Come with me to a land of Infinite Dreams and I will show you how they are being transformed to reality by a team that has cracked the winning code.
Reality that is being crafted, not temporarily but into a state of prosperity that loops in an unfaltering cycle of success, with that magic word called Sustainability.
Akshayakalpa meaning Infinite possibilities or as I would like to call it, Imagination without borders, is the dream that was conceived and implemented by Dr GNS Reddy in 2010. Dr Reddy was the vice president of the Pune based NGO, Bharathiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF). BAIF was founded by Dr. Manibhai Desai with an aim to promote rural development in India. Dr Desai was a Gandhian and hence when Dr Reddy decided to branch off on his own, he chose to create Akshayakalpa on Gandhi Jayanthi, ie Oct 2nd, which is now celebrated as their Founder’s Day.
Akshayakalpa Farms and Foods Ltd., is basically a rural enterprise which aims at making farmers self reliant by setting up organic dairies in village farms and then helping them through the entire process from milking to marketing. Rejuvenating Indian Agriculture, is what their noble motto declares !!!
Dr Reddy was joined in this venture by Shashi Kumar who was working in Wipro for 20 years and who along with 8 of his colleagues, decided to quit their corporate jobs and work together and even locally designed and manufactured the equipment that is being used in the milking and testing system, under the brand Stellapps.
By the end of 2016, Shashi Kumar took over as CEO and a streamlining of the processes, led to a catapulting of the company into a whole new state of structured systems and greater success and prosperity.
They are now a team of veterinarians, engineers, management professionals and extension officers, all ably guiding the farmers and ensuring for them a life of dignity, comfort and prosperity.
The Concept –
Akshayakalpa Farms and Foods Ltd. is one of its kind in Karnataka, being completely organic and certified by Aditi Organic Certifications Pvt Ltd, under the National Programme of Organic Standards (NPOP).
The aim of this company is to enable a model of social enterprise that gives rise to the new breed of empowered farmers who are self sufficient and greatly incentivized by their enhanced earnings, to stay on in their villages and not seek employment in towns and cities, which may not give them the stability that they assume.
The team currently has under its wing, farmers from the taluks of Tiptur, Arsikere, Channarayapatna, Chikkanayakanahalli, Kadur and Holenarasipura. There are currently 160 farmers who have registered with Akshayakalpa and they are located within a 60 km radius from the plant.
While the main office is at Tiptur in Tumakuru district, the Dairy plant is based 14 km away, and falls just within the Hassan district border, in the village of Kodihalli.
The dairy equipment installed at every farm, ensures that the organic milk is untouched by hand at any stage and is safeguarded in a cold chain, right from the udder to the final package that reaches the consumer in cities as far as Bangalore.
Akshayakalpa is conceived as the farmer’s venture which he will nurture and reap benefits from. They are provided with all the design guidance and sourcing of equipment, supported by services like maintenance of machinery and undergo frequent training in new technologies.
They are given support on animal care both routine as well as medical.
They are assisted with procuring loans and most important of all, they have an assured market for the milk.
This leaves them with focusing only on the production that they have been trained in and compared to their earlier lifestyles, is a far more attractive one.
An average earning of Rs 1 Lakh a month is what is envisaged after repayment of all loans and this intends to keep the youth back in the business of dairy and agriculture and to bring back those who have migrated away from their land. A Gaon wapasi of sorts 😀
A self sustaining, automated framework is the key to maintaining smooth operations and Dairy without Drudgery is the theme, making it very attractive to the farmer and ensuring a high degree of loyalty.
Apart from getting the opportunity to work with state of the art equipment, the incentive for the farmer is the high rates that they are paid for the milk, the prompt fortnightly payments, the comfortable lifestyle and the safety net of the support systems that are in place.
The company has uncompromising guidelines and automated systems, that leave no chance of tampering with data, thus ensuring a high level of integrity and quality.
The farmers undergo training for several months, after which they are permitted to register with the company. With all the benefits that are evident, the farmers are more than willing to comply with all the rules, thus fostering a healthy working atmosphere.
The cows are fed with home grown fodder and there are no hormones or artificial feeds given to boost milk production. There is no tethering and they roam free in their paddocks. Consequently, these grass fed, free range animals are a healthy, cow’ntented and cow’mfortable lot and actually look Seriously happy, a term that is an oxymoron … or in this case, a cowymoron … In fact some of the cows looked like they were positively smiling 😀
Hard to resist milking the opportunity to pun 😛
Ok let’s get serious again continue with the narration.
Some of the farmers are also assisted by an association called Mission 2020, consisting of a group of individuals who are interested in agriculture but are unable to make it a full time activity and hence help with finance, technology and logistics.
The Model of a Dairy unit at the farm –
The dairies at the farms, follow a uniform design that is compulsory for the system to work and they also have to fulfill certain non negotiable conditions. The farmers undergo months of rigorous training before signing up and being inducted into the system.
Families are encouraged to personally take charge and not outsource the processes to paid laborers. This ensures a high degree of commitment.
A farm should be of at least five acres in area and the soil has to certified as organic. The farmers have also to fulfill the criteria of being self sufficient for fodder cultivation and water.
All the farms grow their own grass and tree fodder, have their own silage pits, the paddocks where the cows roam untethered, the sheds that house the feeding stalls, dung and urine channels and pits, biodigester tanks, biogas generating systems, sprinklers, generators and the milking and testing equipment.
The animals are strictly fed only with grass, leaves and azolla (a protein rich algae) grown on the farm. No external feeds are permitted, in order to ensure strict quality control of the fodder. Each farm has its own silage pit where fodder (such as grass and corn) gets converted into nutritious and easily digestible feed for the cattle, through a process called anaerobic bacterial fermentation, by covering the fodder with weighted plastic sheets to prevent oxygen from coming into contact.
Chaff choppers are used to cut up the various grasses like Guinea and Napier (which is as sharp as a Rapier and could slice through human skin but is easily chewed by the cows). Dry fodder from Ragi and Jowar and also the nutrition rich leaves of various trees like moringa, mulberry, glircidia, subabul, erythrina and basavana paada (Bauhinia or camel foot, with leaves that are shaped like the hoof of a bull) etc, go into the final blend of TMR (total mixed ration) which ensures optimal nourishment. I like to call it Cow mein, like Chow mein 😀
An unending amount of feed is placed at the cow’s disposal in the feeding stalls and the cattle merrily feast through it at will. There is no tethering of the cattle and they are allowed to roam free in the paddock where water troughs are placed.
The cattle are fed only purified water which is also used for human consumption.
Each farm should have a good water source to ensure a year round supply both for irrigation and for drinking. Sprinkler irrigation is installed in every farm.
The number of cattle per farm range from 5 – 25, averaging to around 15 heads per farm.
The cattle are usually cross breeds of local or desi cows and the Holstein Friesian cows or Jersey cows.
Some of the local pure breeds like Hallikar and the Amruth Mahal desi cows from the Amruth Mahal Kaval grasslands of Karnataka, produce the A2 variant of milk which is considered more nutrient rich by some consumers.
Apart from milch cows, some farms may have Heifers (cows that have yet to deliver calves) and also new born calves. The company also offers to buy these back in case the farmer is unable to fend for them.
The daily milk production currently stands at around 11,500 litres and they hope to touch an ambitious 50,000 litres or more, in the months to come.
Milking is done twice a day under extremely hygienic conditions. The udders are disinfected and washed before and after every milking. The state of the art systems facilitate the milking of up to 25 cows within a span of 1.5 hours. The milking system is also equipped with sensors to generate data regarding body temperature of cow, the quantity of milk and infections if any and all data is transmitted live to a central server.
The hi tech Lactoscan ultrasonic milk analyzer is used for instantaneous testing of the milk from each and every cow. This is the first time in India that farm level testing has been enabled and evaluations like Alcohol test for milk stability, antibiotic test, fat and SNF (Solids Not Fat – like casein, protein etc), added water, temperature, pH values and density.
Organoleptic tests that record the taste, appearance and smell, are also performed.
The data is recorded live and goes online and the entire operation can be monitored from any remote location, in a very impressive show of technology being used in rural areas.
In addition, there is an identical second level of testing at the plant to eliminate even the slightest chance of contamination.
They test for antibiotics at both farm and plant level and are probably the only dairy company in India to do so. The positive milk is instantly discarded and not returned to farmer.
Also all their cattle are brucellosis and TB free, thanks to a team of veterinary doctors from Pune who assisted the team of veterinary doctors from Akshayakalpa, in this operation.
The entire process is automated right from the milking machines to the collection in sealed containers and there is no human contact with the milk at any stage.
The cleaning system uses hot water and cleaning material, which flushes through the equipment, thus washing and sterilizing it automatically.
BMCs (Bulk Milk Coolers) have been installed in 20 of the larger farms and as time goes, there is an aim to have one in every farm. BMCs ensure that the milk is chilled to 4 deg c so that bacterial growth is retarded and chances of spoilage are low. The temperature continues to be maintained in the insulated vans that transport the milk to the plant. The delivery of the milk from the surrounding farms to the nearest BMC, is also the responsibility of Akshayakalpa and the farmers are spared even of that activity.
At the BMC, a vial of milk from each cow, individually passes through several tests using the Lactoscan milk analyzer, before adding it to the pool. Milk that does not comply in any way, is immediately discarded. Extension officers are at present at every collection session, checking every sample. The services are consultations are not charged.
The farms are also completely integrated into a self reliant cycle where all the parameters are interdependent and work in an unbroken chain of activities.
In the space below the coconut trees, the grass is grown for fodder which is fed to the cattle. The dung and urine is channeled into the biodigester pits where Methane gas is extracted and the remnant slurry is separated. This gas is used as fuel for the generator where it is converted into electrical energy which is used in the milking systems and other equipment. The slurry is pumped out via sprinklers and serves as manure for the grass … and the interlinking pattern repeats in maintainable loop where nothing is wasted.
Tiptur is coconut land and most of the farmers are into coconut production. This dairy farming by Akshayakalpa, seamlessly integrates with the existing, by intercropping the grasses and millets in the space below the coconut trees, without any upheaval of the prevailing system.
The standardization of all the farms, makes it possible to have an organized and structured methodology which is one of the main reasons that the system works smoothly.
The organic certifying body Aditi Organic Certifications Pvt Ltd, conducts frequent surprise checks on the farms to make sure that all the relevant conditions are being adhered to.
My experience at Akshayakalpa –
I was invited by Mukund Naidu, the Product Innovation Head and Shashi Kumar the CEO, to experience the wonderful work being carried out at Akshayakalpa, by viewing the processes at a couple of farms and also touring the main dairy processing plant, guided by those in charge of the various activities.
Tiptur can be reached from Bangalore by train and it is a very comfortable journey of 2 – 2.5 hours. One can also get there by bus and there are several trains and buses in a day. The distance of 135 km can also be covered easily by car.
Tiptur is a tiny town and Aadhya Residency where I was put up, is a centrally located and reasonably comfortable hotel to stay in.
Vegetarian restaurants like Kamath etc are in the vicinity and are hygienic enough.
My visits to two of the farms –
I left Bangalore by the 1pm train and reached at 3pm, after which I was first taken to visit one of the farms by Rajeev, the Program Manager – Extension and Mukund Naidu. They gave me a tour of the farms and explained the working in great detail.
The first farm in Alur that I went to, is managed by the families of 2 brothers Sunil and Umesh and their success is evident in the fact that Sunil’s son returned from unsuccessfully trying his hand at city life, back to the village where his income was definitely guaranteed.
This 6 acre farm originally subsisted on the coconut business which generated a monthly income of Rs 10-20 thousand and the poor economic condition made living a struggle.
They used to also work for daily wages in the coconut mills and had to work away from home for long hours that did not generate proportionately substantial income. A meager Rs 300/- a day was what they earned at times, at the end of a labor intensive day.
After registering with Akshayakalpa, their turnover now sings to the tune of Rs 2 Lakhs which after expenses and loans still manages to touch the substantial figure of around Rs 50-75000 a month and their lifestyle has definitely become far more comfortable. This is generated from 16 milking cows, 2 heifers and a calf.
Apart from all the systems present on a standard farm, they also house one of the Bulk Milk Chillers (BMC).
The essence of what Akshayakalpa has done for the farmers, has been beautifully captured by Sunil, in the form of all his earlier old fashioned, traditional equipment that he has fixed on the outer wall of his home. Besides being aesthetically endearing, this also stands as a symbol of hanging up the old and giving way to the new.
We also visited a second farm in a locality called Aaladamara, named after a gigantic banyan tree that grows there. Said to be over a hundred years old, this seemed to cover a diameter of 200 feet, the several prop roots making it tough to locate the original trunk.
This farm in the village of Vittalapura, belongs to a relatively young farmer Shankarappa, who locked up his house in the village and moved lock, stock and barrel to the farm, to take full time care of the activities and cattle.
In a short span of 2 years, he has managed to construct a modern house on his farm, indicating his enhanced income and a lifestyle that he has attained by teaming with Akshayakalpa, something that he could have earlier only dreamt of.
He proudly declared that his young children attend convent school in Tiptur and the school van actually comes to his doorstep in the fields.
The smiles of the faces of the farmer and his wife, were enough proof of their prosperity and dignity.
Continued at Akshayakalpa – Part 2 – Main Dairy Plant
For more pictures see My Facebook – Akshayakalpa-Part 1-Concept and dairy farms
Apr 2nd-4th, 2018
Pl Note – This assignment has been carried out by me, in collaboration with Akshayakalpa. The information in my narrative is based on the inputs that I received from the team and also from my personal experience.