This article has been sponsored by Wingify Earth
The stubble left after harvesting a farm is usually burned or removed from the place by investing more effort and money. But not many farmers are aware that it can also be a source of additional income.
Pune-based BiofuelCircle — founded by Suhas Baxi and Ashwin Save in June 2020 — is an online marketplace that connects the rural farming community with industrial producers for the sale of biomass and associated commodities like biofuel, biofertilisers and biogas.
The company was formed with the finding that the market for renewable energy grows every day, while the raw material for bioenergy exists in abundance. Hence, the company connects the farmers-biowaste with industries that would use it to produce clean energy.
“Through research, we discovered that over 200 million tonnes of biowaste are burnt in India every year. If the country’s bioenergy sector took in all this unused biowaste, it could power 17 per cent of the country’s energy needs,” Suhas told Jahnavi Jethmalani in an interview for The Better India.
Then why is this opportunity not being made use of? The cost involved in collecting and transporting the crop residue is not profitable for either the farmer or the bio-processing industries with the current systems in place.
This is where BiofuelCircle comes in. The company has set up a system of collectivism where farmers get together to form Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), which can eventually turn into rural bioprocessing enterprises.
Designing cost-effective processes
To explain how this would work the company shares — “First, the farmers use their tractors to collect the waste from their land. Then, through the established transport networks of the Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO), a farmer can bring this biowaste to a centralised space. Finally, the FPO sets up a briquette plant that compresses this biowaste into easily transportable briquettes. The value of loose biomass doubles when it becomes a briquette.”
“With just a little organisation, we can bring the enterprise to the farming community,” says Suhas.
Moreover, BiofuelCircle provides the necessary financial and technical support to the farmers. It has partnered with financial aid agencies, government schemes and NGOs to help the farmers deal with the initial financial constraints. The online digital platform and app will provide rural briquette plants with easy access to credible consumers of biomass.
“The average farmer who owns about 2 acres of land can supplement his annual income by about Rs 10,000 -15,000 or, as I love to say, how much it takes to have two kids in school,” says Ashwin.
BiofuelCircle also supports the farmers to transport biomass to its industrial buyers and deliver biofertilisers back to the farms, which reduces empty truck rides. With successful implementation — “farmers receive extra income, rural entrepreneurship grows, industries increase their output, stubble burning reduces, and the country gains energy security.”
Moreover, the company uses trucks with moving floors. So, within five minutes, these trucks can unload 30 tonnes of biomass briquettes — a job that would take manual labour over six hours. This intervention can bring down the cost of biomass by more than half.
At present, BiofuelCircle works with a dozen FPOs, with over 1,500 farmers actively using the digital platform. Since the pilot project conducted in Maharashtra in 2021, over 25,000 MT of biomass has been traded on the platform.
The company currently operates in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu; they hope to expand to other states soon.
“As long as there are humans on earth, there will be food and, with it, food waste. The flow of bioenergy will never diminish and our farmers will always have access to a reliable stream of income,” is the belief that drives BiofuelCircle and, through them, the farmers.