Cultivating success, the Kheyti way

This start-up helps small farmers fight climate change through its Greenhouse-in-a-Box

For a while now, agriculture has been a growing story of distress and loss. Although the Centre has come out with various schemes for small and marginal farmers, including eNAM, the electronic marketplace, these are stuck at implementation level.

But success stories are slowly sprouting, thanks to young individuals working to improve the lot of farmers along with NGOs, philanthropic institutions and start-up companies.

One such is Kheyti, a start-up that helps farmers in Shamirpet Mandal in Telangana with a low-cost solution to improve yield and earn higher income.

Kheyti has designed greenhouses that are 216 sq m in size. After prototyping its model for nearly two years and starting proof-of-concept in December last year, Kheyti is a success story now — 15 farmers have completed a crop cycle in the greenhouse and earned, on an average, about ₹20,000 in three months.

Rising temperature, flood, excess rain and extreme weather conditions result in crop failure, driving farmers into a corner. A study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in December 2013, which surveyed about 11,000 farmers in 274 villages of 137 districts across 18 States, revealed that 76 per cent want to give up farming and take up city jobs. Why? Frequent crop damage following unseasonal rains, droughts and pest attacks were the reasons cited.

But if one could control climatic conditions and pest-proof crops, will it not to do wonders for the farmer? According to current estimates, 95 per cent of plants in India are grown in open fields. But if a farmer uses greenhouse technology, he can protect his crops from adverse conditions such as wind, cold, precipitation and extreme temperature.

Greenhouse is a structure made of a transparent material that controls the environment inside it, making it favourable for plant growth. Greenhouses make sense for high-value crops (basically fruits and vegetables) as the cost of setting up and maintaining them is high.

Troubleshooting

Greenhouse technology has been in use for 100 years. In India, the use of greenhouse technology in agriculture started in the 1980s, say government documents. Today, after more than three decades, the progress is not anything to write about.

Though government subsidy is available to set up polyhouses (greenhouses), the awareness is low. Also, it is not just about putting up the structure, the crops inside the greenhouse need nurturing and farmers need assistance for it.

Kheyti helps farmers to not only set up their greenhouse but also supports them with troubleshooting. It offers advisory help on the production process and market-linkage services.

Kheyti Greenhouse-in-a-Box (GIB) is a low-cost, 216-sq m, modular greenhouse. Designed for small farmers, the GIB fits in 2 per cent of their land and protects crops from environmental risks.

GIB is a box made of a UV protected reflective net that reduces heat and lets only diffused light reach the crop.

The start-up initially wanted to design a greenhouse of 500 sq m in size as this would give the farmer a profit of ₹10,000 a month. But when the people behind Kheyti approached farmers with the idea, they rejected it.

The farmers in the community where Kheyti worked had about 3,000 sq m of land, which is less than one acre (an acre is 4,000 sq m) and they didn’t want to take a risk by testing a new idea on a good portion of their land. The Kheyti team re-worked the model and offered 100 sq m greenhouses.

But farmers found this too small, and asked for a greenhouse of 250 sq m, which could generate them a profit of ₹5,000 a month.

Conventional greenhouses are big in size — at least 2,000-4,000 sq m and work out expensive for small farmers. But Kheyti designs a small one.

The 216-sq m greenhouse costs about ₹1,60,000. Farmers need to pay an upfront amount of ₹30,000 and the balance is facilitated by Kheyti through its financing partners.

The actual cost of a 216-sq m greenhouse is about ₹2 lakh, but Kheyti is able to give it at a lower rate to farmers because it subsidises it through funds raised from partners.

Kheyti has raised about $400,000 from individual donors and small foundations, including Futura Foundation & Stiftelsen Satila Foundation of Sweden, Tamer Fund for Social Ventures, Institute for Sustainability at Northwestern and others. It has also received money from several business plan competitions that it won.

Increase in ROI

Kheyti started its proof-of-concept in December last year. Now there are 15 farmers who have completed a crop cycle in Kheyti’s green house. They have, on an average, earned about ₹20,000 in three months. Capsicum, cucumber and tomatoes are the crops that have so far been tested.

Sathya Raghu, who was with PwC before starting Kheyti with three other friends, claims that their farmers “use the GIB to earn assured incomes of $100/month — which is a 100 per cent increase in their average yearly income…”

The profit for Kheyti’s farmers has increased because the greenhouse uses less of water and fertiliser (30 per cent less). Also, since the entire process is well monitored to check pest attack, the yield goes up. The greenhouse grows seven times more food using 90 per cent less water (see table).

Farmers who sign up for GIB get the greenhouse structure and are also promised an advisory service. The Kheyti team has its agronomist visit the farm regularly and help the farmer decide on the seeds to be used and the amount of water and fertiliser to be given for the crop. They also arrange for finance for the farmer and take care of marketing of the produce by helping farmers link with companies such as BigBasket.

Currently, Kheyti has 35 farmers who have signed up for the greenhouse installation and has received more than 3,000 inquiries from prospective farmers.

Kheyti is not making money for itself now, but as scale increases over the next 1-2 years, it sees at least a 20 per cent share for itself from the money made on the greenhouse box and service fee on advisory offered.

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