Sowing Fruitful Success

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He left behind a successful and promising career with top pharmaceutical companies outside Kashmir and decided to return home and do something for himself. Irfan Ahmed Wani wanted to be an employer rather than an employee. Ikhlaq Qadri profiles the young entrepreneur and his promising agro-business.

The greenhouse of Irfan Ahmad

IRFAN AHMED WANI always dreamed of being his own boss. He dreamed flowery – literally, and worked hard on his venture that would become one of the first integrated agro-flora projects in Kashmir. Irfan worked to be a part of the floriculture business that involved production, processing and marketing of his produce in the entire country.

After completing his graduation in science stream in the year 2002 from S.P. College Srinagar, Irfan left the valley to work as a sales executive in various leading companies including Glaxo, SmithKline and Sun Pharmaceuticals. His urge to be his own boss finally produced a plan about doing something in the valley itself. Finally, one of his trips to Maharashtra introduced him to the agribusiness sector. That is when Irfan hit upon the idea to start a floriculture enterprise in Kashmir.

Irfan returned to Kashmir in 2005 to explore options for starting the business. He went to Jammu & Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) and sought guidance and assistance on the potential cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants commercially. This project that had a huge land requirement of 50 hectares.

“I had no land so I abandoned this plan .”

Irfan did not give up but searched for other avenues in the same sector. He enrolled himself in a three-week course on commercial floriculture and business skills. “The training I received was very fruitful.”

Geared up and fully motivated,Irfan started looking for land for his floriculture dream. His search ended in Budgam on nine Kanals of land where he began to process with four poly houses. Later, he added four more as he started to cultivate and market flowers such as Oriental lilium, Asiatic lilium and Gladiola.
Irfan focussed on refining his business idea to make it viable. He hired consultants and recorded all his business ideas in the form of a Detailed Project Report (DPR).

Having done all the groundwork, Irfan launched operation of his company Upland Floritech. It was hard work to optimise production and achieve an annual output of 100,000 flower cuttings. He was able to sell 2000 to 3000 cuttings in the local market every month and transported the rest to a Delhi based firm, his main client.

Irfan doesn’t want to confine himself to growing and selling flowers. In 2009, he bought 48 Kannals of land in Magam area of Budgam district to set up Kashmir Vegetable and Berries (KVB)Agro Farms. Work on the project at an estimated Rs 3.72 crore is in full swing. It will be the first integrated unit in India having every facility including cultivation, storage and a  processing centre. This also will have post-harvesting facilities. The KVB will facilitate the local farmers growing cherries, strawberries and local vegetables.

Once the farm and ancillary facilities are ready, Irfan plans to introduce a new concept of selling berries he likes to call‘pick your own berries.’  The farm just one kilometre away from the main road leading to Tangmarg is expected to see a heavy rush of tourists. The tourists after paying the prescribed fee will have a choice to eat farm fresh berries they can pluck themselves.

“With the introduction of pick your berries concept, we also will develop a good landscape,” says Irfan.

Irfan has raised huge poly houses in the farm where he is growing different types of vegetables- cherry tomato (cherry-sized tomato) and capsicum which are red or yellow and not green. The capsicum is used for pizza topping while the cherry tomato, sold at Rs 400-450 per kg, has a good upscale hotels market available.

The poly houses are not the regular ones seen at other places. The strawberries are grown in a multi-tier system using coco peat instead of soil as the medium. This is done to increase the yield and make it sustainable enabling him to plant 18 plants per square metre.

“This has increased growth of plants by 250 percent,” Irfan says.

Going by the estimates, the farm will yield 100,000 tomatoes per year at the optimum capacity of 70 percent. The yield of strawberry and capsicum at the optimum capacity of 70 percent is 36 and 20 tons respectively. Irfan explaining the reason for not reaching 100 percent capacity says that for the initial few years they cannot go to 100 percent as the process to make it fully functional is still continuing.

Once the produce is ready, Delhi and Maharashtra become the main markets apart from Jammu and Kashmir itself. Irfan’s aim is to tap the export market. “Dubai can be our market for cherry tomatoes,” he says. After the fully fledged centre at KVB, Irfan has also planned to develop its own cold storage chain from the field to airport by getting specially designed vans. The storage unit will also have MAP ( Modified Atmospheric Packaging) which is used in case of highly perishable fruits.The greenhouses set up in the farm use solar energy.

The yield this year may not be able to tap even the local needs. The KVB has 30 employees. “Once the farm will be completed, the manpower will get shifted to the storage and processing unit,” says Irfan.

To boost the economy of the local village, Irfan is planning to procure a substantial quantity of cherries from them and supply them to different pockets to sell them at a better price. “As of now, 60 percent cherries are wasted due to non-availability of the post-harvest system. We will help to grow the economy of villagers as this region is extremely suitable for cherry production.”

Irfan is all praise for SFAC(Small Farm Agri-business Consortium) that helped him finance a part of his dream, but he has a word of caution for farmers.

“Everybody is after macronutrients.Nobody cares about micronutrients,” he says and believes that this place is deficient in micronutrients. To counter this problem, he has kept a huge stock of micronutrients imported from the US. He is using maximum organic fertilisers in his farm and special vermicelli – volcanic ash with micro and macronutrients together.

Besides producing fruits and vegetables, KVB will market branded seedlings in a packet along with a brochure. The brochure will guide farmers how to use the seed. “We are trying to create a brand out of it.”

The machinery is being procured mainly from the US and Thailand, besides India.

The JKEDI officials take in Irfan’s efforts and competence.

“Out of 70 candidates who opted for training, Irfan emerged as one of the most successful. He has enterprising capabilities. He demonstrated resilience, consistency and was always focused. We only facilitated what he did. The entire credit goes to this young man,” said the director, JKEDI, Dr M I Parray.

Irfan in return feels his success would never have been possible without the support and guidance from JKEDI.

Born in 1982, Irfan hails from Safapora village and was brought up in a modest family. His father had a shop in Hajin, which he lost after migrating from the area in 1996 because of political reasons. The family now lives in Mustafaabad. The family has stood behind Irfan and encouraged him at every step.

Enthusiastic about entrepreneurship Irfan married a girl who too is a successful entrepreneur. This decision helped him to strive harder as his wife understood clearly what it means to be an entrepreneur and is looking for the Budgam farm.

Irfan has a word of encouragement for aspiring entrepreneurs. “One should love to take challenges. A task that looks huge at first becomes too easy afterwards.”

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