A GrowVersation with Red Otter Farms
Indian grower empowers female microentrepreneurs
Investing in women is a great way to improve the overall level of prosperity in a community.1 When women work, they generate income not just for themselves, but also contribute to greater financial stability in their community. In India, the contribution women make often stays unrecognized as they do not participate formally in the workforce – instead, they stay at home to do unpaid work: looking after the household, ensuring the children get educated and that everyone at home – the young, the elderly and in rural settings even the domestic animals are healthy and happy.2 Meanwhile, agriculture, a sector that has been on the decline in India for years now3, represents another area in which women’s contributions could make a significant difference if given the opportunity and support.
Srishti Mandaar and Anubhav Das, successful entrepreneurs, recognized the need to reverse the declining trend in agriculture and support women’s contributions. In 2016, they founded Red Otter Farms, an aquaponics farming company with a mission to grow and provide people with high-quality, chemical-free produce. Over the past few years, the duo has expanded their growing capacity through additional facilities and partnerships using their Farm-as-a-Service model. Willing to share their success, Srishti and Anubhav continue to work towards empowering women and revitalizing the agricultural sector in India.
SamriddhFarms: Building a cadre of microentrepreneurs with women and marginal farmers
Out of this desire to help marginal farmers, especially women, Red Otter Farms launched their SamriddhFarms programme. ‘Samriddh’ is Hindi for ‘prosperous’, and that’s exactly the point of the project. “We want to make farms more prosperous,” Srishti explains, “with prosperity for all stakeholders involved. Consistent quality of the produce means consumers are happy, and providing produce the market desires means the grower will be profitable and happy.”
The growers, in this case, are farmers with marginal farm holdings – primarily women in rural communities who are unable to seek work outside their homes due to various reasons. “As we build efficient agricultural production capacity and modernize farming systems, we looked for opportunities to scale. We already knew that the women were being overlooked as a formal workforce due to a lack of ‘optimum scalability’. We thought, can we bring earning opportunities to them, at their own home and get them to grow the highest quality of produce in their own backyards?” Srishti adds.
“With SamriddhFarms, we empower the women with economic opportunities through soilless, precision farming and provide a way for them to gain financial independence. And while benefiting the community of women, we are creating a network of modern, sustainable farms – ready to ensure limitless production of quality agricultural produce.”
The SamriddhFarms programme has been developed to allow farmers to concentrate solely on production, while other concerns are managed, as a collective. “Over the last six years, Red Otter has been a production house, growing leafy greens and vine crops, collecting data, and even building growing facilities. We’re now using our knowledge and experience to expand SamriddhFarms,” Anubhav explains.
Red Otter Farms assists farmers with all aspects of the farm – from site selection and building plans to operationalizing the greenhouse, ensuring they are prepared for production. Anubhav elaborates, “In addition to building and commissioning, we also help with crop identification and selection and support growers with shared services, such as seeds, nutrients, and pest control, in an integrated plan. When it’s time to harvest, we help them gain market access, either through our marketing channels or buyback agreements. The SamriddhFarms model is a true Farm-Gate model with the potential to bring people back to agriculture.”
From a programme to a ‘Model for Scale’: The SamriddhFarms approach
Red Otter Farms envisions an innovative solution for the problem of fragmented land-holdings among farmers. The SamriddhFarms programme adopts a cluster approach, creating groups of 20, 30, or even 50 farms within a village or a co-located geographic area, and applies Red Otter Farms’ knowledge and input services collectively and efficiently. This approach also allows for shared services, such as packhouses, cold-stores, and supply-chain services, to be provided at the cluster level.
Anubhav explains that this unique approach simplifies the process for their team, and governments are taking notice. The Government of Uttarakhand has joined a pilot project, in which polyhouses have already been provided to farmers. “We look forward to collaborating closely with local governments and supplementing their food security mandates by implementing our model. We’re already in talks with agencies to adapt the model for diverse crop systems, including medicinal plants, floriculture, herbs, and even contract-farming for pharma. Our own research and development in plant nutrition and biocontrols, along with our partnerships with other agricultural organizations, make clustering the required inputs much easier.”
The model benefits not only the Indian women employed as soilless farmers but also the produce buyers. “If a producer encounters horticultural supply issues, we can help by offering a reliable supply,” says Srishti.
Cultivating international partnerships for growth
Following the successful implementation of the SamriddhFarms programme, Srishti and Anubhav are actively pursuing international collaborations with organizations possessing scientific research and development expertise. They believe these partnerships can further enhance their model and make farming future-ready. “India is a huge market, and we’re eager to modernize farming. With the right alliances, there’s also potential to take the SamriddhFarms model to a global scale,” they explain.
Ashwan Wadhwa joins to scale technology & data sciences platform
In order to scale the technology and data sciences platform that powers the SamriddhFarms Farm-as-a-Service model, Ashwan Wadhwa came on board. With a background in successfully building, developing, and running an enterprise ticketing platform for Live Nation that served millions of fans globally, Ashwan’s expertise is invaluable to scaling the model. Passionate about agriculture and driven to improve the lives of farmers, Ashwan’s experience is instrumental in helping Red Otter Farms and SamriddhFarms achieve new heights and reach even more communities.
- IMF (2017); UN Women (2018); IMF (2012); Climate Home News (2022)
- Harvard Business School (2019); World Bank (2019); ILO (2014)
- Government of India (2020); FAO
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About Red Otter Farms
Anubhav Das and Srishti Mandaar founded Red Otter Farms in 2016: “Our promise to ourselves was simple – grow food that we would be happy to eat ourselves.”
Red Otter Farms started as an aquaponics farm. Over the years, with their research-led experience in production management across a wide variety of crops, they have extended their production systems to include hydroponics as well as organic and natural soil-based mediums. At their core, while growing the freshest, chemical-free produce, they are also leading the change to be sustainable. Their farming system recirculates the water, enabling them to save over 90% of it, when compared to open farming. The protected cultivation ensures they do not need toxic chemical insecticides and pesticides. And every input on the farm is carefully monitored to ensure non-contamination from soil.
It’s why they proudly say, “Not just organic. Better.”