A search for nutritious food for their children pushed mothers Dibyajyoti Borgohain and Madhavi Pomar to set up Rigdam Foods, a ready-to-eat millet snacks venture that has earned a turnover of Rs 24 lakh.
A decade ago, when Dibyajyoti Borgohain decided to quit her prestigious job at an international school in Hyderabad, she was quite determined to start something of her own.
Coming from a family of regular professionals, she had very little knowledge about entrepreneurship and enrolled herself in an entrepreneurship development programme, where her life took a new dimension.
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During the course she met Madhavi Pomar, a nutrition expert from Tirupati, with whom she found common ground in wanting to provide nutritious food to their children, which became the motivation behind their millet-based food processing company Rigdam Foods.
In 2014, the duo entered the startup world with this venture, and found it to be a different ballgame.
“You are never too old to set another goal, I firmly believe in this,” the quadragenarian tells The Better India.
She continues, “During our course, we would talk about the rising unhealthy food habits, especially among the children. As mothers, we were concerned about our children’s health. While working at school, I noticed many children suffering from obesity and type-I diabetes.”
The duo decided to work on the super crop millet, which, despite centuries old, was on the verge of going extinct. Dibyajyoti shares that hailing from Assam, she did not have much idea about millets. But when she learned about its benefits, she immediately zeroed in on the crop.
Learning the primary knowhow of millets from Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), Dibyajyoti and Madhavi opened the venture with the savings from their previous jobs. The venture was incubated under research institutes like Agri Innovation Platform – ICRISAT; NutriHub – IIMR; and NSRCEL-IIM Bangalore.
The tool to tackle malnutrition
Speaking about the innovations of the product, Dibyajoti notes, “When we started experimenting with the products, we realised that children will want tasty food. So we came up with a wide range of innovative millet items such as choco balls, biscuits, breakfast bars, nutri-bars, and so on. All our items are safe, hygienic, and use 20-25% less oil compared to other fast foods.”
When Rigdam started its journey, they would collaborate with farmers to make their products. The food sold by the brand is designed and conceptualised by the duo, but to avoid high costs of setting up a manufacturing unit, they now collaborate with third-party manufacturers for production.
“The prices of Rigdam snacks are what makes it out of the box,” Dibyajyoti explains, adding that all the products are priced between Rs 10 and Rs 50. “Our main aim is to provide customers pocket-friendly, on-the-go-healthy snacks items.”
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Rigdam Foods, in collaboration with the Assam Agriculture Department, has also supplied around 1,000 millet baskets to national and international delegates attending the G-20 meetings in Assam. Dibyajyoti feels lucky to contribute to her home state through the venture.
“Working in this sector from the last few years, we have witnessed that malnutrition is not just a problem among the economically weaker section. Rather, it is also present among middle-class and higher income sections. It is because people lack a nutritious diet, and there is more prevalence of junk foods among youngsters. The quick food delivery apps are contributing to people eating more outside food, which is usually more tasty, but less healthy,” she adds.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5 India Report 2022 states that 35.5% of children below the age of five in India are stunted, and 32.1% are underweight. Millet is a whole-grain crop that can help tackle these issues with all round development — FSSAI says that the food contains 7-12 % protein, 2-5 % fat, 65-75% carbohydrates and 15-20% dietary fibre. It is also high in calcium, zinc, fibre, and iron, and can go a long way in alleviating malnutrition.
“We want a better world where everyone gets quality and healthy foods. We can proudly vouch that our sincerity, dedication and hard work has shown results. Our turnover was over Rs 24 lakh last year, and in the International Year of Millets (2023), we are looking forward to reaching more and more people,” Dibyajoti says.
The rise of millet
Madhavi explains, “Our journey was quite different, as well as eventful. We started with the thought of wanting children to eat healthy and nutritious food, but with time, we learned a lot more. People also accepted and showed tremendous trust in us. This took our confidence to a next level.”
Madhavi feels that her previous stint as a research scholar in National Institution of Nutrition has helped her a lot in designing the products in Rigdam. Meanwhile, she opines that Dibyajyoti is equally passionate about developing different nutritious products.
For the duo, customer satisfaction is a priority. Till date, they have served more than 20,000 customers from various parts of the country.
One customer, Dr Sandamita Deka, shares, “The millet products produced by Rigdam Foods are highly nutritious, yet tasty. I have been using their products for the last two years. Being a doctor, I always prefer healthy foods. Rigdam’s cookies and choco balls work best.”
The duo further says there has been a sharp increase on the use of millets. People are slowly learning that millets provide both food and nutrition security. In fact, the production of millets increased from 14.52 million tonnes in 2015-16 to 17.96 million tonnes in 2020-21. India is among the top five exporters of the crop in the world. The crop is also easier to grow, for it needs less water and can sprout in even extremely dry seasons.
The pride of Assam
In an attempt to make millet more popular, Rigdam Foods helped the Government of Assam set up a first-of-its-kind ‘Millet Cafe’ at Assam Secretariat, Dispur, by collaborating with local women entrepreneurs as technical and knowledge partners.
Surobhi Borgohain, the proprietor of the Millet Cafe, says, “Rigdam has tremendously supported me in opening this shop. Dibyajyoti is a great teacher and leader, and has efficiently provided all technical support to the cafe.”
At the Millet Cafe, Surobhi sells millet payokh (kheer), khidchi, pasta, noodles, and jolpan (a traditional Assamese breakfast), and earns around Rs 2,000 per day. She also plans to open another shop in Guwahati and engage with more local farmers.
Meanwhile, Dr Pranab Kumar Mahanta, agriculture adviser, APART (Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project), notes, “It is really a matter of pride to see Dibyajyoti, a woman from Assam, working at such an extensive level on millets in Hyderabad.”
He adds that 15 districts of the state — Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Baksa, Udalguri, Barpeta, Kamrup, Nagaon, Morigaon, Sonitpur, Karbi Anglong, Jorhat, Golaghat, and Tinsukia — have been selected for production of finger millet, foxtail millet and proso millet.
As per Dr Mahanta, in states like Assam, the awareness on millets is rising slowly but steadily. Millet crops are beneficial because they need less fertiliser, water and can grow in any weather condition, so we believe in the coming days more farmers will also get associated with the initiative.
As for Dibyajyoti and Madhavi, Rigdam has changed their lives, they say “It is respect more than money that we have earned,” Dibyajyoti notes. “My message to the upcoming women entrepreneurs is believe in yourself, keep trying with patience and persuasion, and success will definitely be yours.”
Written by Sayantani Deb; Edited by Divya Sethu
Millets in PDS a game changer for combating malnutrition, climate change: Written by Abhijit Mohanty, Bindu Mohanty for Down to Earth; Published on 27 January 2023
What NFHS-5 Data Shows: 1 in 3 Children below 5 Years of Age are Stunted, Underweight: Written by Shobha Suri for News18; Published on November 2021
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