Kerala entrepreneur Ambika Somasundaran exports her brand of drumstick-based products

Ambika Somasundaran from Thrissur finds international market for value-added products made from drumstick

December 15, 2022 01:52 pm | Updated December 21, 2022 01:51 pm IST

Ambika Somasundaran (left) at her unit in Thrissur

Ambika Somasundaran (left) at her unit in Thrissur | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A soup mix or rasam mix with moringa (drumstick) leaf powder in it? Or a payasam that has moringa flesh as one of the ingredients?

These are value-added products with moringa that entrepreneur Ambika Somasundaran manufactures at her unit, Kariat Dry Foods, at Marottichal in Puthur panchayat, Thrissur district. Now she is excited that some of these products have gone international.

“A trial batch of six products was sent to UAE recently, of which three are moringa products — rice powder, leaf powder and soup mix. Moringa millet mix and moringa capsules are included in the next batch,” says Ambika, who sells the products under the brand name, Dry Mix.

Kariat Dry Foods started operations in 2017 by manufacturing curry powders and flours used to prepare breakfast dishes. In 2021, Ambika launched moringa-basedproducts. “Export has been my aim ever since I started my company and so this is a dream come true,” says the 53-year-old.

Chasing her dream

Ambika turned entrepreneur after resigning from ESAF Small Finance Bank where she had worked for 17 years. “As I wanted to do something on my own, I focussed on value-added products from local produce. I also wanted to ensure livelihood for needy women in my neighbourhood,” she recalls.

That’s how Kariat was born. When she was planning to make something different from other players in the field, Ambika received an order for moringa leaf powder. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have the required quantity of leaves then. Nevertheless, that set me thinking about moringa products and I started moringa cultivation in our panchayat,” she says.

Entrepreneur Ambika Somasundaran manufactures and exports value-added products made from drumstick 

Entrepreneur Ambika Somasundaran manufactures and exports value-added products made from drumstick  | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ambika put across the idea to Minister for Revenue K Rajan when he came to purchase flour from her unit. He encouraged her to begin moringa cultivation in his constituency, Ollur. With the support of Ollur Krishi Samridhi (OKS), a Farmer Producer Organisation, 10,000 saplings procured from Kerala Agricultural University, were distributed in Nadathara, Puthur, Panachery and Madakkathara panchayats in the constituency. KAU officials trained Kudumbashree workers from these panchayats. “In the meantime, I started collecting moringa leaves from people in the neighbourhood, paying ₹30 per kilogram,” she says.

Ambika set up a processing unit at her 1,000 sq ft ancestral house, while the mill stands on another 250 sq ft.

Ambika explains that the leaves are cleaned in turmeric water before they are put in the drier. The dried leaves are packed in air-tight containers and powdered when needed.

The leaf powder is used in curries or consumed by mixing it in water or buttermilk. The powder is mixed with rice flour to make moringa rice flour to make puttu or idiyappam or added to idli/dosa dough. “We have a nutrimillet mix with six millets. The leaf powder is added to a nutrimillet mix with six millets to make moringa millet mix that can be either a replacement for oats or mixed in dosa or idli dough,” she suggests.

Another product, chutney powder has leaf powder, dried mango and kanthari mulaku (bird’s eye chilli) powder. “We buy kanthari from houses in my neighbourhood that grow it.” The leaf powder is also an ingredient of rasam mix; the payasam mix is prepared from moringa flesh and manicholam (sorghum).

“A recent addition is moringa choornam that gives relief from sore throat and acidity. The leaf powder is also available as capsules. The machines were purchased with the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund of the Central Government,” she adds.

Entrepreneur Ambika Somasundaran manufactures and exports value-added products made from drumstick 

Entrepreneur Ambika Somasundaran manufactures and exports value-added products made from drumstick  | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Her clientele is spread across India, in cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru. “A team from the NGO, CARE India visited my unit sometime back to learn more about moringa products since they wanted to implement it in Odisha where the leaves are going to waste.”

Even though she had gotten an order from the US earlier, she declined it due to the expenses involved and the pandemic. “Now OKS is giving the support to export. We are hoping to send 14 products. We also want to explore markets in the Middle East and other parts of the world,” she says.

Value-added products from drumstick

Value-added products from drumstick | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ambika cites the example of Madurai-based entrepreneur Sujatha K and her husband, R Saravanakumaran, whose company manufactures over 60 moringa-based products (see box). “We are behind other states when it comes to commercial cultivation of moringa. But interest is slowly picking up. Recently, 1,000 moringa saplings were planted at Central Jail, Viyyur, under the initiative of Vilavattam Krishi Bhavan. I am currently sourcing leaves from Mannarkkad [in Palakkad district] and a few farmers in Thrissur. More farmers from Thrissur and Palakkad districts have contacted me to supply leaves. We are opening collection centres for leaves in four panchayats to ensure regular supply. This is a huge achievement for me since I never expected to go this far,” she says.

Drumstick all the way
K Sujatha, a commerce graduate, runs MiracleTree Life Science, with her husband, R Saravanakumaran, an engineer in Madurai. They cultivate the moringa plant on 183 acres in and around Madurai. “In 2007, we bought some land and started organic farming. Later we decided to focus on a single crop and after trying out many options, we zeroed in on moringa. Initially, we grew the plant only for leaves. But when we found out about the possibilities of making value-added products, we shifted our focus,” says Saravanakumaran.
The company has 60-plus moringa-based products with moringa as an ingredient and they fall into in different categories such as food and nutrition, personal care, hair care and the like. “You can make a lot of products from the leaves and seeds. For example, you can make oil made from moringa seed and this oil is used in the preparation of soap. The bark is used to make body scrubs and roots in beauty products. While the leaf powder is the best-seller, our flagship product is the energy bar. We also do personal branding for clients,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Ambika has been selected for Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana – Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied Sectors Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR), a scheme of the Government of India to promote and aid agri-startups. “Diversification holds the key in this field and so I am looking at working with other local produce. Bird’s eye chilli has a great potential, so too papaya. So, I will keep on experimenting,” she signs off. Contact: 9539731501

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