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A New Breed Of Entrepreneurs Are Cropping Up In Cities, Right On Your Roof!

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By Sugandh Priya Ojha:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

The roof of a bungalow in Delhi’s upmarket Greater Kailash locality is teeming with gardening enthusiasts. They include students and professionals enthusiastic about urban farming. The bungalow houses the office of Edible Routes, a farming consultancy with around 40 clients across Delhi.

Experts say there has been an increase in the number of urban households growing vegetables for everyday consumption, but most need help in growing and maintaining the plants. Entrepreneurs have now started providing these services to urban customers. Edible Routes, for instance, charges Rs. 2,000 per month and provides clients with fertiliser, cow dung biscuits, natural pesticides, pots and a gardener. “The city’s air and soil is so polluted that we have no clue about what we breathe or eat. We can solve this by growing fruits and vegetables on our terrace,” says Evanjelina, a fashion designing graduate who does voluntary work for Edible Routes.

Kapil Mandawewala, owner of Edible Routes

Edible Routes was started by Kapil Mandawewala, a management graduate who worked with Deloitte in the US before returning to his hometown in Jamnagar, Gujarat, in 2010. His interest in the agri-business made him start SajeevFresh (now Edible Routes). “We don’t know where the food we eat is grown or what chemicals are used to grow it,” he says. He moved to Delhi in 2014 to start the business. With a total investment of Rs 10 lakh, he started supplying fresh, organic vegetables to consumers and held workshops on terrace farming. He has employed 15 people, including three gardeners, who are paid Rs 10,000-12,000 per month. Kapil says he is happy with the money he is making.

Edible Routes has devised several interesting techniques for growing vegetables. For instance, they grow three-four plants in a single pot which helps the plants acquire each other’s properties. Growing basil and tomato in the same pot makes the tomatoes sweet, says Fazal Rashid, who works for Edible Routes. They have also designed special pots with holes centimetres above the bottom to let out excessive water, while the base is filled with coco-peat. This allows the plants to be watered only once every 15 days.

Trend Catches Up

Initiatives like Edible Routes have mushroomed in other metros like Bengaluru and Mumbai. Squarefoot Farmers, a Bengaluru-based company, helps clients to set up two types of urban vegetations—completely ‘edible’ farms (having vegetables, fruits and herbs) and “landscaped” gardens (where herbs and fruit trees are entwined into the landscape with aesthetics as the focus).

Owners of the company, Vishwas Makam and Arun Gundmi, were fascinated by the farm life, which drew them to the business. They now have a team of seven and organise workshops and set up gardens in Bengaluru and nearby cities. “We want to show that one can make money in this sector. All you need to know is the right direction to target customers,” they say.

Sqarefoot Farmers charges its clients Rs 500-1,100 per sq m for plantations on soil and Rs 3,300-11,100 per sq m for landscaped garden on pots. Clients can avail watering solutions, gazebos and tensile roofing, furnishings and lighting facilities. Square-foot Farmers also make pots in different shapes and sizes from materials like pine wood, coir, PVC, CorTen steel (weathering steel) and stainless steel.

A similar initiative is iKheti. Started in Mumbai by Priyanka Amar, an MBA graduate, iKheti claims to “create a platform for both individuals and communities to grow healthy, consumable crops within their premises and promote sustainable urban farming”. Apart from providing consultancy, raw material and maintenance/gardener services, iKheti also does beautification and green-vamping of rooftop and patios. Their clients include individuals, residential societies, corporates and educational institutes. Talking about her business, Amar says she started with an initial investment Rs. 75,000 in 2011 and it took her two years to break even.

The company charges its clients Rs. 2,000-4,000 for a herb garden on the terrace, while a mix of herbs, vegetables and fruits costs Rs 2,500-12,000. The cost of raw materials is included in this.

Minimal Use Of Water

The Living Greens, a Jaipur-based organisation, provides farming techniques that are pesticide-free and organic. They help farmers grow vegetables using a fraction of the water used in normal farming. The company charges Rs 13,500 for a portable rooftop organic farming unit of 40 sq ft (R3,750 per sq m) and provide bio-pesticides, pot mixtures and grow bags. They also make follow up visits for maintenance. They use only 20 litres of water to grow 1 kg of vegetable.

“We cannot share our margins with you but we can tell you that despite being a two-year-old start-up, we are breaking even most of the months,” says Prateek Tiwari, founder and CEO. He works with a team of 19 people and has around 130 customers. Recently, the company’s business model was selected among the top eight agri-business models by the Agri Food Business Accelerator, a joint venture of the IIM-Ahmedabad and the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management.

Apart from these somewhat expensive services, there are cheaper options available too. For instance, Hariyali, a nursery in Hauz Khas, New Delhi, provided gardeners at a monthly cost of Rs 800-1,000. Ravindra Ahuja, who owned the nursery, ran it for the past 25 years. Currently, the place is being run by his daughter, Saniya, and has been re-christened Greenish. They have also started providing other services such as laying beautification patches in hotels and offices. Their clients include the Australian High Commission, the Oberoi Hotel, Moolchand Medicity and MNCs like Larsen & Toubro.

The idea of such agri-business initiatives is fast gaining acceptance. Delivering a lecture at the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, Sanjeev Chopra, joint secretary, agriculture ministry, said, “It’s time that agriculture in urban areas is promoted. Governments and institutions should focus on this. Agriculture is no more just a rural affair. The priority should be to use the available infrastructure in urban areas.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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