Chita Biswas is a farmer from Nadia district of West Bengal who owns 3 acres of land in his village. With no means of providing for himself and his family other than a small piece of land, Chita decided to experiment with organic farming to increase his income. A good harvest and better market price have motivated him to think about converting all of his land to organic.
However, reviving agricultural lands to grow crops organically requires technical know-how, good quality seeds, post-harvesting support, and market linkages.
Looking at the glaring gaps in the organic farming ecosystem in West Bengal, Ekta Jaju started an organic company called ONganic in 2015 with a vision to create better livelihoods for farmers, health & wellness for consumers and a sustainable planet. Under ONganic’s guidance and hand-holding, small farmers like Chita are increasingly moving away from chemical methods to natural methods of farming with a special focus on growing age-old indigenous varieties, such as aromatic black rice and red rice. These variants also come with amazing nutritious benefits including boosting immune system, and preventing many life threatening diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases. Today, ONganic markets over 50 food products including cereals, pulses, flours, spices, and other healthy products from all over West Bengal to various locations in India and abroad.
Ekta has donned hats as diverse as that of a filmmaker focusing on environmental issues, a permaculturist supporting indigenous farming and most recently, a social entrepreneur bringing the organic farming movement to smallholder farmers. She is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women scholarship programme on Women Entrepreneurship at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad and is a serial entrepreneur who earlier co-founded ventures in the sustainable livelihoods and energy sectors. She describes ‘organic’ as a way of life and identifies ‘sustainability’ as a core pillar in solving today’s development challenges.
Incubated by Indian Institute of Management Kolkata Innovation Park, Ekta’s ONganic aims to impact 10,000 farmers by 2025 and double their incomes. The company will achieve this by increasing farmer share in the agriculture value chain through a ‘farm to form‘ model which eliminates non-value adding middlemen, and by making remunerative markets of organic, indigenous varieties of non-perishable food produce accessible to farmers. ONganic also equips farmers with market information and specialized knowledge required to undertake organic farming while providing access to online and offline marketing channels to sell the produce. Currently, company’s supply chain touches over 300 farmers and 200 hectares.
We are proud to have ONganic as a participating company in Upaya’s 2018 Agribusiness Accelerator. During a recent site visit, Ekta spoke to Upaya team about what inspired the beginnings of ONganic, as well as her team’s most cherished accomplishments to date.
Q: What problem are you trying to solve with your company?
“Farming as a profession for small and marginal farmers (with land holding of upto 2 hectares ) is barely a profitable proposition today and hence, we are witnessing a large scale migration of the farming community away from farming. ONganic’s idea has the potential to significantly and positively impact the agriculture sector by demonstrating that organic farming for small and marginal farmers is profitable and a sustainable profession and restores pride in farming.”
Q: How did you become so passionate about this issue?
“As we realized that finding a reliable market for produce is the single largest challenge small organic farmers faced, and a model that is financially sustainable and scalable can help this movement hit the tipping point it needs to exponentially grow its impact, I became passionate about this issue.”
Q: How does your company improve farmer livelihoods?
“There is no sizeable organic company in West Bengal, with a focus on impacting small farmers at scale. West Bengal produces unique varieties of indigenous rice, pulses, spices, oil seeds and herbs, but due to lack of aggregators in the supply chain, these varieties are not easily accessible organically. We are producing and growing premium agricultural produce which commands a higher price in the retail and bulk market - focus is on higher price realization rather than scale of operations. We deliver what we promise to the farmer. We have a track record of 100% buy back from farmers at premium prices.”
Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment with your company to date?
“Earning the faith and trust of farmers has been our biggest achievement. In the last two years, we have never defaulted on a payment, or not procured as promised.”
ONganic Foods is an organic company working across the value chain in India: farming, processing, research and development, sales and exports. The company produces 50+ organic products and has a supply chain that encompasses 300 farmers and 200+ hectares. ONganic improves profitability from agriculture for small holders through the introduction of organic cultivation of high premium products and developing a seed to shelf value chain.
Written by Aparna Arora. Aparna is passionate about sharing stories of social change and strongly support Upaya's model of ending extreme poverty by harnessing the power of entrepreneurship.