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Ag Tech Startups News: From the Fields To the Shelves

Palat Vijayaraghavan, Chief Executive Officer, Lawrencedale Estates and Farms said “We are striving to take forward the Perimetro Vegetable Cluster Development Programme mooted by the Government of Tamil Nadu.”

N Mani, Joint Director (Horticulture) said that the cluster programme enables farmers to auction their produce at collection centres. The Tamil Nadu Horticulture Development Agency (TANHODA) chose Lawrencedale, in a public-private-partnership venture, to link these clusters to end-consumers.

The company has since opened up farmer support and aggregation centres at Masakkal, near Kotagiri in the Nilgiris, and at Thondamuthur on the outskirts of Coimbatore, where the produce from farmers is bought and put in cold storage. The vegetables are later despatched in cold-storage vans to Lawrendale’s agro processing facility near Mettupalayam, Here they are washed, graded and packed. Vijayaraghavan says that the company uses its “ozone” technology, a cleaning process, to reduce the contaminant level of the vegetables.

The awareness on pesticides has risen in the local market after the alarm raised by the Kerala government over ‘contaminated’ vegetables coming from Tamil Nadu. It was alleged that the vegetables contained pesticide residue at least three times higher than the permissible limit.

About 100 truck load of fruits and vegetables are transported to Kerala from Mettupalayam every day and each truck carries at least 10 tonnes of farm produce.

The need for higher agricultural productivity and concerns over pesticide residual impact on food items are compelling them to look at alternative options.

"I had never bothered much over use of chemical sprays in his farmland, until recently. There is huge resistance to buy the vegetables such as onion and tomato which I grow in this three-acre holding." says R Jagadeesh, a farmer from Udumalpet taluk of Tirupur district.

Jagadeesh laments, "Buyers, mostly traders, take one look at the produce, enquire discretely about the use of chemicals before offering to pay rates that does not even cover my cultivation expense,.”

Gajendra, a farmer of Ooty, cultivates carrot, potato, beetroot, garlic and cabbage using synthetic inputs. He admits to spraying fertilisers and chemicals at every stage of the crop. "No department official or agriculture expert advises us. We use chemicals based on experience, but the nematode menace and whitefly incidence are pretty high." “When the Indo-German project which is promoted by the two governments was mooted a couple of years back, we were given sprays and chemicals to control the incidence."

Gajendra laments, "This project was aimed at finding solutions to global challenges such as energy supply, environmental degradation and climate change. But pests have become immune to the spurious chemicals that we get now."

The Lawrencedale CEO. G Abimanyu Ganesh, Director, QRS says “Modern retailers increasingly face tough time sourcing vegetables which are not merely hygienic, but environmentally safe as well. Such retailers are actively turning to us for their supplies. While awareness about food safety is high, even food inspectors cannot vouch for it as there is yet no specific mechanism.”