Ep. 2: Ajinkya Hange #OrganicFarming #TwoBrothersOrganicFarms


Business! Sports!
Entertainment! Music! Style! You’re listening to the
Zazzpreneurs podcast where we showcase the lives of the doers. Their journey their struggles
their inspiration their hustle and the grind. Hello everyone.
I’m
Rohit Thakur, your host of the Zazzpreneurs Podcast. For our second episode we have with us,
Ajinkya Hange, the co-founder of Two Brothers
Organic Farms. Today’s episode is a very
interesting and inspiring one. More of an eye opener for the
ones who are listening and watching it out there. He comes from a banking
industry, having worked at
banks like HSBC, HDFC, Standard
Chartered, having a corporate pay
structure ranging from 15 lacs
, up to 20 lacs. But when your calling isn’t
right you have to follow your
passions. It is then he started Two
Brothers Organic Farms. Financially speaking in the
first year he earned up to two lacs in the
first year? Correct. Now at this current stage, he’s
earning three crores per annum. So Ajinkya, how would you
describe
Two Brothers Organic Farms Hi. Hi, thanks for having us over. So Two Brothers Organic Farms
is a farm run by Satyajit and
me. My name is Ajinkya. So we both together run this
farm. It’s a bio diverse, natural, certified organic farm. The heart or the core of the
farm are the 60-70 indigenous cows we have at the
farm. So their dung, their urine is
what we use for farming. On the farming side we’re
farming on a 25 acre land. We have 14 to 15 different types
of crops. So the input to the soil
to these crops is nothing but the indigenous cows’ dung
and urine. Apart from that, which is more
important than it being
organic is, we are planting or we are
growing the indigenous variety of the fruits, vegetables,
grains, pulses. So
whatever we’re growing at the
farm. It’s all of the old variety. The indigenous variety, the
seeded varieties which are mostly become heirloom
now. And since their immunity is
good they can withstand extreme temperatures, drought
temperatures, extreme hot
climates. So, that’s how Two Brothers
Organic Farms is all about. How would you describe organic
farming basically
to the audience ? For those who
don’t understand the
difference between normal farming and organic
farming? So simply put, organic farming is a kind of farming,
where we’re not using
chemicals. So you’re not using urea you’re
not using any insecticides and pesticides you aren’t
administering chemicals in any form to the soil to the
plant. In terms of folios sprayers or
in terms of direct to the soil, so if you
do not use any chemicals, if you do not use
urea, you’re not using the other general chemicals in the market, then what is your source of
fertilisers for the soil. It then comes down to using natural fertilisers. So we do not use any earthworm
or compost and all. The only source of fertilizers
we use is the indigenous cows’ dung and urine in the
form of a microorganism
slurry. So to describe organic farming,
it would mean a kind of
farming in which no chemicals are
used. Ajinkya, coming from the
corporate background, and having so much knowledge of
organic farming, how did you
get this knowledge? How did you
get this part of the education from this industry? So it all started with the
interest. We have no Agri
degree, we’re not BSc Agri or
MSc Agris. We’ve no Agri credentials. We did our MBAs and we were
working in the banking sector. But we had an interest towards
what’s happening on the farm. So when we remember when we
were small we had sugarcane in the
farm, and an acre of sugarcane gave us
close to 70 to 80 tonnes of
output. And we were seeing that each
year that output was
decreasing. So from 70 tonnes to
it was dropping down to 60 50. So it all started with a single
question as why is this output
decreasing. And then that got us to an
understanding that as a farmer you were not growing a
particular fruit or vegetable
or a pulse or a crop, you were actually
farming on the soil. You should be increasing the
fertility of the soil. So that got us to the
understanding that the soil is
a main medium. As a farmer that you should be
working on. So that got us to the next
question that, what is soil ? So soil is not just your
stones and mud and, It is also about the
microbiology in it. So more the microbiology in the
soil, the better the
fertility of the soil, the better is a plant health that
grows on the soil. It can, its immunity’s better,
it can withstand pest attacks, it can withstand insect
attacks and in turn the fruit quality or the
crop quality of what are you growing on that soil
is good. So basically most of this was self education and
experimentation to getting up to this
knowledge. Super, so yeah, most of it was
self education. So when we started
farming, we visited a lot of farmers across
Maharashtra, across Gujarat, across Karnataka. Wherever we found good sources of farmers we went, we
went on the farms we saw the kind of farming
they were doing we learned a
lot from them. So if you ask us today I think
it’s three or four good farmers that
we’ve derived 80 percent or 90 percent of
our learnings from. Apart from that, yes, you know,
using social media, YouTube videos,
trying to understand from Google, how all of this comes in. A lot of books from people
who’ve done work in this
sector. We’ve been reading up on. So it’s been purely
self-education with books,
with practical visits to farmers, with social
media and a lot of experimentation
happening on the farm. So when we first got our,
when we had first purchased close to a 16 cows
and we had built a gobar gas for them, a methane gas
plant. So now one thing is that we
knew is that, your indigenous cows dung and urine is good
for the soil. So when we built a methane gas
plant all the, like I’m sharing all my
experiments. So all
this slurry, all the dung and urine used to
go into this methane gas and then
whatever used to come out to is what we
used to apply on the soil. We did this for three months
and we were not getting good
results in the farm. So inspite of the cows being
indigenous, inspite of the dung and urine being
collected the right way, the output was still not making a
difference to the soil. So that’s when we understood
that the methane gas plant because it is enclosed from
all sides and the oxygen plays
through, and all this is bacteria. In a methane gas plant, the situation out there is
anaerobic, all the oxygen
supplies are cut out. So
whatever dung and urine that was coming out of a methane gas plant, was all anaerobic in nature. Your aerobic bacteria was dying and anaerobic bacteria was coming out. And, soil doesn’t need much
of anaerobes. It needs, but in a very less
quantity. We need more of the aerobic
bacteria. So then all that methane gas
plant, whatever investment we had done, three
lacs – four lacs – five lacs in the
initial stage turned out to be a false,
turned out to be not
good, you know, for farming. So like this was one
experiment. So we had a number of
experiments, when we had started off.
Was self education easier or would a degree would
have been more easier for you? I think since we were
driven by a lot of passion, driven by a lot of
interest, so self
education, in a year’s time we learned, Probably what a degree would
have taught us in a four years
time. So much more than that. Plus it was practical. Plus our money was at stake. You know
whatever little we had earned from
the jobs that we’re doing, all of that was at stake. So, no learning like this. So, we used to be up all night,
we used to be up in the farm
if things do not work the right
way. We were applying our heads to it. You know why isn’t this working
in a way that we expected it
to. What was your first thought, Back then when you decided to
quit the corporate industry and to follow your passion?
What is that first thought in
your mind, not in people’s mind,
but in your mind? So it happened very gradually. We were studying even when we
were doing our jobs. Most of our time mentally, in
the later stages, was being engrossed in to
these activities. You know what’s happening at
the farm? How is this crop behaving? What are the market prices? How do
we go about a particular project at the
farm? So it was a very gradual process. It was that, the realization
was later that you know this
is what we are interested in, for the
past six months or for the
past eight months. We’re only thinking about the
farm, we’re only thinking about
the soil. So
we were already convinced by the time that first thought came that you
know should we leave ? Should we quit our jobs
and get into farming. At some stage, we were already
convinced that this is where, anyways in the past
7 to 8 months, our energy is going into, our
thoughts are going into, our time is going in, and
this is what we love. So I mean, just let’s do what
we love. This was the kind of
realisation that dawned on
to us, having spent eight months in
this. Very interesting!
Speaking of
three crores per annum, there is a misconception in
people’s minds regarding
farming and it’s earnings, so how much
of it is true and how different was it for
you? So, when we started farming,
the first four years, we were into
losses. So when we started farming
again, the intent was never to market the
product. We got into it for the love of
farming. So we are working on different
crops. We had bananas, we had papayas,
we
had all the kharif – rabi crops. We had sugarcane, pomegranates. So, we had planted different types of
crops and we were selling it to the
market at whatever the market
rate used to be. The Agricultural Produce
Marketing companies, APMCs, so we used to get it to the
nearest APMC and sell it to
the market. First year we went into a loss. Second year also we went into a
loss. Third year also we went into a
loss. So we understood that, you
know, selling as a farmer,
whatever you produce, selling it to the
market (mandi) is very difficult to survive. Even your expenses,
sometimes, don’t come out, most times. Once in four -years, once in five-years, a
particular crop might get a bumper rate and a
lottery kind of
a rate, like for onions, you often hear. But then, on a consistent basis
this does not happen. So for the first four years we
were into losses and the food that we were growing
was of a indigenous variety. So we had papayas. Now, the normal papayas in the
market are seedless. The ones that we had grown at
the farm had seeds inside. So it was a very sweet variety. Now
this was not a fruit that was available
in the market. Now, growing all this
organically, all these 14-15
crops, we had to go and sell it to
the same place where, you
know, chemical food plus the normal grown agriculture produce was being
sold at. So from the 5th year, we said,
‘Let’s start taking this to the customer, let’s
explain to them why this food is different, why this
crop is different. So then we started with seven
fruit
cart vendors, in Pune on the roads, on the road-side. So, for seven months we were
supplying to seven to eight
food cart vendors and
we were also standing out there with them and explain to the
customer that why this papaya is different, why this
pomegranate is different, why this banana is different
and selling it to the
customer. So, we did this for seven
months. So let’s, you know, to be
specific, in papayas the market rate was what
ever, 4 rupees, 5 rupees/ a kg. When we started selling it to
the food vendors on the road,
we were selling it to them for 15
rupees. They were selling it to the
end-customer for 25
– 30rupees/ kg, the papaya. So, from there, we got a good rate, better
than what we were getting in
the market. And then somebody from
Star Baazar
happened to try our stuff out there and then they
invited us to keep our products at the
malls. And then slowly, the financial
part of it started making sense. So none of this was planned
, none of this was thought and
done. It was just, whatever
situations were coming to us, we were kind of finding a way
through it. You know, let’s get a better
rate, anywhere we get it. So, whether it is at the road-side, whether it is at a mall, whether it is at a small society, wherever we got an
opportunity to go and sell, we
started doing it. And then, from here,
we gradually started attending markets, organic markets,
markets that preferred only organic farmers. So that’s when we started
getting, you know, the good customer
base. And then, slowly-slowly,
financially it made sense. So when you say, that in the
market, the papayas were seedless and what
you were selling, were with seeds.
So what exactly is the difference
? So, there are differences on
both sides, on the farming
side and on the consumption side. On the farming side, when you
grow the hybrid variety of the papayas, or the
modern varieties of papayas, which are seedless,
there, each tree is a female, each tree
bears a fruit. They are all self-pollinating. When you grow the indigenous
variety of papayas, you have a
male-female tree system. The males do not bear fruit. So then and there, your
production as a farmer drops down to 50 percent
. The fruit setting will happen naturally through honeybees
coming in and cross
pollination. So, on the farming side
that’s the difference because
you
got male trees and female trees naturally -bearing fruits,
your production drops by 50
percent. On the consumption side, the sweetness is more in a seeded
papaya, as against a seedless papaya. So, which is better for the
consumer? For the
consumer, of course, the desi
variety, the seedless. There are a lot of studies which say that
the seedless variety is infact
harmful to the health. So a lot of fruits, like
grapes, were seeded
before and are seedless now. Papayas, they were seeded before and are seedless now. So like this, there are many
fruits that, you know, the food itself is wrong,
which you should not be
consuming. Now, on the other side, on the
farming side also, this will attract less pest,
less
insects, the desi variety, the indigenous variety, the hybrid variety or
the modern variety will attract a lot of pest, a
lot of insects, a lot of fungal attacks. You’ve got to spray more on
them. So, in turn, you’re using a
lot of chemicals on them using
more pesticides, more insecticides, more
chemicals. Here, you’re using less
chemicals, less pesticides,
less insecticides. All of this eventually gets
into the food, so as a
consumer, when
you’re consuming the modern
variety of any fruit,
naturally there’s bound to be more
chemicals in them, as in the
form of insecticides, pesticides,
virals. So all of this, on both sides, it makes more sense to grow
the desi variety and for a consumer to consume the desi variety. When it comes to organic
farming, first, it sounds very interesting and second, it sounds healthy from the
consumer’s point of view. So how much percentage of organic
farming is done in India ? I think it would be very very
less, hardly a 2 percent/ 1 percent/ 3
percent, not more than that. Also, because, to farm
organically, what’s lately happened is everybody
uses a modern variety of
seeds. So when I’m growing the modern
variety of seeds, in itself, it has a very low immunity. So that calls for, you know,
for putting more chemicals in the
soil, administering more chemicals in the soil,
for using more insects, insecticides, pesticides when
they’re infected. So the reason for this is also
because the seeds have
changed. So now we’re using the modern
seeds. Modern Seeds do not have a good
immunity as compared to these indigenous seeds. So the need to use chemicals
arises. Today’s world is all about job
stability, career stability, financial stability, in an earlier interview of
yours, you were asked this question
, “Log Kya kahenge?”, you know, in reference to you switching from the banking
industry to the farming
industry. And, your brother, Satyajit, responded to it in a very
interesting manner, and I got fascinated by
his answer. So I’d like to quote him on this. He said, “The work that you are
doing is so loud that people’s
voices are inaudible. So, tell me this, what were
people’s opinions back then and how
has it changed now? So when we decided that, you
know, let’s quit our jobs and get down to farming full
-time. Nobody was really happy with
it. Nobody at the house, no friends, nobody’s very
supportive about it. In fact, our father used to say
that, you know, I’ve got y’all
the best education and
you have got a good experience with
y’all, you have worked with MNCs, with
good banks. Y’all should even go abroad,
you know. So for him that meant
evolution, going to a western country, doing a better job. So, coming back to the farm from a
city, coming back to a village and doing farming was not
evolving, it was a devolving kind of a
thing. So, this was the mood, this was the general response
back home when we decided to
quit. But ya, in the past few years,
with the kind of work we’re doing, it’s been very
good. We’ve had close to 20 different foreigners from 14 countries,
from US, Italy, France, Germany that
have come
over and stayed at the farm. So ya, in a position where we
could have gone out to work to another country
somewhere else, we’ve had, we’re having
kind of the world coming to us, working on
the farm. That speaks a lot! Thakt speaks a lot! Ya! I
also believe that farmers from all around
the country are coming and learning about
organic farming from you?
Correct! So, the gGovernment of Maharashtra,
the Department of Agriculture
has a wing called as ATMA. A T M A. So they’ve been sending a lot
of farmers to us,
bus full of farmers to us, every now and then
, wherein we share our practices with
them. So we’ve had farmers from
Maharashtra, Telangana, from Karnataka, from a lot many places, in fact all
over the country that have
come, that have been coming over to
the farm. So close to six thousand
farmers till now. And then we’ve been sharing our
practices, sharing the farm with them. So it’s been a wonderful
experience, you know. Whatever experiments we’ve been
doing, earlier at the farm, which have not worked for us
, we make it a special point to
share that because we’ve lost money in
that; there’s a lot of
learning in that. So with
that, whatever has worked for
us, we also share what’s not worked for us. The experiments that we did
that did not work. So, you know,
speaking of these experimentations
that did not work, apart from those
what are the struggles in this
industry and how did you cope
with them? In this industry, there are a
lot of struggles. One is the social stigma
associated with doing farming, getting back and doing
farming. That like I said is devolving,
you know, nobody considers it
as an evolvement. So that is one. Apart from that there are
practical problems to it. Like for example, as a farmer,
I like I said before, it is very difficult to get a
good rate for your produce. Whatever rate you get at the Mandi, at the market, it is such that it is difficult
to be sustainable. Even your expenses do not get covered. So that’s a very practical
problem along with that you
have the natural problems, you
know. Like in our area, it’s a drought-prone area, we’ve very less water. Sometimes, you know, all of a sudden,
there’s a nice fall, at times there is less water. At times, it is extreme
, there’s more
water. There are fungal attacks, viral attacks. When a cloudy atmosphere
comes, we’d been growing pomegranates ; a lot of other farmers
next to us growing grapes. So a lot of spring happens, a
lot of chemical foliage sprays happen. So there are challenges on all
fronts, on the market front, on the natural front,
with the nature on, you know, the species, the
varieties of fruits that you’re growing. They’re not having a
good immunity, so it’s challenges from all
fronts. But how do you cope with them?
Was it earlier failures and you learnt from your mistakes or did you know what to do or did you seek
help from others? So we,
whatever situation we were going through, we were always trying
to find a way through it. So there was no one specific
plan, one specific action
about it. But whatever we were
facing, we were trying some way through it, like marketing
I shared, you know. If on the road, we sold on the
road; so same with the seeds we went around
a lot of farmers. So just to make it a little
more scientific, we understood
that you know, mono cropping is not
good. Planting only
one crop, planting this one acre only
of pomegranates, this one acre only of bananas. This one
acre only of sugarcane, is not
the right thing. So planting a
monocot or dicots together with as many as crops as you
can. So, it could be 10 crops in one
acre, 12 crops in one acre. Then they’ll work symbiotically with
each other. So we
found answers at every stage, with
every challenge that we faced. So it is just about being there
and trying to find answers with whatever little
resources, whatever little
knowledge we could get our
hands on. You spoke of selling with the fruit vendors on the road, then
Star Baazar saw your product and picked you up. How much do these
vendors and retailers help you in the process of reaching
out to the consumers or do even they create problems
for you? So when you don’t have a
customer base, any platform
is a platform. So even if
it is sitting on the road, standing
on the road and selling, you’re still meeting
customers, you’re talking to
them. Yeah! It still gives you an
opportunity to explain to the customer what you’re
doing at the farm, why your
fruit is good, how it has grown and the
qualities about it. So when we started off, that
was the platfrorm. The malls give us a better
platform but
with the malls what happens is that, they believe in, they believe a
lot in grading system. So , they want all your
pomegranates to be of a
particular size. You know only 300 grams or only
250 grams +, they want it to be very good
from the outer side. So no patches, no blots on the
fruit. So then it becomes difficult
for the farmer. So even if you’re working with
these retail chains, only 30 percent
of our produce is going to them, because of the kind of grading system
they have. And then, 70 percent of it is
going back to the market. So, each had its own
challenges. They gave us a platform but
then it came with it’s own
challenges. So that you, we had to keep
finding our way through all
this. So, what’s going on,
for you, right now? Can you
give us an insight into Amorearth and Freshura? And, let people also know what
those are. So now, we have 14 to 15 crops on the farm. Which are they? So we have
papayas, we have pomegranates, we have
bananas, we have tur dal (your dal and rice), we’ve chana dal, moong ki dal, we have sugarcane, we have urad ki dal, we have a lot of drumsticks (your
drumstick tree) from which we’re making moringa powder also and we’re selling those sambar sticks. So like this,there are around 12
to 15
crops that we are growing at the
farm, we’ve rabi crops, we’ve emeer wheat
(it’s an old variety of wheat), which is very less on gluten, which is a very low glycemic
index as compared to the
modern variety of wheat. Now, this, we’re selling
directly to the customer, most
of this. Through our online shop, through our
distributors, through the retailers that
, some of the retailers that
we’ve tied up with. So, consciously now, we’ve tied
up with a lot of retailers that sell or that prefer to
sell only organic. So we’re not selling to the
malls also, we’re selling
through any shop that is selling only organic
in Mumbai, in Pune, in
Bangalore. So, this is our present
situation at the farm. Does
not selling through malls affect your customer base? So more than, like I said, it
had it’s own challenges, they believe a lot in grading. They want a particular size of
fruit; it should look very
good from the outside. When you’re farming
organically, that doesn’t
happen. Your fruits will have patches
on the out. They will not be all of the
same standard varieties, same
standard size. There’s bound to be a lot of
variation in that, but the malls prefer something, that
is, that looks very good from
the outside, that is standardized
from the outside, like tennis
balls, you’ll have all that apples kept on
the rack, pomegranates kept on the rack. So this is something which
doesn’t happen naturally. You would have small fruits,
you’d have big fruits, you
‘d have medium
fruits, you’d have blotted fruits, to make them appear very good
from the outside you’ve got to use extra chemicals. So basically they’re appealing
to the customers in an
aesthetic manner and not from the health point of view. Absolutely! So, it is basically a
situation wherein the
customer is eating through his
eyes, so whatever looks good
to your eyes, you’re going to
consume that. What is good to the tongue
comes secondary. So, you know, a lot of fruit
varieties in this, I could get you the
desi variety of which, you know, once you taste it, on
the tongue it is very sweet. But, in a retail chain, you’re
eating it by your eyes. You know, you’re looking at
something that is very
polished and something that is standard
sized. So, yeah, not everything that appeals to the
eye is good for the tongue. This is something that the
consumers need to be educated
about. Yeah, I think a lot of
customers, a lot of consumers
already know about this. A lot of aware consumers know
that an organic fruit will be a
little ugly from the outside but the inside is
good. Mm hmm! And, could you give us
an insight into Amorearth and Freshura? What
are these platforms? So, Amorearth is a brand
through which we sell what we’re growing at
the farm, which is mostly grown without any chemicals. So,
‘Amore’ meaning love and ‘Earth’ meaning soil, so since we had a love for the soil, we
got into this. So all our products come under
Amorearth. Now with this, we also had a
lot of farmers around our area that were
farming the way, where they’re coming to us,
they’re learning from us and
farming. And then, they had the same
problem that we had. So they were not getting a good
market for the
produce. They had grown it organically. There was no market for it. So then, the brand
Freshura came in, a fresh aura, Freshura. So through that we intend to help
farmers that are
growing it the right way and then take their
produce
under the name Freshura, to the market and you know, help
customers. And,
could you also tell us about
the farmer’s market that is organized by you?
We’re attending a lot of farmers markets, one in Pune and two
in Mumbai. There’s one in Pune, that
happens on second Sundays and third Sundays of
the month, it’s in the name of
Conscious Community Market. OK. That is one market that we are
a part of. And it’s a not for profit
community initiative. It’s a group of people that
have come together and formed
this. Similarly in Mumbai, we had a
lot of people with the same line of thinking,
same interest groups, wanting to do something on
organic food side, on organic farming side, eco-friendly,
sustainable, environment
friendly. So 14-15 of us have come
together and formed an initiative
called Organic We, through
which we run a market on every
Saturday at
Dadar, Mumbai, at the Five Gardens next to
Parsi Colony. So these are markets through
which we intend to help farmers. It’s a not for profit
initiative. So you aren’t charged much. Farmers can come in, organic
farmers and sell their stuff and the customers are there.
And, if people would like to
buy your products online, how can
they reach out to you? So we have a shop online,
the URL is www.twobrothersindiashop.com and we’re also available on Amazon. They can come there and
directly purchase from the
shops. I have one, main, important,
the biggest question of them
all. I would like you to give a
word of Inspiration to our audience, who are stuck in
the corporate structure, who are unable to pursue their passions and
dreams, for various reasons. A word to them, to explain, what was this journey for you
being in the corporate structure and that difference
from now, doing something on your own? Super! So, this has been more
of an unfolding for us. One advice I would like to give
anybody is, you know,
follow your gut, follow your passion and keep stuck to
it. So there is something that we
believed
in, which we called as ‘Burning our
bridges’. So once we had left our jobs
and gotten to farming, we made sure we had
no plan B. Come what may; I mean whatever
happens, we had to find a way through
this. So yeah, I mean find your
passion in life and just burn
all your bridges, Llet that be the only thing you
want to do. And 100 percent, you’ll find a
way through it. Very interesting! I think
that’s the perfect way to end this
episode, Ajinkya! Thank you very much for being a part
of this podcast.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for listening in. This podcast is brought to you
by Zazz Media, a digital agency from
Pune, India. We can help grow your business
on social media. Check us out @zazzmedia. Stay tuned for the next episode
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