Walking through the 45-acre First Agro Farm is like eating your way through a fresh, crunchy salad. Naveen MV and Nameet M, who co-founded this zero pesticide commercial grower company with KN Prasad in 2010, encouraged us to pluck vegetables and crunch them – we took in the sweet aroma of sage, picked a glistening leaf of purple basil and admired its heady taste and sampled wild rocket. The heart of the salad bowl were the heirloom tomatoes – vines were laden with the world’s smallest pea cherry tomato, the larger cherry one, the grape-shaped one, a teardrop one, a snow-white and a purple version.
We were 110 kilometers outside Bangalore, in Cauvery Valley, speaking to the promoters of First Agro, which grows zero pesticide produce complying with the FAO/WHO’s Codex Alimentarius food safety standards. Naveen, who is the CEO, said, “What is important in this business is to have a deep understanding of entomology [the scientific study of insects] and Olericulture [the science of vegetable growing] so that you know how to use natural methods and bio-solutions to manage pests.” Nameet is the chief production head, who learnt all about growing vegetables and keeping pests at bay with natural methods from horticultural growers in Canada, where he was a commercial pilot. COO Prasad has managed family farms in Karnataka for over a decade.
Nameet worked on an integrated pest and disease management system where he uses a “combination of neem oil, beneficial insects, beneficial microbes, garlic-chili spray, pheromone insect traps and companion plants”. “We are able to manage about 90 per cent of the common pest issues in agriculture,” he said. The farm also uses the drip-irrigated method to provide water to their fields.
Being commercial growers, the three brothers have expanded their business to the retail and hospitality sectors. First Agro supplies to restaurants such as The Glass House and Caperberry and hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton, The Oberoi and JW Marriott. In retail, their produce is available with BigBasket.com, HyperCity and FoodHall, among others.
Their biggest challenge has been to get Bangaloreans to think about food safety. “When we do promotional campaigns in malls, people tell us that they had no clue about these issues,” said Naveen. “We tell them how food is grown using pesticide or what GMOs are. Slowly, awareness is seeping in.”
By Bijal Vachharajani on June 06
photo: Pradeep KS