mail order catalogue in May, with an initial base of 1,000 customers, prior to opening the supermarket. He sent out mails to his friends, offering 32 organic items including organic rice, pulses, millets, a healthy malt drink, sea salt, sweets and joni bella, as a monthly dinasi (grocery) package for Rs 3,000. The response has been overwhelming. “All I need to do is get 10,000 families on this platform and we will generate Rs 36 crore a year, more than enough to support a taluk of farmers,” MC contended. “We will do it,” he added, with carefree confidence.
The farmers’ cooperative has set off the ground work to fulfil the demands that are pouring in. They For instance bid for and won the rights to operate an organic jaggery farm at the state government’s VC farm in Mandya to make the jaggery byproducts. This farm is buying sugarcane from organic farmers at an unheard-of Rs 3,501 per tonne, about twice the amount they get from the state’s sugarcane factories and not paid anywhere in India. “My fellow directors at the cooperative asked me how we can pay this much and still work it out. But the market is there, we are earning that money with profit and just passing on some of it to the farmers. We are showing practically that it can be done,” MC said.
MC’s work and ideation, however, have just started its execution. He is building bigger dreams from this platform. Adding to these, He has set up another company, Just Power, to figure out how to generate solar power and how to water the fields from pumps that don’t use electricity. “We can do it with power generated from flowing water; we don’t have to invent, there are existing models. We just have to apply them,” he said.
Not ending thus, at the farm level, he has worked out a project for agri-tourism and agri-fitness, aimed at the software crowd that has never seen or been on a farm. “We have tied up with three corporate teams already for agri-tourism. Software firms take their employees to spend the day at resorts as a break and money is set aside for this. Instead, we want them to come to our organic farms, eat farm-fresh food, breathe clean air and see how and where their food comes from,” MC said.
This, he pointed out, automatically created a community and a future market for the farmers’ organic produce.
MC took his own humongous enjoyment in the experience of sowing paddy in his fields and gave it a package form. “People spend huge amounts on fitness, to build muscles, to gain better balance or to just de-stress. All of that is possible with just digging holes in the field or harvesting the crop. You feel a oneness with the land which is more enervating than any exercise in any gym. I have also calculated the number of calories that can be burnt this way. We will offer this experience to our friends in the IT sector.” Naturally, his farmer friends are smiling all the way to the bank and are riding, blissfully, on the Organic Mandya theme: “Don’t eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.” They are also learning from MC, to visualize what is invisible and make impossible possible.
Very certainly, He Lives his life by design and not just by default.
Recalling from the words of our beloved people president late Sir A.P.J Abdul kalam, “kaash har hindustani ke dil mein jalti hui lau ko par lag jaye, aur us lau ki parwaaz se saara aasman roshan ho jaaye”, the things are changing.
Wish with this, hidden fire (lau) of many dreams gets the wings (par) to fly.
The Logical Indian Community feels immense pride in sharing his efforts for his soil and welcomes him ‘Swadesh’