SAI's agroforestry model addresses the two plights being the tribal and marginalized farmers face: poverty and land alienation. The model combines planting regenerative trees in paired rows on the barren land with intercropping of traditional food crops. Pulpwood from the trees provides income stability through SAI’s partners in the paper industry, and the intercrops provide nutritious food and additional seasonal income. This business model- B2B2F that is business to business to farmers ensures that the pain points of all stakeholders are addressed.
Goa Institute of Management
“Even if I am able to reach 1% of 10 million poorest families that will make me happy,” says Jitendra, the founder of Sai Sustainable Agro. His attempt to integrate the ‘wood and food’ requirements of industries and farmers through his social enterprise, in turn, created a sustainable impact. His venture ‘Sai Sustainable Agro’ (SAI) is based on the foundation of his years of field experiences, his passion for working for small and marginal farmers, and a good deal of pragmatism acquired over many years.
The agro-forestry model for small farmers is an attempt to leverage the win-win proposition often preached in management books. The farmer, while committing to an agro-forestry plantation on her land, does not have to compromise on her food requirements. The land parcel often degraded and left uncultivated is brought into use with intercropping techniques where rows of trees are planted along with traditional food crops. After three to four years, the trees are harvested and sold to large paper mills at an attractive price. Through this model, the large paper mills like ITC and JK Paper Mills are assured of a steady supply of raw materials, that too from communities around a radius of 100 km (core zone) of their factory locations such as Rayagada in Odisha.
All in all, the paper industry is assured of ‘the wood’, and the farmers are assured of ‘the food’ - both in terms of crops cultivated and the cash received from the sale of trees to paper mills. Thus, the B2B2F (Business to business to Farmers) implemented by SAI Sustainable Agro ensures that the pain points of all stakeholders are addressed.
"I connected wood and food through my initiative with a motto of living with dignity and not with the charity," says Mr. Jitendra who bootstrapped from 2013 to 2015.
Sai Sustainable Agro's journey is being very inspirational, first working in the field of agriculture is very challenging, especially in a country like India where fertile land and technology are very scarce. In these tough times, Sai Sustainable Agro and Mr. Jitendra choose to work for millions of poor and needy farmers. Mr. Jitendra and his team nearly converted thousands of acres of land which was barren into fertile land and motivated poor farmers to do proper farming and earn their livelihood. Mr. Jitendra not only works in agriculture but also in the field of the environment We were very inspired to know from the interview that his company planted 2.5 million trees so far.
As a representative for millions of farmers, he raised funds from various sources for the betterment of Indian farmers. In today’s competitive world, companies work for profit maximization but, Sai Sustainable Agro is tirelessly working for farmers' livelihood which is truly inspirational.
SAI Sustainable Agro, a social enterprise based in India and the United States, is leading a new movement in Asia and Africa by positioning smallholder farmers as valuable partners for agro-industries, catering to the industries' raw material needs while also generating their own income from agroforestry. Through the integration of small/marginal farmers into corporate value chains, they want to achieve both development and financial success. They are fully integrated into the corporate value chain, transforming into valued business partners who supply critical raw materials to agro-industries all over the world. They are no longer reliant on predatory middlemen, and they have stable incomes and food security, making them more immune to economic fluctuations.
SAI Sustainable Agro’s contribution to the business, society and the environment can be attributed to five SDGs: SDG #2 (Zero Hunger), SDG #3 (Good Health & Well-being), SDG #8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG #13(Climate Action) and SDG #15(Life on Land). SAI is the winner of the BRICS solution award in the SDG-2 category. Recently, they made it to the final of the World Economic Forum (WEForum).
They provide direct market access so that farmers can become significant partners in many agro sectors and earn a consistent income. Smallholder farmers in remote locations are connected to corporate value chains using a commercial procedure that is designed to work in an offline-online mode. They work primarily on revitalizing tiny parcels of degraded land, and farmers are equal stakeholders in a true relationship. Farmers become significant partners for agro-industries as a result of this. This mutually beneficial agreement is profitable and sustainable because to their long-term buy-back arrangements. Furthermore, they provide the farmer with doorstep services through their revenue-sharing approach, providing high-quality inputs that are easily accessible to farmers in rural locations. They blend traditional agriculture with biotech technologies, and They have been providing farmers with hand-holding and technical support for more than a decade. As a result, not only do their once desolate farmlands provide people with lucrative products, but they also continuously trap carbon, combatting not only desertification but also global warming. They intend to pull 1 million farmers out of poverty by 2030.
Before co-founding SAI- Sustainable Agro, Jitendra spent much of his career leading international development projects to help marginalized communities in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
When SAI was founded, it was very difficult for Jitendra to raise funds through any means. The banks wanted the 1:1 collateral which was not possible and he did not want grants as he believed that the business model was good and earn profits in the coming years.
From this business, SAI has managed to give full-time employment to 12 people till now and 55,562 person-days of wage employment to landless laborers. 2000 farmers have collaborated and trained with SAI till date. From the introduction of SAI 3500 acres of unproductive land brought under cultivation, 2.4 million trees have been planted which resulted in 125000 tons of carbon sequestration till date.
SAI has Implementing partners like JK paper mills, ITC paper mills, Pro engage, etc., and supporting partners like Unltd India, Trafigura Foundation, Seed Germany, Nutrihub, etc. SAI produces various products like Eucalyptus pulpwood, Nutricereals(Finger millets), Brahmi, Mahua, Herbal oils like Mentha, Lemongrass, tulsi, etc. and NFTP( Amla, Shikakai, Giloy, Moringa, etc). It has the ability to generate a good amount of revenue in past years by first cultivating the products and then selling this to the industry partners.
"Our model addresses abject poverty and alienation from the land of tribal & marginalized farmers; Sai Sustainable Agro (SAI) partners with them to help them reclaim their land, gain a sustainable income, and nutritional security for themselves and their families", says Mr. Jitendra.
The model not only ensures sustainable livelihoods to small landholders but also the people without land (landless) and rural unemployed youth. SAI generates approximately 100 person-days of wage employment per acre during harvesting & transportation of matured woods.
SAI identifies and trains rural unemployed youth to become ‘Community Resource Person’ (CRP). Upon successful training, they are inducted as full-time employees with SAI to provide one-to-one support to the small farmers for which they earn an attractive salary and social recognition.
About 17% of India’s land is either fallow or culturable wasteland – the land which has potential for the development of vegetative cover but is not being used due to different constraints. The majority of such lands are with small and marginal farmers which constitute 85% of the farming population.
By promoting agroforestry on such lands SAI improves the soil’s humus content and makes it highly fertile. Annually, with our model, approx. 30 kgs nitrogen per acre is added through inter-cropping with legume crops.
The company’s model is also an excellent example of land pooling and working together. With the support of CRPs, the small farmers pool their land together and work on an agro-forestry model. This saves the cost of production; improves management and care and ultimately the productivity.
Sai Sustainable Agro’s agroforestry model isn’t only an avenue for smallholder farmers to gain financial security, but it is also one that contributes to reducing global warming. "Our model actively improves the quality and productivity of the soil, and in doing so, each acre sequesters 36.5 tonnes of carbon over a crediting period of 30 years". This study was done as part of a UNFCCC CDM project in JKPM’s field area. In addition, by reclaiming degraded land, we are limiting the release of soil carbon and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, thus further reducing global warming.
Jitendra Sinha, Co-founder & CEO
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Mumbai, Odisha, IN
Business Website: https://sai-agro.org/
Year Founded: 2013
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
Sai Sustainable Agro follows a social business model that is built to bridge three issues-
Sai Sustainable Agro believes that grants, charity, technology, and markets alone cannot sustainably address the problem of poverty. Therefore, they promote an Inclusive Business Ecosystem, where key stakeholders including communities, companies, government, investors, technical experts, and entrepreneurs work together to drive out poverty sustainably and permanently.