By Avant Shrestha
We have read it in text books, politicians have articulated it in their speeches and our patriots proudly claim that Nepal is a land of agriculture. And rightfully so! According to International Labor Organisation data of 2017, close to 70% of Nepal’s population is directly or indirectly involved in the agriculture sector. This roughly accounts for 34% of the nation’s GDP. However, Nepal still struggles to produce adequate supply of food and crops for its citizens. Our farmers still break their back under the scorching sun, season after season, with bare minimum to show for. The principle challenge for the country in terms of agriculture has always been developing the most sustainable method and incorporating new and innovative methods and approaches in the sector.
Kanjirowa Agro Farm is an innovative high-tech seedling growing company that was established in 2013 by a team of young and experienced Nepali agri entrepreneurs. Leading the team is their Co-founder and CEO Sadhuram Singh Basnyat who has an MBA degree, and six years ago decided to go back to his roots to establish an agri company.
Basnyat explains, “In layman’s term, we basically work with seedling. Vegetable seedling to be precise”. What they have done at Kanjirowa is combined old age traditional farming methods with prevailing technology. Kanjirowa Agro Farm’s main aim is to simplify the farming process by producing seedlings that have uniform growth with high yield and better adaptability in the environment.
On asking how Basnyat conceived the idea for his company, he recounts his family’s experiences of suffering with bad yields. “The odd crops were being lost, productivity was slow. I witnessed people from outside Kathmandu coming and using new methods to grow crops. Their methods were simple yet effective and yielded greater returns. I thought ‘if they can do it, why can’t we,’” explains Basnyat. This gave him the confidence to start his venture.
To learn more, Basnyat enrolled into a college in Haryana, India, where he was educated on the importance of nurturing seedlings in their initial stage. The high-tech facilities that they were working in gave him the encouragementto return to Nepal and start something similar. “In Nepal, we have the tendency to just throw the seedling into the land and not monitor it at all, hoping for the best. Contrary to local norms, we at Kanjirowat rack and monitor the progress and isolate the contaminated seedlings.”
Kanjirowa as a business focuses on two major aspects; the primary focus is vegetable seedling production. And the second one is ‘technology-passing’, which basically means teaching other farmers to use new methods to yield more efficient production. They have obtained permission from the state government to outsource technical support to farmers. The seedlings are grown in high-tech facility where they produce soilless seedling. By growing them in the green house, they are able to monitor the growth process and control the environment for the improvement of the seedlings.
So the main question here is why go soilless? Roughly 40% of germination loss happens because of contamination due to soil-borne diseases which leads to excessive loss in production. Fungal disease is the main reason for plants to become unhealthy. Additionally, soil-borne diseases are the main reason why heavy dose of pesticides are utilised by farmers. So Kanjirowa Agro Farm offers an alternative to soil and to usage and over-exposure to pesticides.
They, therefore, genetically breed the plants by focusing on its developmental health from the initial stage so that it can easily adapt to its surrounding environment. Following such methods, they are able to decrease the use of pesticides and harvesting period and grow productivity by 30%. Applying this method and technology, the produced seedling germination can improve by up to 95%. Additionally, the company helps farmers to enhance their productivity by utilising their seedlings which, in hindsight, can improve the earning potential and the quality of life of the farmers.
In the context of agro business, Basnyat believes that the number of farmers will decrease but, as a profession, the industry will experience a boost in the future. Plus, the industry is in dire need of a support system. There are obviously some unwanted stakeholders whose main objective is to increase production regardless of the consequences and to earn bigger profits. Due to the lack of adequate support from governing bodies, there are some challenges. “We need to bring in a culture so that we can work together as collaborators and not competitors,” remarks Basnyat.
Every business needs investors who believe in its core value, business model and vision. For Kanjirowa, that trust came from Nepal Impact Investment Community (NIIC). Basnyat states that NIIC funds have helped the company to scale up their business. “We had ideas but without financial support, they would not have materialised. The capital was injected with the motive to expand and expose the business so that more people would come to know about us,” says Basnyat. The capital also gave the company the exposure it needed and was able to penetrate some core locations where their methods were mostly required.
When Kanjirowa was established they started working on just two ropanis of land. Today they have expanded to over a hundred ropanis. The main agro farms are in Kavresthali and Bhaktapur for seedling and the production wing is in Kavre district. Besides, Kanjirowa has tied up with 20 municipalities across the country to work with farmers.
The farm produces multiple varieties of seedlings as per demand. In terms of pricing, they have added only one rupee extra to the normal cost of production by traditional practice. “Why are we adding that extra rupee because we minimise the hard labour needed and give you a prepared quality plant with 100% assurance of harvesting & 0% loss in transplanting. For example, if it costs us Rs.4, we add Re.1 extra as technology cost,” explains Basnyat. Additionally, farmers also get access to the company’s digital platform through which Kanjirowa monitors and provides guidance to farmers.
“While working, there are multiple setbacks but we take each and every experience as a learning curve,” explains Basnyat. There is a culture among Nepalis to expect instant results. Basnyats tates, “What we need to understand is that every business needs at least 4-5 years of nurturing. Furthermore, if you believe in something, you are able to spend 100% time and effort into it. That way you will constantly be motivated and inspired. Do not be afraid to take logical risks because you learn the most by the consequences of failure.”
The agro industry is definitely a fertile ground for interested parties to experiment and invest in. In terms of technology, Kanjirowa has just scratched the surface. Sadhuram Singh Basnyat and Kanjirowa Agro Farm have introduced methods that the agriculture sector was in desperate need of. And even in its infancy, Kanjirowa has shown all the positive signs to boost the agro industry in Nepal.