Growing up in rural Gujarat, one of India’s leading states for dairy production, Ketan Parmar learned early on the importance of sustainable agricultural practices. His grandfather was an organic farmer. That’s why Ketan saw organic farming as a solution to the insufficient incomes and poor milk yields faced by small-scale dairy farmers in India today.
While earning his Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, Ketan conducted a pilot project with 50 farmers in Gujarat to promote organic farming as a means of improving farmers’ livelihoods. The success of the pilot encouraged him to launch his social enterprise, Krishi Naturals, in 2012.
Krishi Naturals aims to make organic farming and indigenous cow rearing a sustainable source of income for small-scale farmers in India. The company works closely with dairy farmers to train them in organic farming methods and best practices to increase their milk yield and, ultimately, their income.
Ketan is a part of the 2019 cohort of Upaya’s Livelihoods Accelerator Program. All of the 11 companies in the cohort are driven by creating jobs and improving incomes for the poorest of the poor in India. We reached out to Ketan to learn more about what inspired him to start his company and what his vision is for the company.
Q: What problem are you trying to solve with your company?
A: “We are trying to make dairy farming of indigenous cattle a sustainable livelihood source for small and marginal farmers. The core problem for these farmers is monthly sustainable income. As it is known widely that the Indian agriculture sector is very inefficient in terms of supply chain and fair prices for farmers. In recent years, it is coupled with the fluctuating weather due to climate change. It has hit the farmers very badly.
“We are trying to use dairy farming as a sustainable alternative livelihood source for the marginal farmers. Almost 70% of indigenous cattle are owned by small and marginal farmers in India. So, we are trying to bring modern dairy farming practices to improve the efficiency of these indigenous cattle. It will have higher milk yield for marginal farmers. Along with that, we are creating premium market through our brand and are paying premium price to these farmers.”
Q. How did you become so passionate about this issue?
A: “I come from a farmer family a generation back. As a child, I had spent my vacations in farms and witnessed sustainable agricultural practices. With the advent of time, I also observed the unsustainable farming and dairy farming practices spreading like a wild fire. It affects the environment, contaminates food, affects farmers income, etc. So, I decided to do something about it by creating such a model which can address all these issues and can scale.”
Q. What inspired to start your company?
A: “I was passionate about this issue. Moreover, I got into M.A in Social Entrepreneurship from TISS, Mumbai. It gave me platform to explore various models in the agriculture sector and gave me confidence that something can be done for the issue I care about through a financially sustainable social enterprise.”
Q. What has been your biggest accomplishment with your company to date?
A: “Our biggest accomplishment till now is the venture model we have cracked. An organized model which integrates promoting and improving indigenous cattle and, at the same time, markets its milk as premium product. We are among the first ones who have done it successfully. And now it is ready to scale. We are recognized and supported by prestigious institutions like TISS and IIM A and corporates like SAP and DBS bank.”
Q. What has been your biggest challenge or learning so far?
A: “Our biggest learning has been that a good socially-driven team is necessary to scale the social enterprise. Without that, it’s difficult to expand.”
Q. What is your vision for your company?
A: “We want to create a sustainable model on scale which can ensure minimum INR 10k per month income for small and marginal farmers. This model can serve as an example for addressing the farmers’ livelihoods throughout the country.”
Krishi Naturals is aiming to improve the livelihood of marginal farmers by making dairy farming of native cow breeds a source of sustainable livelihood. By using native cows, the dairy produced is enriched with vitamins and minerals and free of any harmful ingredients that packaged milk might have.
Krishi Naturals organizes and trains farmers in scientific breeding and fodder management to increase the milk yield of the cows and also provides market linkages for yielding better prices for the milk. Krishi hopes to not only increase farmer incomes from these animals but to further empower rural farmers to transition to organic farming.
Upaya has the privilege of working with so many passionate social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are our heroes, leading businesses that provide employment opportunities for people in some of the world’s most marginalized communities. We love learning and sharing what has inspired our partners and accelerator participants to take the leap into entrepreneurship.