Reema Sathe

Reema Sathe's ven­ture is rais­ing farm­ers' in­comes, re­viv­ing indige­nous grain va­ri­eties.

Business Today - - CONTENTS - By MOUPIA BASU

Reema Sathe worked in the food and bev­er­age in­dus­try for seven years be­fore start­ing Happy Roots to em­power mar­ginal farm­ers, even those with­out own land, with sus­tain­able in­come. To­day, the so­cial en­ter­prise, which makes gourmet snack food such as crack­ers and cook­ies, has a net­work of 15,000 farm­ers and 2,000 ru­ral women in Vi­darbha, Kol­ha­pur and Pune in Ma­ha­rash­tra, with land ac­cess of 25,000 acres and a pool of 120 indige­nous va­ri­eties. “We want to be­come the largest healthy snack food brand in the coun­try that rep­re­sents small and mar­ginal farm­ers,” says Sathe. For pro­duc­tion, she is us­ing a pri­vate fa­cil­ity in Pune.

Sathe’s ru­ral jour­ney started with a stint at Kr­ishi Star, a start-up work­ing with small farm­ers in Gu­jarat where, dis­tressed at farm­ers’ sui­cides, she built a com­mu­nity of poul­try farm­ers, and with the help of the state govern­ment’s CAIM (Con­ver­gence of Agri­cul­tural In­ter­ven­tion in Ma­ha­rash­tra) pro­gramme and an NGO, Chetana Or­ganic, gave farm­ers from 25 vil­lages free-range chicks. Every morn­ing, the farm­ers would give her fresh eggs that she de­liv­ered to restau­rant chefs in Pune. The chefs loved them. The farm­ers’ in­come rose 150 per cent within a short pe­riod. But there was one dif­fi­culty. Though the eggs were tastier and more nu­tri­tional, they were costlier and prone to rot or break dur­ing trans­porta­tion. “I searched for a more sus­tain­able model and de­cided to set up a non­per­ish­able sup­ply chain. The idea was to in­volve farm­ers in food pro­cess­ing,” she says.

A chem­i­cal engi­neer with a de­gree in food and hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment, Sathe, who has worked with Mahin­dra Hol­i­days, Sodexo and Eco­lab, spoke to nearly 100 peo­ple to un­der­stands the gaps in the food eaten in ur­ban ar­eas. The re­sponse and a chance meet­ing with an NRI threw up the idea of start­ing a healthy snack food out­fit. Sathe — awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar by the Min­istry of Women and Child De­vel­op­ment and the Phoenix Lead­ing Lady Award for ex­cel­lence in the so­cial en­ter­prise sec­tor — pumped in `10 lakh from her sav­ings to set up the ven­ture.

“We bought from farm­ers, cut out the mid­dle lay­ers, and paid them 50 per cent more than their usual in­come. Farm­ers do not earn more than 15-20 per cent of the end-con­sumer’s ru­pee,” says Sathe. “When I re­ceived threats, I re­alised my work is im­pact­ing some­one in the ecosys­tem,” she says. Happy Roots has gen­er­ated a rev­enue of `3.5 lakh since its launch in 2016. But Sathe does not want to limit her­self to food pro­cess­ing. Happy Roots is also work­ing to re­vive sev­eral indige­nous grains. For in­stance, it is un­der­tak­ing con­tract farm­ing of the indige­nous Buck­wheat. This has in­creased the in­come of tribal women farm­ers it works with in Ahmed­na­gar by 300 per cent. “Happy Roots is build­ing a trans­par­ent value chain where small and mar­ginal farm­ers are equal part­ners and own 50 per cent. We part­ner with farm­ers for pre-har­vest (seed con­ser­va­tion, farm­ing of indige­nous grains) as well as post-har­vest man­age­ment (man­u­fac­tur­ing healthy snack food),” says Sathe. ~

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