In 2016, Sridhar Venkataraman was vice president at an insurance company. But his love for organic and fresh food drove him to hang up his corporate boots and start working full time on his six-acre farmland in Denkanikottai, Tamil Nadu. Today he, along with fellow farmer Munnisamy, cultivate vegetables like cabbage, tomatoes, and flat beans organically.
But finding his end consumer was not easy at first. As a small-scale organic farmer, Sridhar had to jump several hoops, deal with local mandis and middlemen, and sell at price points that would not have proved to be sustainable in the long run.
Relief finally came by way of Bengaluru-based Healthy Buddha. The startup not just helps small local and village-dwelling organic farmers with direct market linkages by connecting them to the urban customer but also trains them on the latest techniques in organic farming and addresses their day-to-day queries.
Healthy Buddha is connected with 244 farmers across 12 states in India working on 347 acres of land collectively. Over the past four years, the startup has helped avoid the use of 24,013 kg of chemicals and fertilisers.
Start of Healthy Buddha
Started by techies Gautham PB and Anurag Dalmia in 2014, Healthy Buddha was founded with an aim to ensure that urban dwellers gain access to wholesome food that was 100 percent organic.
“My father, PB Murali, is an award-winning organic farmer in Chennai, and I have grown up eating the best of organic produce thanks to him. When I moved to Bengaluru, I wanted to give my kids the same wholesome food that I had benefited from, but to my surprise, I found that it was not easily available. We had to travel to multiple shops to get just limited products and we could never be sure where they were coming from and if they were really organic,” 38-year-old Gautham says.
It was this desire that spurred Gautham to create a digital platform. “We also wanted to address the two biggest problems faced by the farmers: getting the right price and an assured market for their produce,” Gautham explains.
The two founders, starting out from Gautham’s living room while still holding on to their day jobs, would personally visit each farm, validate their produce before onboarding them.
Tapping into the organic farmer network Gautham’s father had in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the duo set up stalls in apartment complexes in Whitefield and Indiranagar to showcase organic non-perishables like honey, atta, pulses, and jaggery. And from the orders they secured, the founders did the delivery runs themselves on the weekends. Simultaneously, they also started to drive down to multiple organic farms to identify good organic farmers and pick up produce from them.
They then hired two employees, rented a separate two-BHK house and quit their jobs to start working on Healthy Buddha full time. Their bootstrapped venture now encompasses a 6,000 sqft warehouse in Marathahalli, and employs over 50 individuals. The company claims that they deliver organic products to more than 2,000 customers per week.
Produce is harvested based on demand, so everything is fresh and there is minimal wastage, Gautham says.
Farm to fork, but much more
While many other startups like Mandi Trades, AgriBolo, Organic Thellawala and Earth Food, among others, too are working on the farm-to-fork model, Healthy Buddha’s USP, Gautham says, is that they form a direct connect between the consumer and the farmer through face-to-face interaction at farmers’ market. Moreover, the customer is made aware of the challenges faced by the agrarian community whose produce they are consuming, and the reasons for access to a “premium paid fruits and vegetables.”
“Unfortunately, organic food is still seen as a niche, rich man’s product currently, as organic products are significantly more expensive compared to the non-organic chemical-laden ones. However, with more awareness, increasing demand and more farmers turning organic, the difference in price is bound to decrease over time,” Gautham says.
Healthy Buddha offers 60-65 percent of the selling price of the produce to the farmers while ensuring that they continue to get the Minimum Support Price on commodities even when prices are dropped. The team also hosts a farmers’ market once every two months.
They also work with “specialised farmers” for seasonal fruit from specific geographic locations- be it green grapes from Bijapur, Karnataka and Sholapur, Maharashtra, or apples from Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
Now, their latest project includes an ‘Agri Wikipedia’ on their website to educate farmers on what to grow, and when to grow them. They connect the farmers with their in-house experts in case of any pest issues.
With increased support from both the State and the Central government for organic produce, Gautham is certain that the demand for organic produce will increase in the near future. The team is currently looking to expand its customers in cities beyond Bengaluru and Goa.
“We want to make organic food less elite and more of a mass concept, because everybody has a right to clean, chemical-free and non-toxic food,” Gautham adds.
Presently, select Healthy Buddha’s sourced produce and products are also available across stores like Godrej Nature’s Basket, Food Hall, and Big Bazaar, and ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Big Basket, Healthifyme and Place of Origin.
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