Replacing rice with millets will reduce India's water consumption drastically, and make us healthier.

Millet Mission The startup working to change your diet forever for the better
Atom Startups Friday, March 17, 2017 - 08:52

Of the total water used in India, 92.6% is used for agricultural purposes. The increase in cropping intensity is depleting India’s ground water table.

In fact, according to a working paper on the Indian agricultural market by the Finance Ministry, “Such cropping intensity has another externality: an alarming reduction in the water table. This practice is not sustainable in the long run as is evident from the problems currently being faced in Punjab and Haryana region, considered the 'rice bowl of India', where the water table is reducing drastically.”

Take for example rice. The staple food for most Indians, it is said to consume 3,500-4000 liters of water per kilogram. This clearly points to a need for a shift in food consumption patterns in India. Not just for environmental reasons, but for health as well.

With the fad of a healthy, organic lifestyle growing in India, rice is slowly being replaced with alternatives like quinoa and oats. And if you are someone jumping on that bandwagon too, you may want to consider this super food – millets. A grain, which was once a very integral part of Indian staples has been long forgotten.

To put things into perspective, millets are gluten free and have more fibre than rice and wheat. Calcium content is more than double in millets when compared to rice. If you are to compare it with oats, be it fat, calories, proteins or vitamins, millets win the race. In fact, several reports suggest that millets could be the answer to address malnutrition in children.

The best part? Millet crops thrive on dry land conditions. And compared to paddy and wheat crops, the quantity of water required for millet crops is negligible.

So when KR Sanjay Kumar wanted to start something back in 2013-14 in the agricultural space to create a social impact, he came across millet as a crop. Further research told Kumar that millets in India is still a concept and not a product yet.

Kumar also realized that to bring about any considerable social impact, the government is a major stakeholder. Kumar then approached the Telangana government with the aim of wanting to address malnutrition in the state.

“The Telangana government has been giving a lot of thrust to the upliftment of the underprivileged since the formation of the state. A number of government-run residential schools have come up as well. So I approached the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREI), studied their menus and made a representation to them about the nutritional benefits of millets,” says Kumar.

TSWREI bought the idea and gave Kumar a pilot order to serve breakfast and snacks for a week made only out of millets in two of its schools in Hyderabad. Thus was born the idea to start Millet Bowl.

Millet Bowl has options like rotis, idlis, upma, four varieties of biscuits and three varieties of vermicelli, all made out of millets. After the success of its pilot order with TSWREI, it has been serving about 40 schools with its millet biscuits. It has currently reached around 30,000 school-going children through TSWREI.

Millet Bowl started with an initial investment of about Rs 12 lakh and recently received a funding of Rs 25 lakh from National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM)’s incubator a-IDEA. Millet Bowl in fact has been mentored and incubated under a-IDEA.

Currently, its main source of revenue is the Telangana government. Millet bowl currently works out of the State Agricultural University, which has helped it identify farmers. It also develops, produces and packages its products at the university.

The next step is to go the general consumer. “There is a lot of scope in commercial activity. But the issue with modern trade is that the costs are very high, especially for a startup like us. So we have made a small start with targeting Rythu Bazaars in Hyderabad,” says Kumar.

Rythu Bazaar, is a farmers market in Andhra Pradesh, run by the government of AP. These stalls at Rythu Bazaar currently contribute 5-10% to Millet Bowl’s revenues. Kumar hopes to create a brand recall in the minds of customers through these stalls to spur expansion.

In terms of product portfolio, Millet Bowl has 7 products currently and is looking to add flavours and more gluten-free products. Millet Bowl is also looking to tie up with MNCs to develop low shelf-life products like healthy bakery items out of millets. Should his plans bear fruit, Millet Bowl will expand nationally as well.

But for now, the focus will be on generating business and bring in several tie-ups. Currently working with gross margins of 10-12%, Kumar hopes to break-even by the end of this fiscal itself.


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