Tell us something about yourself and your business.
My name is Runa Rafique and I am the co-founder of Blue Planet Amalgamated. It is a Partnership firm that we have formed to do agriculture related businesses. We have two brands called Saraighat Farms and Dhuasang Farms which are currently in the market. Saraighat Farms is a fresh meat brand and Dhuasang Farms is a smoked meat brand. Besides, we also have a training institute named Saraighat Farms Research and Training Institute, which was set up recently. It provides skill training to small holding livestock farmers and also provides inputs to the government or whoever is involved in policy making.
We are located at Sangsari in Kamrup, 27 kms from Guwahati. We run our operations from our plot of land measuring eight and half bighas. Actually we are increasing the capacity and we are in a position to expand, depending on the market and the business, as we have the required land.
How did your journey start?
Initially, we had started with a pig breeding farm in 2019. The farm was doing very well. We were able to establish ourselves as a good breeding farm, with a lot of demand for our piglets, which farmers used to buy from us and raise them in their own farms. But, unfortunately during Covid-19, we really suffered. And after a few days we suffered another jolt when the disease called the African Swine Fever hit the farm. We lost our piglets, not just the piglet but the entire livestock. And the government also came in and did the culling which means that our farm was completely shut down.
But then I was an entrepreneur, and I needed to do something. There was this farm which was lying vacant, so I bought it to farm poultry. As I started to do it I realised that we eat broiler, in which lot of antibiotics are added in raising those poultry. So we decided to go ahead and raise poultry without antibiotics. And that's how we now have a product called the antibiotic free broiler, which is doing quite well in the market.
What are the products/breeds available?
So the brand Saraighat Farms has antibiotic free broiler. We also sell the local chicken and the local duck as a packaged branded meat. Through Dhuasang Farms we sell smoked meat like pork, chicken, fish and duck meat. And in our farm we also have a small piggery again, which is a demonstration farm for the training institute. Besides we are also raising some goats. Let's see what we do with them.
What are the innovations behind your product?
We have an innovation in our process of raising the broiler chicken. Because we make our feed ourselves and feed them, so the chickens are raised without any antibiotics. So that's a process innovation that we have in our product.
This is a whole bigger issue of antibiotics resistance. In the medical world, it is considered as one of the ten most pressing medical issues of our time. When we overuse or abuse antibiotics, we put ourselves in a very bad situation because if we fall sick, then we cannot use antibiotics to save us, protect us, or treat us. Because when we overuse these antibiotics, bacteria become resistant through them and we do not have an antibiotic to treat us.
So in my farm, when I raise my chickens without any antibiotics, what I am trying to do basically is protect ourselves from antibiotic resistance. Generally in the poultry farms all over India, antibiotic is used rampantly and regularly as a growth promoter, so that birds can grow very well, and even if you don't maintain the hygiene of the farm, the antibiotics take care of the bacteria on a day to day basis. What happens is that you allow a lot of antibiotic resistant bacteria to grow in those farms. When those bacteria comes to us, suppose today you are buying chicken from a farm, you don't know the farm but you are buying from a vendor in Guwahati, who has bought that chicken from a farm in which antibiotics has been used. In those farms there are a lot of antibiotic resistant bacteria that grows. When this meat comes to you through the butcher, the bacteria comes to your home as a chicken eater. When you cook them, they go. However they may attack you as they might get attached on your hands or the plates in your kitchen and it can come to you. And once it comes inside you, for example, if it is an E. coli bacteria, and you get that inside your body and you get an attack of E. coli, the normal antibiotic will not be effective as the bacteria is antibiotic resistant. Now you will need a stronger antibiotic. This is how antibiotic resistance happens. Chicken farms in India are a major source of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In order to protect our consumers from that and in order to provide meat which is good, healthy and does not come with antibiotic resistance bacteria, we have created this product.
We do not give antibiotics to our chickens at all. Since we are not sure the feed companies will not include antibiotics, we mix our own feed with ingredients that we buy locally and we feed the birds on that feed.
I have got enough feedback from our clients that our meat tastes better. This is because our meat is tender and we give enough time to our chickens to grow. Generally a chicken these days achieves a weight of 2 kgs in 42 days. In our farm, our chicken doesn't achieve a weight of 2 kgs even in two months. Because, in the absence of antibiotics, they grow in a very regular manner and there is more muscular growth by the time it reaches our consumer.
What are the different breeds available?
Broiler (antibiotic free), local chicken, paki duck, different varieties of pig like large white Yorkshire, Hampshire, then we have Duroc. We also have crossed Assam hill goat and beetle.
How many employees do you have?
Currently we have 4 permanent employees and we take 2 people on a casual basis for about 20 days a month. We are in a growing phase, things are not very stabilized but the infrastructure is there. We are on a scaling up mode.
When did you start your brands?
Saraighat Farms is turning one year old on October 12 2022. October 12 is a very interesting date for me. I laid the foundation for my piggery on this day 2 years back and on the same date 2 years later all my pigs were killed in 2020. On 12 October 2021, I decided to let the day be a day of positivity. I launched the antibiotic free chicken on this date in 2021.
Dhuasang has been around since December of 2020 after I lost my piggery. Not knowing what to do I saw that people really relish the smoked pork but there is nothing for the non pork eater. So for the first time I started making the smoked chicken, and later added smoked pork, smoked fish and smoked duck as well.
What was your motivation or inspiration behind starting this venture?
I have been employed for a long time. My last assignment was with an International NGO and I felt that I had enough of working for others. I wanted to be on my own. I always had a fascination for agriculture, since it can produce food that can nourish human. And in Assam, we have a situation where we have fertile land, we have water, where things can grow fast. I had an interest in agriculture for a long time. I just didn't own land. So when I decided to go into entrepreneurship, I decided to go into livestock as it did not require so much land. Moreover, we had a huge market in northeast for piggery. I feel we should always be market driven. Where there is a market, where there is a demand, it's good to do business there. That's how I started the piggery farm. I was not creating meats for needs, I was creating piglets. So that farmers who wanted to have their own farm can get good piglets. At the time when I started, getting good piglets was also a challenge. We had very poor quality of livestock in Assam of pig. We therefore went into pig breeding and we used to provide piglets for their farms. So the inspiration was that there was a market, I saw the market was at my doorstep, literally banging for piglets.
Tell us about your business scale.
I created a product which was very new. The antibiotic free broiler did not exist in Assam. Initially we were selling about Rs 50000-60000 a month, which has now grown up to about 4 to 5 times.
What are the challenges that you face on a daily basis?
Livestock is very challenging. There are so many diseases and every day the viruses seem to be increasing. We lack a proper veterinary support in the state, which adds to all the challenges that farmers have. When it comes to livestock farmers, we are left in our own mercy in terms of veterinary support. There are a lot of compliances when it comes to food products in India, but we have a very limited shelf life but we need to be very alert in terms of quality for products which has a short shelf life. So overall I am in a sector which is very challenging.
What are the major viruses and diseases which causes problems for your animals?
In piggery, African Swine Fever has created havoc which started in Assam and later spread out to entire India. In terms of poultry, there have been diseases, the Avian Influenza, the bird flu which has always been a challenge but now appearances of new viruses, which were limited before, are also seen as farmers don't take care of the bio-security. The easy access available for viruses and bacteria to get in and out of the farm is called bio-security. Because of lack of knowledge of our farmers, we are allowing through our actions these viruses and bacteria to grow and spread in our farm.
This is where I would like to talk about my next initiative, the Saraighat Farms Research and Training Institute. The problem in Assam is that those who are into livestock traditionally, do not do it with a professional approach. They do not have any training, the knowledge or the skills, which results in mistakes, and we help in spreading viruses. At the same time you are causing losses time and again. Livestock can bring up a lot of income but we suffer more losses, just because we do not understand the nature of these diseases. The lack of knowledge and skill-building is what I want to cater to through my training institute.
What are the processes involved in your business?
I have a person who is trained in processing meat. We do the primary processing and pack them. I have been fortunate to receive a very good training by the government of Assam, Department of Industries at the National Research Centre on Meat in Hyderabad. Before that I gained training at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Azara. So these trainings have helped me to understand meat, how to process meat, how to make sure that it is hygienic till it is packed and also tastes better. I have also been recognized as a startup by the Assam Startup. Through the AAGL programme, under the Department of Agriculture, I have received support from the government. So in our farms we do the farming as well as primary processing as of now.
I have a dedicated cliental of 100 plus customers whom I cater to at their home. And there are six to seven stores through which I sell. So it's a 50-50 of two stores, B2B and two stores B2C. We use the services of another startup called Bikozee who delivers our products.
What advice would you like to give to other women entrepreneurs?
Women need to believe in themselves. We grow up in a way where we always consider ourselves lower and do not identify our own strength. Women are very strong and once they recognize this, there is no stopping them.