Jayanti Mahapatra, a young entrepreneur in India, was taken aback by the extreme poverty she witnessed during a visit to Kalahandi, a district located in western Odisha. She saw that many of the villagers had to migrate to larger cities in seek of work as day laborers or construction workers.
Jayanti learned that, while many rural families kept goats, the practice wasn’t earning them enough money to become a sustainable livelihood. In fact, many people in the villages she visited didn’t believe farming could be a viable source of income by itself. She was inspired to find a way to create local jobs for the people in Kalahandi and saw goat farming as a prime opportunity.
“My husband and I were always passionate about agriculture,” Jayanti told edexlive.com. “We had visited a lot of high-tech farms, agro companies, dairies, poultries and other agri-ventures and wondered why we couldn’t do something similar in Odisha.”
In 2015 Jayanti started her business, Manikstu Agro with the mission of changing the landscape of goat farming in Odisha. Through its state-of-the-art goat farm, the company hopes to raise awareness and spread information on the practices and upkeep of sustainable goat farming and breeding.
Jayanti is a part of the 2019 cohort participating in Upaya’s Livelihoods Accelerator Program. The Upaya team has enjoyed learning how Jayanti turned her vision into a social enterprise that provides jobs and income increases to 36 employees and 20 farmers. Here’s a snippet of our conversation with her.
Q: How is Manikstu Agro improving the lives of people in Odisha?
A: “Manikstu started its operation in one of the most backward districts of Odisha, which was mostly in the news for poverty related issues. When people from our village were asking for help to get jobs in the city, we realized they didn’t have enough skills to get dignified jobs. We thought of creating a few jobs locally that can help everyone and create a sustainable and scalable business in a place where it is needed the most.
“We focus on agriculture and zero in on goatery, as this industry was highly unorganized, and we saw a huge potential to make it a structured business. Goat farming was mostly done through the traditional model of grazing, while we introduced a complete stall-feeding model and started training our people. We minimized 90% of the goat mortality through the elevated shelter and stall-feed methods. We have so far created more than 36 full time jobs and work with almost 20 associate farmers who have stopped migrating to cities to became construction laborers and are now focused on goat farming.”
Q. How did you settle on Odisha in which to start your business?
A: “While travelling though the villages of Kalahandi, we realized that most of the villagers were rearing goats, but only four or five animals at most. Day by day, more of the gazing grounds for animals are converted into farm land. The lack of medical facilities or breeding centers are the main reasons for this situation. Odisha is not even in the top five states for production of goat meat, yet it’s a main household activity in rural areas. Rural families just needed a systematic method of production and a strong end to end business model. During our visits to other states, we saw goat farming has been done in a large scale with a proper farm-to-retail model, so why not in Odisha?”
Q. What inspired to start your company?
A: “When we started the business and got to in agriculture, people in the villages told us agribusiness is not a very viable livelihood. They wanted jobs in government or with private companies. So we incorporated Manikstu to run the agribusiness as a private limited company. Now their attitudes have changed as they get a monthly salary in their bank accounts with other perks and benefits. Everyone introduces themselves as an employee of Manikstu Agro rather than farm labors. A simple thing has changed their mindset, and now our employees and associated farmers see a bigger picture of structuring the whole meat market.”
Q. What has been your biggest accomplishment with your company to date?
A: “As this is an unstructured industry, we struggled to find enough information on genetic improvement or how to address the local disease issues. We worked for two years to understand the whole cycle from the impact of climatic change, to the best cross breeds in terms of growth and resistance, to fodder management and the preparation of silage. These are critical aspects of goat farming, and we have created a very robust prototype which will scale to an industrial level. We have more than 20 associated farmers now with us, whom we are supporting in every aspect of this business, and we aim to touch more than 1000 farmer in a couple years. This will be a paradigm shift for the western district of Odisha which has not witnessed any economic changes for decades.”
Q. What has been your biggest challenge or learning so far?
A: “The biggest challenge has been acceptance of this business and the scalability due to high goat mortality. We had to convince our associate farmers to increase their number of animals by supporting them with fodder and medical and breeding aids. The market is enormous, and alone we will not be able to fulfill the demand, so we need to create a vast network of farmers who will work with us. We also need to create a network of retail outlets so that we can supply good quality meat directly to retail customers to avoid middlemen who cut into the profits.”
Q. What is your vision for your company?
A: “Our vision is to do same to goatery, what Venketeswara hatchery did to poultry industry, “an organized business.” We will do it in western Odisha where it is needed the most, and the best part is that we can do this with the available resources. Now the local people don’t need to migrate to other states to work as construction or domestic laborers. Our endeavor is not only to create enough jobs with Manikstu Agro but also through our associate farmers, franchised retails outlets, and in the whole supply chain. The whole process will start an economic revolution as a lot of direct and indirect employment will get created. This will also create an environment to set up meat processing units. The associated products like goat milk and cheese will also start coming to the market.”
Manikstu Agro aims to change the landscape of goat farming in Odisha. With a goal to create a large scale state of the art goat farm, they hope to raise awareness and information on the practices and upkeep of sustainable goat farming and breeding. Through bringing social change to the region, Manikstu can establish this region as a food processing and animal husbandry corridor, attracting other farmers and thus creating more jobs for the rural poor.
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.