Growing up in rural Tamil Nadu, Selvakumar Varadharajan, founder and Chief Executive of Laymen Agro Ventures, remembers helping on his grandfather’s farm as a child. Selvakumar would bring his family’s produce to the nearby town on bicycle in order to sell their products directly to consumers, increasing his family’s income by cutting out the middle men in the distribution chain. Even at a very young age, he had the mind of an entrepreneur.
Selvakumar went on to study finance and now holds a master’s degree in finance and control from SNMV, Coimbatore and a M.Phil in management from Periyar University, Salem.
When Selvakumar and his wife settled in Bangalore to start a family, they soon began to long for the farm-fresh produce and dairy of their childhood that was not available in urban India. This prompted them to move back to Coimbatore to start a venture that would provide urban citizens with access to fresh agro-products while improving the livelihoods of small-holder farmers and rural youths in the process.
The Upaya team sat down with Selvakumar, one of 11 agripreneurs participanting in Upaya’s 2018 Agribusiness Accelerator Program, to learn more about Laymen Agro Ventures and the company he started, VillFresh.
Q: What problems exist in India’s agriculture industry today that Laymen Agro is trying to solve?
"Laymen Agro was born with a vision to bridge the Rural-Urban gap with a sustainable ecosystem that solves three chronic problems in our soil.
"For one, farmers are left with a thin margin as they are buying their inputs at a retail price and selling their outputs at a wholesale price. Secondly, rural youths are either unemployed or under employed and are migrating to nearby cities for menial jobs. At the same time, urban citizens are paying more for less in terms of quality and quantity when it comes to agro products."
Q: How is Laymen addressing these issues?
"Laymen’s role is to ensure village fresh agro-products reach the urban citizens through an aggregator model in the agriculture sector that channelizes the lion’s share of consumers’ price back to the rural economy. Turning rural youth into entrepreneurs (VillagePreneurs) to ensure better returns to the agro-outputs and supply agro-inputs at a wholesale price that double the net margin for the farmers. We arrived at an alternate-distribution channel that markets their output and yields better return.
"Bottom-line: Enriching the Farmers by empowering rural youth to excite the urban consumers!"
Q: How did you become so passionate about finding a solution to the problems in the agri distribution chain?
"I am a social activist turned entrepreneur. I had played the role of market connector for my grandfather during my secondary school days, eliminating the middle men in the agro-outputs distribution channel. I have been empowering rural youths for years by making them employable. My aim to solve the domestic problems of an urban kitchen with my native knowledge of agriculture distribution chains has added value to my entrepreneurial journey."
Q: What has been Laymen’s biggest accomplishment so far?
"We are the 2017 Coca Cola Sustainable Enterprise Award winner (national level) and got an opportunity to visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan. We were one of the final 8 at IITB's Eureka this year, out of 10,000 entries."
Q: What inspired you to start Laymen Agro Ventures?
"To be honest, my wife’s complaining in our urban kitchen about the quality of agro products ignited this thought. As a young mother, the kind of discomfort she had been facing while introducing the first time external feed for the baby was stressful. The idea was planted by my wife and nurtured by myself in the best interest of our child. "
Laymen Agro aims to bring village fresh agro-products to urban citizens through an aggregator model that channels the lion’s share of the consumer’s price back to the rural economy. They turn rural youth into entrepreneurs (VillagePreneurs) to ensure better returns to the agro-outputs and supply agro-inputs at a wholesale price that doubles the net margin for the farmers.
The VillagePreneurs collect milk, fruits and vegetables directly from farmers, take them to the nearby cities in less than 162 minutes and distribute them under Laymen Agro’s quality certification/brand. The farmers get up to 35% better returns on milk and 40% to 60% better returns on fruits and vegetables, which increases the farmers’ margins, resulting in a substantial jump in their disposable income.
Laymen Agro is participating in Upaya's 2018 accelerator program focused on the agribusiness industry in India.