If you thought farming was limited to only those who belonged to the trade, think again. An agri-asset management company in Bengaluru, Hosachiguru, is going against conventional wisdom. Its three dynamic co-founders and former engineers, Sriram Chitlur, 42; Ashok Jayanthi, 52; and Srinath Setty, 35, took a leap of faith and succeeded in spreading their wings in no time.

Hosachiguru simplifies farming for the common man. Those looking for an opportunity to generate income through farming can invest in a piece of land while the onus of farm management falls on the company. In Chitlur’s words, “Enjoy the farm, but not the headache.”

The word Hosachiguru means a new sprout. Setty elaborates: “All we ever wanted to do was connect with nature. For us, it was not only going back to our roots but also instilling a ray of hope for all. Much like how the new sprouted leaf represents the beginning of a season that will be greener.”

The first seeds of the idea were sown in June 2007. It was when Chitlur and Jayanthi, dispirited with their corporate careers, longed to march to the beat of their own drums. A visit to the Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Factory outlet initiated the winds of change. There, they understood government liberalized sandalwood growing. An inclination towards weekend farming grew, and they soon began crisscrossing the outskirts of Bengaluru in search of farmland. In the process, the two established contacts at the Institute for Wood Science and Technology, Bengaluru, which is recognised as a centre for excellence for sandalwood research and wood science. Here, they spoke to experts and farmers following modern-day cultivation methods.

But a colossal task lay ahead. Buying the land was complicated. Issues pertaining to land fertility, size, water, and legal titles were worrisome. “For a person without a farming background, there’s no way out,” reveals Chitlur. While encountering these challenges, they formulated another plan. The duo headed straight to Rayadurgam (Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh), Jayanthi’s hometown, to start work on one of his ancestral lands.

Little by little, things started falling in place. As weekend farmers, they began with sandalwood and amla cultivations in August 2008. Chitlur perfectly sums up their journey till then: “We failed at the initial stage but with each passing day, our inquisitiveness, our energy level and our passion kept on increasing.”

 Untested waters led to unending challenges, but that did not deter them. “In farming, there is no standard algorithm for success,” says co-founder Setty, who joined them in 2014 (he belongs to an agricultural family from Raichur, Karnataka). “Managing and mobilizing labour was not easy. Ensuring availability of saplings from the right source was another worry.” Which is why, they faced a two-year setback, which included replanting on 80 per cent of the land. But failures help you learn. The co-founders later established a nursery with the help of a state government grant to ensure they had saplings backed by stringent nursery practices.

Practice, learning, and experimentation led to unwavering confidence, self-assurance and expertise. From being a partnership firm in June 2008, they formed a private limited company in April 2013. Next, the co-founders decided to offer their managerial services to friends and family in April 2014 to make them a part of their growth strategy. They planted timber, melia dubia (a tree preferred for the plywood industry), sandalwood and teak as a combination. Those coming on board were assured of maintenance for the next 15 years. “We told interested people that they would get a certain ratio of the revenue, while we got a certain ratio for our sweat,” says Chitlur. “Hosachiguru began taking shape, one crop at a time”.

The company’s crystal-clear business model has caught the fancy of many potential clients. More than 50 per cent of the properties they manage are lands already held by individuals/institutions that want to avail their services. The company asks clients to own at least 25 acres of land. Those who don’t own land can purchase it from Hosachiguru— either as an independent project or in parcels (as small as a quarter acre) in the project. They also offer customers financing options where they can make payments over a period of two to three years.

“Today, we have 18 farms, spread across 800-plus acres. The company does not own land banks but manages lands owned by individuals/ institutions in the capacity of a service provider. In the farms/individual green unit owned by the customer, we plant a choice of crops the customers choose. The timber is used for commercial purposes and a small kitchen garden is for the customer’s personal consumption,” explains Setty.

The concept caught on fast and soon, what they sowed, they reaped. “All the money we put into it, came back to us. Rather, a little more. We used that to purchase more land and so on. Then we sold it to more customers,” reveals Chitlur. But there were many challenges. As Setty points out, “Every crop is different, requires different practices, and not all agri-graduates/consultants know about it all. What we do is train people, and hire graduates right out of agricultural colleges. This has helped us ensure we adopt the best agronomy practices.” Currently, the company has approximately 56 people on board and 200 on the farm (80 per cent of their workforce is placed at the farms) to whom they provide farm quarters and other requisite facilities. With over 150 customers on hand, they hope to double the numbers within the next six months. Hosachiguru expects to close this financial year with a turnover of Rs. 12 crores.

Setty says the success mantra that sets them apart is their focus on sustainability of resources like water, labour and soil. “With established projects and a large, dedicated team, we are pioneers in the field of managed farm lands.” The land is chosen on the basis of soil conditions and water availability and Hosachiguru does all things possible — like setting up a drip irrigation system, obtaining an electricity line, hiring labourers, taking care of fencing, surveying old records, legal dealings, ensuring cutting-edge techniques to reduce production costs, etc — in order to simplify things for the client.

The model may not be difficult to replicate but the co-founders welcome competitors, saying it will only grow more awareness about managing farmlands. Setty elaborates, “Even 100 companies the size of Hosachiguru will cover less than one per cent of farmlands. In fact, every real estate company selling plots should venture into farmland as it will help retain the status of farmland and make the earth a better place to live in.”

 Setty wishes people don’t perceive this just as an urban investment. “We want people to focus not just on the land, but also growing plants which yield an income.” With a firm intent to focus around Bengaluru for the next three years, expansion into other areas is on the cards after the 3,000 acres mark has been crossed. Future plans also include concentrating on commercial afforestation and land development. Says Setty, “People love owning farmland where they can settle. It makes more sense where it can create wealth for them and not be a liability. That’s where we can help.”

 

Deciphering the Hosachiguru model

• Right at the outset, potential clients are clear about what is required from them – and how the company can chip in.

• Those looking for an opportunity to generate income can invest in a piece of land by tying up with Hosachiguru.

• The onus of managing the farm falls on the company. • The farm is managed for 15 years by the company.

• Each client should own at least 25 acres of land.

• In the farms/individual green units owned by customers, the company plants crops chosen by them.

• Those who don’t own land can purchase it from Hosachiguru— either as an independent project or in parcels.

• Hosachiguru also offers customers financing options.