New Delhi, March 26, 2021: Started in 2019, Hyderabad-based AgriTech startup — SAGO Speciality Feeds — is aiming to contribute to the dairy sector and the corn industry in India by making end-to-end mechanised corn-based silage with quality nutrients. By doing this, the company founded by three passionate agripreneurs, is promoting extensive cultivation of high-yielding biomass corn hybrids, suitable for livestock feed and sensitising the farming community to be a part of forage production – a high priority agricultural activity. The high-quality corn silage produced at SAGO’s Banswara, Rajasthan, plant helps build a fodder ecosystem among the dairy industry for feeding the dairy animals, thus driving increased milk yields.
In an exclusive conversation, one of its founders, Chandrasekhar Singh, takes us through his entrepreneurial journey in the Agri sector and talks at length about his passion project, its flagship brand of corn silage — CornvitaTM, and why giving cattle the right nutrition matters to him and his company. He says, “it is because this activity is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.” SAGO’s hardwork has been suitably rewarded — it is the only company in Rajasthan to make corn silage this season. Read on:
Q: Please take us through your entrepreneurial journey, from NABARD to Sago Feeds; how has it been so far?
Appearing for competitive examinations was a routine affair during my college days, and by the age of 22, I had three offers in government service to choose from, and I opted for NABARD, that too, before completing my graduation. It was a great pride for my parents as I joined the government service at a young age and in our hometown. Everything was smooth and happy, and in no time, I completed 29 years of service. I had the honour of serving NABARD for 27 years in Hyderabad and two years in Mumbai. Many-a-times, I felt like everything was moving in a formatted manner with not many challenges coming my way.
I always dreamt of being an entrepreneur, especially in the agricultural sector. It took almost four years of research and firming up the plan, and I finally decided to take the big leap. I quit my job at NABARD, and I was relieved on February 28, 2019; I registered my company on March 6, 2019.
Adding to my thoughts and strength was my nephew Saikiran, who was then working as a Quality Engineer in the US after completing his MS in Automobile Engineering. He quit his job and switched careers. We were joined by my son Anurag, who was working for Amazon. Today, three of us have come together from different professional backgrounds and skillsets from the same family to work on SAGO.
What is the story behind this name?
As we all three belong to the same family, we thought of launching a brand which is close to all of us. After all the brain-storming sessions, we finalised SA-GO, which is coined from the names of my mother (SA-thyavathi) and my father (GO-pal Singh). We launched our company SAGO Speciality Feeds (2019), and CORNVITA is our flagship brand of corn silage.
Why did you choose cattle feed? What research went behind choosing it? What is the market standing of cattle feed? Do people invest in buying good cattle feed?
Dairy was something that fascinated me, especially the feed sector. After a detailed study, I felt tremendous potential and dearth for dairy feed in India.
India has been the leading producer and consumer of dairy products since 1998, with sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products. Dairy activities form an essential part of the rural Indian economy and serve as an important source of employment and income for the people.
India also has the largest bovine population in the world. However, per animal milk production is significantly low as compared to the other major dairy producers. Moreover, India’s dairy produce is consumed domestically, with the majority of it being sold as fluid milk. On account of this, the Indian dairy industry holds tremendous potential for value-addition and overall development. According to the latest IMARC Group report, titled “Dairy Industry in India 2021 Edition: Market Size, Growth, Prices, Segments, Cooperatives, Private Dairies, Procurement and Distribution”, the dairy market in India reached a value of INR 11,360 billion in 2020.
Poor nutrition and lack of proper feed management are the reasons for low milk yield. The non-availability of green fodder during summers and reliable production in monsoon are the biggest challenges today. Corn Silage is one such fodder supplements that address these challenges. Silage is not only delicious and more palatable for the cattle but also has the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates and acidity that ensures a healthier gut and improves overall health and fertility.
Silage is a fermented, high-moisture, stored green fodder fed to cattle, sheep and other ruminants; it can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals. Silage also reduces the volume of feed as it is highly compressed, thereby decreasing the overall cost of feed and meeting the nutritional requirement. With its relatively high energy content, corn silage is also well adapted for low-cost rations for fattening cattle.
CornvitaTM has an ideal balance of proteins, carbohydrates and several amino-acids. As silage is pre-digested food, cattle do not find it necessary to ruminate. As a result, ease of digestion increases, thereby improving the overall health of cattle’s gut. As proteins now can easily get digested and metabolised, the quantity of milk improves along with an increase in fat and SNF percentages.
We observed that most of the dairy entrepreneurs (small and big) lack the knowledge of the feeding system and guidance from experts. They lack the technical support and exposure to the best practices of feeding cattle. Most of the small farmers aim at the most economical way of feeding their animals without knowing the merits or demerits of the feed. But once they are enlightened with the results of using silage and balancing with other feeds, there is a tremendous shift in their approach and opt for silage.
What goes behind the scenes of producing silage, from start to finish?
The process of silage production is exciting and challenging. It needs meticulous planning and monitored at every stage. Growing maize crop for silage is highly beneficial for the cultivating farmers with higher yield and higher price per acre plus an additional season every year as the crop is harvested on the 80th day instead of 120 days.
We travelled extensively by road in Gujarat and Rajasthan to identify corn growing belts. Simultaneously, we also had a good number of meetings with large dairies with whom we could collaborate for sales. We could also meet a large group of farmers and FPOs from remote areas of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Bikaner, Barmer, Pratapgarh and Bhilwara districts.
Your plant is based in Rajasthan. Why did you choose Banswara?
Banswara district in Rajasthan is strategically located close to the border and close to three other states — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The rich soil and weather conditions are suitable for maize cultivation and added to this, the district is blessed with Mahi river with round the year water availability. Moreover, Gujarat and Rajasthan have the biggest dairies in India also have the largest cattle population. During our initial visits, we had to drive through hundreds of kilometres of maize fields. Also, it was easy to discuss with farmers who are already into maize cultivation.
How is the team at Sago Feeds structured? What is the supply chain like; please explain?
SAGO Speciality Feeds has bloomed from within a single-family. We all share responsibilities depending on our skill sets. I take care of the operations, management and planning.
My nephew Saikiran has experience in manufacturing and supply chain. He drives overall strategic vision and direction.
My son Anurag heads product development and marketing. He holds the experience of leading several life-science research projects, digital marketing and has worked for Amazon in the last mile analytics and quality team.
Who are the primary beneficiaries? How do you market and sell your products? How has been the response so far?
Our activity is something that is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.
Marketing and sales are challenging at the beginning. It is difficult to reach the dairy farmers and convince them about the benefits of silage. We usually give them a demonstration of our product and sometimes give them samples to use. Even humans have a reluctance to anything new, and the same is the case with animals. But once they are used to this feed, it is a cyclic action, and there is always continuous demand. Seeing is always believing, and when the farmers witness the results for themselves with higher milk production within 6-8 days and higher Fat & SNF percentage, they tend to shift to this feed.
Currently, we have committed demands from Banas Dairy, Gujarat, and Parag Dairy, Maharashtra, Miraj and Bhilwara Dairy, Rajasthan and many others around our location. We have continuous supplies to Palanpur, Mehsana, Anand, in Gujarat, Rajsamand, Udaipur, Pratapgarh in Rajasthan and Indore, Bhopal, Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, Nasik and Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. We have also started supplies to places as far as Chhattisgarh and Telangana. We keep getting enquiries from places like Karnataka and North East. This itself shows the huge demand and also dearth of the product.
Incidentally, we are the only company that made corn silage this season in Rajasthan. The response is so huge that we have nearly 10,000 MT of demand on hand, but we have only 3,100 MT of material to supply.
We travelled extensively at regular intervals within Gujarat and Rajasthan, including the border districts like Bikaner in Rajasthan and Kutch in Gujarat. Farmers are excited to use the product, which is beneficial for them. After all our meetings across the states, we felt most of the farmers are still ignorant of the latest developments, technology, science and are not aware of the best practices of feeding their animals. Incidentally, Banas Dairy, Gujarat, is collaborating with us to train and sensitise the farmers on the use and making of silage in Gujarat.
What were the major challenges in your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?
Switching my career — from being a Government servant to becoming an entrepreneur — was a 360⁰ shift in my thought process. I could really experience the transition of this journey and I can say these two are poles apart from one another. Earning money was not my prime goal but building a system that is consistent and sustainable was. Meeting farmers from across the states and being one among them was always an enriching experience. Our success can only be measured with our reach, growth and prosperity of the farmers.
Reaching farmers and sensitising them about our activity was a difficult task. Not everyone is inclined towards this shift in the cultivation of corn crop and a shift from the age-old feeding system to their cattle. Initially, we started our supplies at a few of the big dairies, their feedback made all the difference and that made a beginning in our supplies.
Who are the other players in this market?
Punjab and Haryana are the leaders in India’s silage production, with nearly 1.5 lakh MT of production every year. There are 4-5 big companies all based in Punjab, which cater to most states’ needs. There are 3-4 other companies scattered in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which are into silage production.
What are your plans for SAGO?
After completing three production cycles in three different states, we now plan to replicate the process in different places to cater to a particular zone, cutting down the transportation costs. We plan to set up small pockets/points wherein we can stock the material for supplies to the nearby places. We hope to start our activities closer to Odisha/Chhattishgarh for the eastern states, Indore/Bhopal for the central parts and then continue at Rajasthan to cater to the needs of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Silage conventionally is seen as a premium feed by dairy farmers. The present challenge of handling and wastage of the product makes the purchase feasible only for large dairy farmers to purchase. We are re-working our strategies and challenging the status quo to make our product available to every dairy farmer across the country. Not just that, we also have plans to start a few initiations in the food sector soon.
(Text by Shillpi A Singh and images sourced from SAGO)