Rahib Kolsawala, 29, a farmer based in Dungarpur, Rajasthan, belongs to a family that has been farming for at least 30 years now.
About 1.5 years ago, Rahib started practising organic farming and decided to prepare his own vermicompost.
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“It was a great idea with one major issue—the vermicompost would take ages to be prepared,” says Rahib.
Thankfully, Kaavyanam Organics, a startup, which is based in his village, came to his help.
An environment services organisation, Kaavyanam Organics, produces organic agro-inputs such as fertilisers and soil fertility tonics, provides consultancy services to farmers and organisations and conducts research projects on organic agriculture and waste management.
In Dungarpur Rajasthan, where the population is predominantly tribal, it helps the farmers follow organic agriculture as a conventional practice to help maintain soil quality while earning an equal yield.
Acting upon the suggestions made by Kaavyanam, Rahib started to line the base of the vermi bed with plant residue. After that, the organic waste in the vermi bed arranged in layers by alternating the plant residue with cow dung.
“This reduced the time almost by half,” says the happy farmer who is growing vegetables like capsicum and cucumber, using organic methods.
Today, Kaavyanam is helping approximately 70 farmers like Rahib.
Kaavyanam was founded in November 2017 by Umaima Ehtasham and Abhishek Kumar who first met each other in 2016 when they were participating in the Gandhi Fellowship programme.
We ended up having a conversation about the adverse effects of mismanaged waste in our respective cities, and decided to work on upcycling waste!” exclaims 24-year-old Umaima.
The duo started by collecting organic waste from six households and four juice shops near their hostel which was located in Dungarpur’s town area.
“We would return from work at around 8 pm, take our sack and go about collecting waste—about 40 kg on an average—and carry it up two floors to the terrace for composting. We successfully composted approximately 90 to 150 kg waste into compost and made a terrace garden,” says 26-year-old Abhishek.
During this time, the duo also visited a waste management facility which helped them understand the best practices and gaps in the existing models.
Since Dungarpur is one of the first organic districts in the state, they also visited the Agriculture Department and Krishi Vigyaan Kendra to understand more about the usage of organic fertilisers in the district.
“While our cities are overflowing with waste, there is a genuine gap in the demand and supply gap of organic fertilisers. So, we connected the dots and took on the challenge,” says Abhishek.
How they began their operations
Dungarpur Nagar Parishad was aiming to become the cleanest city in India under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
While the duo felt that considerable efforts were being put in to achieve that status, it was all at the administrative level, and public engagement and awareness were severely lacking.
“But in entirety we chose Kaavyanam to be set up in Dungarpur because there is a need and potential for organic production here. Also,we found that even if some people were open to organic production, there was a gap of availability of agro-inputs and knowledge, which we felt we could bridge,” explains Umaima.
That is why they chose this place to start out to not only educate the farmers but also others in the community.
“We collected the raw material (cow dung, agri-waste, organic waste) from villages near-by and sold the vermicompost to farmers and home gardeners. We produce 48 tonnes of vermicompost in a year from our first production facility. So far, we have been successful in gradually persuading farmers to switch to organic farming,” says Abhishek.
Kaavyanam’s organic fertiliser is used in over 25 acres of land solely dedicated to organic farming, across six villages—Dovra, Chitrethi, Nayagao Damdi, Punali, Navadera, Sulai—in Dungarpur.
“We were also able to reduce the cost of the fertiliser by 55%, making it highly affordable and accessible for marginal farmers,” says Umaima. They sell a kilo for Rs.7.
Currently, the startup is developing affordable and good quality organic agro-inputs (organic fertilisers and pesticides) to boost soil fertility, increasing water retention capacity and enhancing crop yield. Recently, they also set up an organic poultry farm.
Parallelly, they are also developing designs for environmentally sustainable, low-cost agro-inputs manufacturing facilities which can easily be replicated by farmers in the long run.
“We always focus on using locally available materials, especially post-harvest agricultural waste for product manufacturing,” says Umaima.
Abhishek mentions that they are also focusing on providing consultancy services for knowledge building on organic agriculture, supporting the farmers in setting up their own natural fertiliser manufacturing unit for their fields using resources available to them. Currently, they are also conducting research projects, organic waste management and agriculture.
Social and environmental impact
Abhishek and Umaima’s journey in setting up Kaavyanam has not been a bed of roses.
The biggest challenges they face daily are language and geographical constraints. Because of their remote location, they only have access to smaller markets and find it difficult to transport their products to markets situated at a distance.
Also, funding is an issue, and Umaima adds that it is sometimes difficult to explain to farmers that adopting organic agriculture would be better for the environment and also improve their yield.
The startup is currently bootstrapped and makes sales by selling their organic fertiliser to farmers in the area. Also, they work on projects, conduct workshops and also provide consultancy services to others for which they get paid. For farmers, the consultancy services are for free.
Also, are currently receiving support from the AIC (Atal Incubation Centre) in Banasthali to identify other channels that can help their business.
However, the duo is content and hopeful of what they have been able to achieve so far, and are especially proud of a campaign named ‘Recology’ which they spearheaded along with the city council in 2017-18.
“We conducted workshops to sensitise households on waste reduction and segregation. In the process, we surveyed about 300 households and eight schools and collectively impacted over 3500 lives. The campaign resulted in a 10% reduction in the mixed waste being collected from households. Later, we also submitted an audit report which contained recommendations on improving the overall management, waste handling and processing,” explains Abhishek.
The startup has now set up its second production facility with a capacity of 140 tonnes, thereby increasing their production of vermicompost to 188 tonnes in a year.
They also started producing liquid organic fertilisers and pesticides. So far, they have commercialised one product which is an organic fertiliser; organic pesticides are under field trials and testing phase. They are also developing products like foliar sprays and decomposers.
“Our second production facility has been developed on the ideals of keeping it asset-light, low-cost for farmers to easily adopt and replicate, which is our plan to develop models for the farmers to make them self-reliant,” says Abhishek.
So, what is in store for the startup in the future?
“I believe that when we start seeing the economic value in ‘being green,’ it will not only be an activity which is socially cool to associate with but also viable and doable. Living sustainably, reducing waste, growing and eating organic, should be conventional everyday practices in life. Only then, we will then become sustainable living practitioners and minimalists by choice,” says Umaima signing off.
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)