In 2008, Yatan Ahluwalia and his partner Edward Joseph Mendonca (Jojo) visited the tiny village of Kangar in Punjab. They decided to invest in some property there and spent the next three years laying the foundation for an organic farm.
By 2011, they had packed up their lives in Delhi and moved to their new home at the foothills of the Himalayas.
Today, Valley View Organic Orchard & Farmstay is a thriving 14-acre certified organic fruit orchard that grows about 42 types of seasonal and exotic fruits, a variety of vegetables and an assortment of herbs. It also generates its own solar power and diverts the surplus to the surrounding villages.
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“We make our own biogas, organic manures, and boosters, with natural materials and ingredients found on our property. Our entire estate is environment-friendly, and we try to be as self-sustainable as possible,” says Yatan.
They have already hosted over 100 volunteers from 15 countries and nationalities who stay on the farm and lend a hand with farm activities.
It was declared a “startup” by the Government of India two years ago, in a sector that is largely unorganised, and small scale.
“After the incorporation and legalities were complete, we launched a range of organic handmade products: jams, preserves, chutneys, face and hair masques and pure pink Himalayan salt,” he says.
The products, which retail under the Valley View Organic Orchard & Farmstay brand, are available at 20 locations across eight cities including Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, and on their eponymous website.
“We also directly ship our products to customers across India through an efficient farm-to-table logistics set up,” he says.
Yatan and Jojo also work with the local community to promote organic farming as well as boost the rural economy by working with and employing local villagers and sourcing everything from vendors locally.
“India is still in its infancy in the organic food space and we have a long way to go before we witness a revolution. While awareness is at its peak, a majority of the population cannot access or afford organic products. The government needs to do a lot more in terms of incentives, subsidies, and providing logistics to organic farmers. There are too many middlemen making money, while the organic farmer continues to get unfair prices for his/her produce. The end consumer suffers owing to high prices because of unfair margins by agents and organic stores.”
With an increasing demand for their products, they launched an ecommerce platform where customers can order their products via their website.
Simple solutions for growth
With the business growing, Yatan says WhatsApp has been ‘a boon’.
He explains, “First as an easy payment gateway for customers, and secondly for us to pay our vendors, suppliers and service providers. It allows us to operate in a paperless way and also to be connected to customers 24/7. We started using it in mid-2018.”
“As we do not operate with cash, it allows us to record and document our transactions and send or receive money in under a minute. Given our remote location on an isolated hilltop in the Himalayas, we use the share location feature extensively to guide people to find our location and get to us from the nearest city, airport or railway station,” he adds.
Today, nearly 60 percent of their business transactions take place via WhatsApp and the rest via conventional banking.
Yatan says that the ease of using business when it comes to payment, sharing location and status update (which they use to display and promote our new product launches) on WhatsApp has encouraged them to incorporate more features.
“We will be introducing the ‘Buy on WhatsApp’ button feature in the new financial year. This will only further our cashless policy, which is in line with the government’s cashless economy drive. All our transactions are done digitally or through banking in a sector which is still predominantly operating on cash,” he adds.
How this engineer-turned-farmer is using WhatsApp to fine-tune his career one harvest at a time