The Road Not Taken
Unwilling to take the road chosen most often by their peers, Siddhi Karnani and Anurag Agarwal chose to walk the uncommon path — that of being entrepreneurs, after completing their Post Graduate Programme in Agri-Business Management from IIMA. The seeds of their entrepreneurial foray were sown during Shodh Yatra 2012, a course conducted by the inspirational Prof Anil Gupta, a Padma Shri awardee. Students opting for the course hike in tough geographical conditions, interacting with local people aiming to better comprehend their realities. Enveloped in the pristine air of an unexploited Sikkim, lay Siddhi’s and Anurag’s purpose.
Reflecting back on the course, the duo noticed an anomaly. Their education at IIMA had made them aware of the presence of a rapidly rising and already huge market for organic foods despite the high prices associated with them. On the other hand, the Sikkimese farmers growing these organic produce were living in poverty. These farmers, unaware of the market realities, were being exploited by the middlemen and were unfairly deprived of even basic living standards. The two rookies decided to take up the mantle of setting right this wrong.
They worked tirelessly to develop their idea at IIMA itself and, in 2013, founded Parvata Foods, a socio-commercial enterprise aiming to elevate the living standards of farmers in North-East India by integrating them with the core value chain. In the last five years, Parvata Foods has grown from a distributor of organic produce (landing Mother Dairy as their first client) to having full command over the processing of organic spices (with its processing unit) in Sikkim.
“The chances of your success will always increase. Wait till say, your 1000th day. Then look back to see where you’ve reached.”
Nothing was easy and it was a struggle all the way, much like their hike in Sikkim. The duo had to deal with the scepticism of their families who could not fathom their children’s reasoning behind forgoing a settled corporate career to taking a step towards becoming ‘vegetable vendors’. The capital-intensive nature of business further exacerbated their troubles; Siddhi had taken up online tutoring and Anurag consulting projects, to fund their venture. The difficult to traverse terrains of Sikkim made things tougher for them.
Siddhi often stayed in the field for 10–12 hours without having any access to food or water in areas where processing units were located and where even the basic sanitation facilities were not available for women. She was often looked down upon by traders, who considered her to be ‘just a woman’.
The strong trust and camaraderie that the co-founders share has helped them face these challenges head-on. Expanding their presence in the region, they are now setting up their second processing plant in Siliguri. Their efforts towards energising the region have been publicly recognised by the Prime Minister. Their unwavering commitment has had a widespread impact. Siddhi and Anurag smile brightly upon seeing a greater number of women in their farmer meetings. Their eyes light up upon witnessing the faces of overjoyed farmers receiving their fair share of money.