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This Chemical Engineer Read One Story on ‘The Better India’ and Is Helping 10,000 Farmers Now

Reema Sathe, a chemical engineer, founded a start-up called Happy Roots, a food company that manufactures healthy, natural and preservative-free snack food, using local, farm-fresh ingredients. The raw material is sourced directly from small and tribal farmers in Maharashtra and is handmade by trained rural women’s groups.

Reema Sathe is a young enthusiastic chemical engineer, who is also a post graduate in business. She was working as the General Manager of Marketing in Krishi Star, a start-up that works on building market linkages for small-holding tomato farmers in Gujarat and Maharashtra, when The Better India interviewed her in November 2014.

Reema worked at Krishi Star for almost a year. But she wanted to do much more than what her job entailed, so she decided to visit some remote villages in Maharashtra.

During her travels, she came to the conclusion that if farmers, along with farming, could also run sustainable businesses it could end the ordeal of small farmers who were barely eking out a living. Her idea was taking shape in the form of her own company, ‘Happy Roots’, when she came across another article in The Better India about a WhatsApp group of farmers, in June 2015.

After reading the article, Reema wrote to us –

“I read an article about this WhatsApp group in The Better India and I was very interested to know more about them as they have a presence in Vidarbha as well. I got in touch with Amol Sainwar and Shishir Mandya and exchanged details of our work. We have found a lot of synergies, especially around our work in livelihood development of small farmers, and we are talking about how we can collaborate in the region.”

And now, after a year and a half of detailed research and hard work, Reema has achieved what she promised to these farmers.

Today, Reema Sathe is the proud founder and director of ‘Happy Roots’, a food company that makes healthy, natural and preservative-free snack food, using local, farm-fresh ingredients sourced directly from small and tribal farmers in Maharashtra and  handmade by trained rural women’s groups.

reema-2
Reema Sathe – Founder Of Happy Roots.

“After working closely with rural communities in Gujarat and Maharashtra for two years, we identified a few grim issues our farmers have been facing for generations. Every year, our farmers toil to grow the best food for us but fail to earn more than $ 2 (approx. Rs. 140) a day for their families. Lower market rates for farm produce and lack of modern processing skills lead to lower incomes and never-ending debt cycles for the farmers. We decided to change this,” says Reema.

According to Reema, earlier, the farmers made only a marginal profit of 10 to 20% on their yield as there were 4-5 middlemen in the process.  But now, since Happy Roots directly buys raw material from small farmers and uses it to make products such as healthy snacks, the profit margin for the farmers has gone up to 100%.

“We currently have a network of 10,000 farmers across Maharashtra. We ensure the best market rates for our farmers and they reserve the best grains for us,” says Reema.

farmers
Farmer Kalu Mondhe (left) and Farmer Maliv (Right) from Sangamner, Maharashtra who supply grains to Happy Roots directly.

Happy Roots, in association with local non-profits and farmer groups, is working on a CEE (Centre for Environment Education) project in Ahmednagar district. Under this project, the company is trying to establish a market for endangered Indian grains that are on the verge of extinction. Their mission is to revive these crops and bring them back to the urban consumer basket.

Their first successful initiative has been to revive battu (buckwheat) and kalbhat (black husk rice), which grow in the rain shadow areas of the Sahayadri hills.

rice
An indigenous rice variety (Kalbhat) that Happy Roots uses in its Crackers

The social work by the company is three-pronged: focus on skills development and employment of small and tribal farmers and rural women by supporting rural micro-enterprises; protect crop biodiversity by using locally grown produce, which often involves endangered crops and seeds; and promote fair trade practices.

Every time a customer buys a product from Happy Roots, a portion of the money is invested back in the training and development and capacity building of a local farmer community.

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Farmer producer company meet

“Happy Roots is helping us solve the problem of marketing our high quality produce. With their guidance we have improved the product quality and learnt how to present it to our customers. They have also helped us revive buckwheat (battu), which is a part of our seed conservation project. Tribal farmers were growing this cereal grain only on one or two acres for their own consumption. After Happy Root’s intervention and business planning, we sowed buckwheat on 20 acres of land and are expecting a production of one tonne in November 2016,” says Gangadhar Charude, a member of the Baliraja Producer Company.

So far, Happy Roots has had a direct impact on over 2000 small farmers in Vidarbha and also employs 100 rural women.

team
Team Happy Roots.

 

To connect with the farmers, Happy Roots partners with local non-profit organisations like Lokpanchayat in Ahmednagar district, Chetna Organics in Vidarbha, and Chaitanya Foundation in Pune. The raw materials – like grains, millets, sugar, and oil – are then procured from these small farmers and farmer producer companies like the Baliraja Producer Company.

Next, the raw material is handed over to rural women self-help groups like Nirmiti.

The final products are packed and marketed at various cafes and outlets.

“We are coming up with a Greenfield Project (food processing unit) in partnership with Happy Roots, Lokpanchayat, and Baliraja. This unit will help our rural women with skills development and employment. When our rural women get empowered, our village children will become educated and empowered too. We will no longer stay unseen and unheard,” says Mrs. Shalan Shelke, Nirmiti Women’s Cooperative, Sangamner.

Some of the mouth-watering healthy snacks from Happy Roots include: fresh yogurt dip made from curd that comes from small dairy farmers; whole wheat whey crackers made from 100% whole wheat flour and natural whey liquid extracted from cultured dairy; and finger millet and rolled oats cookies.

cookies

Presently, the products can be bought from The Gourmet Food Company (an online store). The healthy snacks can also be found at French Window, Cafe One O Eight, and Yoga Room in Pune. People in Pune can also buy the products online from Faasos or order on this WhatsApp number: +919623385701

If you are a non-profit/NGO, farmer-producer company, women’s self-help group, or know a group of small or tribal farmers, reach out to Happy Roots at connect@happyroots.in for a fruitful partnership.

You can also write to the company if you are a chef or restaurant owner and want to connect with the network of small farmers to purchase raw material directly from them.

For more information, please visit www.happyroots.in

 

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Written by Manabi Katoch

A Mechanical Engineer-turned-writer, Manabi finds solace in writing stories about unsung heroes. Nothing makes her happier than the impact emails from her readers. Other than writing, she loves listening to the stories told by her six year old daughter. Manabi can be reached at manabi@thebetterindia.com. You can also find her tweets @manabi5

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