Meet the 25-year old entrepreneur that is helping farmers to reduce their waste through solar dryers

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Based on the time you are in this post, you may have spent anywhere between up to Rs 100 for one kilogram of tomatoes.

This erratic fluctuation of market prices has left farmers struggling to obtain compensation for their hard work. Images of farmers dump fresh produce onto roads in the midst of an economic downturn are common throughout the nation. While India is a global agricultural powerhouse, each year, around 30-40 percent of the total manufacturing in India will end up in the waste stream at different levels in the chain of supply.

One method to cut down on the amount of food wasted is to dry fresh produce. Based on Varun Raheja who is the founder of Raheja Solar Food Processing Pvt Ltd the global demand for dried food is estimated at $70 billion.

Varun is a 25-year young entrepreneur from Indore The idea to create the company was when he learned about sustainable living and sustainable practices at Jimmy McGilligan Institute for Sustainable Development, an NGO based in Indore.

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His passion for solving the issues facing farmers led him to investigate solar dryers. After a few years in 2019 he founded his own business.

An study of The Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research found that among the farmers who harvested some crops this season (in 2021) 29% of them are still holding onto the harvest, 13% harvested the produce at auction prices and around 77% of respondents said that they had to let their harvest go to go to waste. The study was based upon the data of 370 farmers in the nine Indian states.

The business model

The solar drying process provides an illustration of the way easily accessible energy can be efficiently employed to benefit farmers.

One aspect is offering farmers inexpensive and easy-to-fold solar dryers that can create high-value products from their crops such as dried tomatoes, onions ginger, mangoes rose petals, watermelon and so on. These would normally be sold at very cheap costs or thrown away.

However, just solar dryers aren’t going to help farmers because they aren’t able to access markets. This is the other part of the equation that Raheja Solar Food Processing can help.

The company purchases these dried products from farmers, and then sells the dried products to the final buyer.

This extends the time for farmers to retain some control in spite of fluctuations in the market price, since if prices remain high, they are able to sell their products. “It allows farmers to be independent of the market prices and grants them the right to regulate traders. Therefore, whenever our farmers receive high prices on the market, they will sell it, and if not , they process it” the farmer adds.

These solar dryers have been manufactured locally. Varun states that he has partnered with local suppliers who produce components according to the specifications provided by him. The cost of these dryers is between the range of Rs 10,000 for residential use and up to five lakhs for medium-sized units. To this point the company has put in 1600 solar dryers.

Since its beginning, Varun claims that the company has managed to decrease the amount of waste that is thrown away by 250 MT of food products by farmers from all over India.

Going B2B

The company has established two collection centers — one both in Indore and Vijayawada to purchase dried products from farmers.

Varun does not reveal details about the companies he’s working with regarding dried goods however, he says they are recognized names from India.

“With our production model that is decentralised that uses slow dehydration at the base, we’re offering our customers the highest quality products at affordable costs and thereby giving some of the profits to farmers. Our primary products include dried fruits such as dried mango and bananas, apple as well as pineapples, grapes dried flowers such as flowers, roses, chamomile blue pea and hibiscus, dried vegetables such as dried tomatoes ladyfinger, onion, and garlic. There are many other dried spices, dried herbs and dried roots are also offered,” Varun explains.

Market outlook and the future

Varun did not disclose his information on his revenues, but said that he’s built a multi-million turnover business within three years from the time of its beginning. Other players like S4S Technologies dominate the market however Varun believes that his company will expand because it focuses on education of the farmers.

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“There are many companies that produce solar dryers, however they’re not teaching farmers on the benefits to which many farmers prior to purchased the dryer. They didn’t know how to use the finished product and are liable for the consequences. We’re trying to educate farmers and observe the positive effects gradually,” he says.

The need for the Raheja Solar dryers isn’t limited to India because Varun has begun to supply Indonesia, Bhutan, and Malawi. The dried products the company is developing but observing the global demand, Varun is on his route to expand into additional countries.

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