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Likitha Bhanu, Founder and Director, Terra Greens Organic, spearheads an organic revolution that has taken 4,000 farmers under their wing. She tells Nicole Suares of her tryst with entrepreneurship.

Over a morning cup of coffee, Likitha Bhanu, Founder and Director, Terra Greens Organic, and her mother Padmaja plan their day before heading to the office. Since their
profiles are differentiated, where Likitha handles marketing, distribution, and sales,
and her mother looks at the agricultural production, they ‘do their talking over
meals’ to streamline and communicate ideas. Likitha spends the rest of the day on usual rounds of meetings and visits to the farm and factory to take care of daily operations. The duo started the company in Hyderabad from a surplus crop of mangoes, and it has grown into a successful green enterprise with a multi-city presence offering 100 products
of daily grocery on shelves across 600 stores in India. They offer a healthy and tasty alternative with an additional aim to revive sustainable agricultural practices in India through organic farming.

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Apart from spearheading an organic revolution, the 28-year-old woman is breaking gender stereotypes in a domain that has been traditionally a male-dominated family-run agro industry.
She jokingly admits that she has been ‘mistaken at times for a secretary’ when she walks in a meeting to talk business. But, she does not let her appearance get in the way and continues to oversee the massive project that spans apart from farming on 127 acres in Shankerpally in the outskirts of Hyderabad to Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu,
Karnataka, and Telangana. They produce everything from fruits and vegetables
to grains collaborating with more than 4,000 farmers. Likitha looks to increase
this to 10,000. Traditional organic farming techniques coupled with modern
infrastructure and technology is followed and the water and soil undergo a yearly
certification to keep the purity to 100 per cent. Three years of patience and
toil went by to convert farms that had been using chemical fertilizers to organic
farms. And it wasn’t easy. In an interview with the Indian Express, she said, “We had
to wait for three years to have our own products. Till then, we procured organic
products from various traders.”
Maintaining High Standards and Quality of Organic Produce

They got the first organic crop from their farms in 2015. Part of the reason they are able to maintain these high standards is because all farmers have been certified by them. They maintain quality by following the same procedures. To achieve this, education is the key. “We support farmers, train them, and get them under our wing by showing them
a route to the market. It is the most important thing we do as a company,” Likitha adds, considering themselves ‘farmers first’ unlike other companies who are traders first in the organic food business.
“If our producers, that is, the farmers are not educated or well aware, I do
not think we will be able to get the kind of quality produce that we have
today. Therefore, our grassroot rural programmes are most important for
us,” she explains. In addition, they work in close collaboration with scientists
and are abreast with all the new developments in the field of agriculture
and hope to promote the same kind of agriculture to all the farmers.

Ensuring Welfare of Women Workforce
Being women entrepreneurs, a large percentage of their workforce especially
the daily wage workers, are women too. A report by the charity Oxfam titled, “An
Economy for the 99 percent”, said more than 40 per cent of 400 million women
living in rural India—a third of India’s 1.2 billion population—work in agriculture.

Pioneer
Likitha says further, “We employ a lot of women in the factory and almost all our daily wage workers are women. We train them and even promote them to our payrolls so that they have incentive to work consistently and improve their skills.” Women, she says, “can be anywhere but education plays a huge role in this.”
“Not literacy, but education in terms of change in attitude and social mindsets.
Recently, I was asked how can I be married and still take care of a company?
That is the issue wherein a woman is burdened with responsibilities at home,
which gives her less time and energy to pursue other things. It is time we
delegate our social responsibilities and share the burden.”

What really is ‘Organic Food’?
What does she think of the hype surrounding ‘organic food’? She brushes it off, calling it nothing more than ‘a marketing gimmick’. “Consumers are aware of the word organic but lack information about the benefits and qualities of organic food,” she replies.
“They do not know how to identify genuine produce and that is where mistrust with respect to what is genuine and what is not comes in.” In reality, as a practitioner Likitha says it is just the opposite. “It is very hard to produce food without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and it is supremely painful to ensure quality and the right
yield. So, if they are slightly highly priced, it is because your farmer has worked
extra hard, so he deserves every bit of that extra.”

Accolades and Recognitions

Hard work has definitely paid off and they have received accolades for their groundbreaking work. The International Achievers Conference awarded them
for fastest growing company in the sustainability sector. She was also conferred the ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ title by the Confederation of Women
Entrepreneurs. Likitha and her mother enjoy the fruit of their labour and have
big expansion plans. They now look to more cities and tier-two towns. “We are also starting our own online ecommerce site called www.greenstation.com wherein all our products will be available.” She has come a long way from
her childhood fascination for vegetables, such as the cabbage and cauliflower.
“My mom used to make us pick bhindi by teaching my sister and I how to check if they were done,” she tells of her fond memories of growing up in a backyard
full of vegetables and fruit patches. “It’s hard to imagine not having a garden
to go veggie picking from. It is a hobby turned profession, and now looking back,
I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Published in Terra Green 2017

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From her early days in the college paper to crafting her lines through a decade in journalism, Nicole loves a good chase. It’s the story at the heart of the subject that draws her curious mind. Her versatile style, with a flair for the right words pulls the reader into an immersive story.

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