“Sometimes, resistance only fuels one’s passion to pursue something harder,” says 27-year-old Ranjana Yadav, an entrepreneur and owner of Vidhivani pearl farming, a startup in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
Ranjana stumbled upon pearl farming almost three years ago, while completing her MSc in Forestry, and was immediately fascinated. “The very process of how a pearl forms inside shells as an act of self defense really surprised and fascinated me. To see how people were employing this natural phenomenon to create something so beautiful was even more interesting and I wanted to be a part of it,” she adds.
She shared her entrepreneurial dreams with her family, but they were skeptical. So, she decided to win them over by cultivating pearls at home.
“In January 2018, I set up a small farm in an abandoned bathtub in my father-in-law’s backyard. I started small and set up 20 odd pearl mussels. Every day I took care of it, and in a matter of 10-12 months, I witnessed an 80% success rate with almost 2 pearls forming in every mussel. The success solidified my confidence and helped me convince my elders to support me in this journey,” adds Ranjana.
Furthermore, the pearls from the bathtub farm fetched her Rs 350-Rs 450 in a jeweller’s market in Hyderabad, reaping a cool profit of Rs 80,000.
Emboldened by the success, the same year, Ranjana enrolled herself for a 1-week crash course on pearl farming at Bhubaneswar-based Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture.
A Farm in her Backyard
The substantial success and novelty of pearl farming in the Gangetic-belt of UP where it was quite uncommon, helped Ranjana create a niche for herself and upon returning from Bhubaneswar, she started her own farm in the backyard of her parental home, almost 6 km away from her residence.
“I am the first entrepreneur in the family, and it’s only natural that people were unsure about me taking up this work. But what is life without a bit of risk? So instead, I convinced my father, Suresh Chandra Yadav to allow me to dig up a 14×14 ft land to build an artificial pond. I also bought some 2000 mussels from Ahmedabad, with a total investment of Rs 1 lakh,” says the entrepreneur.
The entire process after installation of the mussels takes almost a year to reach completion.
Elaborating upon the installation process and care, she explains, “After the mussels are delivered, you have to let them rest for a day and get used to the environment. Then you need to dip them into alkaline treated water for the next 7 days, while feeding them green algae regularly. After 7 days, you operate on them and insert the nucleus.Then you hang a nylon net and ropes to support the mussels and let them rest for 10-12 months or even more depending on the variety. Throughout the process, it is important to take great care of them, check the water temperature, clean the pond and make sure they are well-fed.”
For the past one year, Ranjana makes a trip to her parental home to check on the mussels and feed them, the first thing in the morning. She spends almost 2-4 hours every day taking care of them. Although the lockdown caused a few hiccups in the process, she still managed to do this.
“These mussels are like my babies. From feeding them to checking their health and giving medicines if required, throughout this period, I have reared them carefully. Extreme weather conditions can increase the mortality rate to 90% and so it’s important to keep a daily check. With time they grow stronger and most independent and so during the lockdown period I could manage to oversee their care from a distance,” says Ranjana, who is also a mother to twin daughters.
What Makes Pearl Culture a Viable Investment?
Ranjana explains that freshwater mussel pearls are designer, which means that they can be moulded to various shapes and designs, unlike saltwater oyster pearls that are always round. They are also easier to grow and relatively less expensive. Also, freshwater mussels are organic hosts with no shell bead nucleus which means that they can grow almost 2-6 pure pearls per mussel in each production cycle.
“In some places in Asia, people grow as many as 20 pearls in a single mussel at a time. And, compared to ocean pearl cultivation that requires advanced surgical skills, freshwater pearl culture can be done by anyone with a little training and is also quite inexpensive. While this also means that these pearls are cheaper than the oyster pearls, the investment to production and profit ratio is quite good,” she explains, adding that she expects to make a profit of Rs 4 lakh this October-November.
Ranjana mentions that in the last few years, she has trained 16 agriculture students in her farm, and helped 10 farmers in Hathras, UP, set up their own pearl farms.
“I hope pearl farming becomes more mainstream in the coming years. People will always question whenever someone tries to do something new but that doesn’t mean they should back down. Weigh in your risks, create a tentative plan and just follow through, that’s the only way you can succeed,” concludes Ranjana.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)