A cut and dried model to reduce agricultural waste
“It has been a busy year. I was winning ??43,000 during confinement, drying three batches of turmeric per day (each batch weighing 50 kg). Later, I learned how to process onion and ginger as well, ”Muthe explains. “The best part was that I could be with my children like I did at home. I bought books for them with the first one ??I won 2,000 by drying turmeric. “
She is one of some 300 women farmers from four groups in Maharashtra who received solar-powered dehydrators from Navi Mumbai-based startup S4S Technologies. The startup brings them raw materials from farms, recovers dried produce, and sells the production to manufacturers of foods such as flavored snacks, soups and noodles, as well as commercial kitchens that replace fresh produce. by their dried versions. S4S has now spread to other states like Odisha, Karnataka and Telangana.
Prevent food, loss of income
Over 60 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables, or around 30% of the produce, are lost every year in India due to lack of proper storage and preservation. This equates to a huge post-harvest loss of food as well as farm income. In addition to rotting perishables, farmers are also under pressure to sell produce below market rates. S4S solar dryers give products a one-year shelf life without the addition of chemicals, thus preserving over 90% of nutrients, according to university studies. It also reduces logistics as dehydration reduces the weight and volume of the products to be transported.
For example, the moisture content of turmeric drops from 80% to less than 10%, and the sun-drying method preserves most of its curcumin. India produces nearly a million tonnes of turmeric, which provides the bulk of the world’s supply. S4S co-founder and CEO Vaibhav Tidke, who grew up in rural Maharashtra, studied food preservation at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai. He launched the startup during his PhD, along with six others, to transform it into a sustainable and profitable business.
In the beginning, the idea was simply to sell the solar dryers to farmers interested in providing the first level of processing and added value to fresh produce. But very quickly, the founders realized that farmers would need funding, business links, and logistical support to embrace this. Then the startup started to focus on a holistic model instead of just hardware.
“We started to look at all the problems we could solve for the micro-entrepreneur,” says Tidke. “We observed at the beginning that the micro-entrepreneur had to be a woman because she is used to washing, cutting and managing vegetables. typical Indian villages, men are unwilling to do this work. “The next step was to empower these women.” A woman rarely has decision-making power in the household. But we realized that as soon as she started to earn money on a daily or weekly basis, the family began to support her, ”says Tidke.
Washing, slicing and drying were built into the dehydration unit that a woman could learn to use within a week. The startup’s food preservation technology ensured that nutrient loss was minimized. S4S took care of the supply of the vegetables as well as the collection and sale of the dehydrated production. This model evolved from a first experience of farmers leaving a ??2 crore deal with a multinational company that wanted to source dehydrated vegetables. Farmers felt that they could not meet the required demand.
“We realized that there was no aggregator in this market. So S4S decided to take ownership of the value chain because we saw the gap, ”explains Tidke. She set up a factory to sort, grade and package the dehydrated vegetables that she collected from her micro-entrepreneurs. In addition to supplying them directly to food processors, it has also partnered with a multinational intermediary, Azelis.A packaged food company sources several ingredients and additives from Azelis, including dehydrated turmeric, onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, carrot, beet, etc.
Dipan Dalal, who heads the food and health business of Azelis in India, explains one of the value propositions brought by S4S. “Their patented process of drying turmeric, which they call ‘haldi tech’, gives us a higher curcumin content than turmeric from other companies that dehydrate in a different way,” says Dalal, who works in this industry. for over two decades. He joined Azelis during the takeover of his company MK Ingredients in 2019. In addition to fruits and vegetables, S4S has adapted its machines to dehydrate legumes and millets, which have properties adapted to the food industry. For example, a instant poha can now be rehydrated in three minutes instead of the previous five to eight minutes, which is a big selling point. “Initially, the brand wanted a poha that would be ready to eat in two minutes, like Maggi noodles. It was too ambitious, but S4S technology could reduce it to three minutes,” says Dalal.
The startup has also worked on the margins to provide cost advantages to buyers and additional income to farmers. For example, tomatoes that have stripes sell for less in the market because they don’t look good. But they are of very good quality for food processing. Likewise, smaller tomatoes and onions are considered “Class B” when their nutrient content and taste are the same if not better. Now farmers have a ready market for all their products, and food processors also enjoy procurement cost advantages for better margins on their end products. The main objective of the startup in the future is to develop its clusters of micro-entrepreneurs. Currently, the dryers can process 45 kinds of products. The more there are, the better it is for women farmers to use them throughout the year. “We were also able to reduce the cost of the material by 50% and aim to make it a quarter,” says Tidke.
The startup arranges loans or grants for women farmers to acquire the dryers and also offers a rental model. The social impact it creates has attracted support from the Gates Foundation as well as American impact investor Acumen. Mahesh Yagnaraman, India Director at Acumen, believes this is a scalable model because the initial investments required are low. “You need a dehydration unit for the products of a group of farmers, not a dryer for each farmer,” he emphasizes. “I initially tried their pulses myself. fresh products after putting them in hot water. “
Malavika Velayanikal is a consulting editor at Mint. She tweets @vmalu
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