Right after graduation, as his peers went to look for career opportunities in Tier-1 cities, or sat for competitive exams, Sandeep Kannan turned to hydroponics farming, a relatively new concept in his hometown, Tirupati. Here's how he's reaping success through his startup, Vyavasayi Bhoomi.
When Tirupati-based Sandeep Kannan graduated college in 2020, most of his friends and classmates were thinking about moving out of their town to explore career prospects in Tier-I cities. Meanwhile, some wanted to appear for competitive examinations to bag government jobs.
“I was among them and started preparing for civil service examinations. Later, I started wondering why a person like me, who has a farming background, should pursue a different career,” he recalls in a conversation with The Better India.
He adds, “When the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were imposed, I had more time to think about it. So I decided to explore polyhouse farming methods. I read books, watched videos and did in-depth research.”
However, his research led him to another method of farming that he found to be more alluring — hydroponics. “I was intrigued by the method, and it was a less explored technique in Tirupati. I decided to try it out myself,” he says.
The 23-year-old says that the ability to grow nutritious food without soil in a controlled environment is what attracted him to hydroponics. “Unlike conventional farming methods, hydroponics does not need the use of heavy pesticides, as the probability of the crop being infested is less,” he explains.
Sandeep spent three months planting leafy vegetables and lettuce on his terrace. “I bought PVC pipes, drilled holes as required, and provided necessary nutrients through water. I received my first harvest in November,” he says.
Meanwhile, his father was diagnosed with high sugar levels. “The doctors suggested he include fresh and chemical-free food in his diet. With small-scale success already at hand, I decided to upscale the project,” he explains.
Sandeep borrowed money from his mother and two brothers to set up a hydroponics farm on half an acre of land located in Thanapalli. He launched a startup, Vyavasayi Bhoomi, selling spinach, red amaranth, basil, kale, pak choi (Chinese cabbage), lettuce and broccoli.
“I started small, with a handful of vegetable varieties as I was not sure if the market in Tirupathi would accept the concept. Hydroponic vegetables are in high demand in cities like Bengaluru and Chennai, but the situation is different in small towns. I started taking the supply to the market, supermarkets and residential areas,” he says.
Sandeep says he saw growing acceptance as the months progressed. “I am making sales worth Rs 54,000 a month, and this amount will increase to Rs 2 lakh in the next few months. At present, 70 per cent of my produce is sold at supermarkets, which demand high commissions, reducing most of my profit margins,” he says.
Sandeep has also started reaching out to customers directly via home delivery to cut off the middlemen.
‘Son of a farmer’
Speaking of the challenges, Sandeep says, “Raising capital was a major challenge. While my relatives had lent me the money, it was difficult to convince them and give them the confidence that their finances will not go down the drain.”
He adds that finding a market for hydroponic farm produce was another hurdle. “The concept is fairly new for locals, and there is not much awareness. With no major competitors, I was not entirely sure whether the venture could work. There were many learnings during the process when I scaled up the business,” he says.
Sandeep says he is glad that the risk turned in his favour and that the business picked up. “I plan to sell my produce to Tier I cities like Chennai and Bengaluru to create new markets,” he says.
On a concluding note, he says, “It makes me proud that as the son of a farmer, I was able to experiment and find success in the field. More young farmers should consider agriculture to establish a career, rather than pursuing conventional corporate and government jobs.”
Edited by Divya Sethu