The business of farming

I Support Farming strives to make agriculture a profitable business option

June 20, 2018 04:42 pm | Updated June 21, 2018 12:55 pm IST

The floods that rampaged Chennai and several regions on the Coromandel coast in 2015 transformed Vasanth Kumar Mani’s life. A marketing professional with an IT firm, he had gone to Cuddalore for relief work. “I saw how people from other parts of the State donated food and clothes,” recalls Vasanth. “But they were just dropped off at the centre of the city. A lot of them didn’t reach those in need.” Vasanth saw how there was a huge gap between those willing to do something for society, and those who actually need it. “This is the case with farming,” he says.

“A farmer requires ₹1,000 to plough half an acre of land,” he says. This amount may not be a big amount to a salaried city-dweller. “But for a marginal farmer, this is a big deal.” What if they and those with a heart and the capacity to give, are connected? This is the idea behind I Support Farming, a company that Vasanth and his brother Vijayakumar Mani founded in 2016. Vijay quit his HR job to take the plunge.

“We enable the partnership of the two,” says Vasanth, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture. According to him, this business partnership is a win-win for all those who are involved. The “investment” made by a city-dweller, goes into buying seeds, fertilizers, and renting tractors (the company has its own). “We facilitate all of this,” he adds.

The company has a team of 14 on-field technical officers who oversee work on the land. “The profit is split among the three of us — a major portion goes to the farmer, and the rest for the investor and our company,” he explains.

Vasanth says that investing in farming can give better returns than say, opening a Fixed Deposit account. “It’s not as risky as the share market too.” I Support Farming, for their part, does most of the ground work — it evaluates the land before opening it out to investors and also provides technical support to farmers. “We connect with local agricultural research stations to give scientific inputs,” says Vasanth.

Vijay adds that they hope to scale up their company like a mutual fund investment. With an office at the TIDEL Park, Vasanth and Vijay are now working towards opening a line of retail outlets in the city from where people can directly pick-up farmers’ produce.

All this required plenty of work though. “The most difficult part was convincing farmers to come on board,” says Vijay. But they managed to do so. The trick, they realised, was to talk to the most influential farmer in the village.

The first farmer to open up to their initiative was Dhanasekar from Anumandai village in Viluppuram, who convinced several others to join him. Vijay and Vasanth want to do away with the impression that farming is a loss-making venture. Says Vasanth, “With the right approach, we can bring about change.”

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