Two IITians sowing change in Bihar`s farmlands
Patna: A degree from IIT was the big ticket of Shashank Kumar and Manish Kumar to white collar jobs. But instead of chasing corporate dreams, the two youngsters are dirtying their hands in the fields of Bihar, providing solutions to farmers and trying to bridge the gap between buyers and growers.
"After completing my B Tech in 2008, I got placed in a management consulting firm in Gurgaon. My working area was supply chain and FMCG consultancy services. I used to solve the problems of leading FMCG companies like Pepsico and Britannia. While working, I came to know of the problems they face while sourcing raw materials from farmers," Shashank, 25, who quit his corporate job after two-and-a-half years, told agency.
Despite coming from an agricultural background, the boy from Chapra district harboured the dream of becoming an entrepreneur and says his job helped him shape his dream.
While pursuing engineering at Delhi IIT, Shashank contemplated several options and decided to serve in the agriculture sector, which he feels "is the most neglected despite being the most important sector".
"And my job experience allowed me to identify that there is a huge gap between growers and consumers."
He wanted like-minded people to join him and his friend Manish Kumar, another engineering graduate from IIT Kharagpur, shared his dream. They formed the Farms n Farmers, a farming solutions company.
"Manish had a job offer from IBM, but he didn`t accept it and joined me immediately after finishing his course in 2010," said Shashank.
They decided to focus on educating farmers about soil quality, crop selection and marketing of their products.
In October 2010, the duo launched their pilot project in Chakdharia village in Vaishali district, the place Manish belongs to, with 13 farmers.
Mainsh, 27, said, "Initially it was difficult to convince farmers because they have been cheated so many times. They were unwilling to change their traditional pattern."
To get rid of the hurdle, the two formed an advisory team, which has scientists from IIT Kharagpur, Rajendra Agricultural University, Pusa, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour (Bhagalpur) and thankfully it helped him in convincing farmers.
"Farmers face a plenty of problems. What is shocking is that they face labour and water shortage and still grow wheat and paddy.
"We are offering a 360-degree solution. Based on the soil condition and farmer profile, crop selection is done. We ensure right input availability, training, trouble shooting and marketing," said Shashank.
"For our pilot project, we suggested rajma instead of wheat and fortunately it brought 100 percent profits. Then word spread and in one year you can find our footprints in seven other districts in Bihar."
Farms n Farmers also works in Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Purnea, Banka, Rohtas and Patna with over 1,000 farmers.
"Our survey revealed what the buyer wants. If he wants potato, then what kind of potatoes is he looking for and for which variety will he pay the maximum price - so we select the crop accordingly," Shashank said.
"There is no intermediary between buyers and farmers. Thirdly, more than 85 percent farmers belong to the marginal category and it`s difficult for them to go to bigger markets," he added.
There are other problems like post-harvest management. "Value addition is not done in our country; nothing is done to improve the quality, post-harvesting. We are doing that," said Shashank.
They are already on the success path. This year "we are going to supply rice to Wallmart. From small villages we are going to export potatoes. We have to work on how to reduce cost and earn profit," said Shashank.
They also grow moong, turmeric, papaya and paddy.
What about funding?
"Our project needs very little, mainly petrol for our bikes and our survival. I was in Belgium for internship in my fourth year. I saved more than Rs.1.5 lakh and my father helped me too," said Manish.
Shashank is also using the money he saved in his job.
Their parents were not so happy when they announced their decision, but things are changing.
"My parents were not happy, but when we showed good results, they were with us. They still worry a lot because agriculture is an uncertain sector. They say, "kaam to achha hai..kisi na kisi ko aisa jaroor karna chaiye, magar tum hi log kyun?" Shashank said.
Manish said: "My father supported my plans, but ma still wants her son to enjoy an air-conditioned life, rather than roam the fields. Also, there is no provision for pension in my father`s job and I have a younger sister whose wedding is my responsibility."
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