An Exclusive Interview with Pankaj Khandelwal, Chairman and Managing Director of INI Farms

Pankaj Khandelwal, Chairman and Managing Director of INI Farms
Pankaj Khandelwal, Chairman and Managing Director of INI Farms

Pankaj Khandelwal is the Chairman and Managing Director of INI Farms –a Vertically Integrated Branded Fruit Company. With its flagship products of banana, pomegranate and Fresh Cuts, InI is at the forefront of bringing Ag-tech to Indian agriculture and has built large scale operations spanning contract farming, aggregation, supply chain management and serving retailers in 35 countries globally. Pankaj co-founded INI Farms with his wife, Purnima in 2009 and has made it a leader in its categories in a short span.

INI Farms is amongst the first few companies to be venture funded in core horticulture in India. It has attracted marquee investors like Ronnie Screwvala (UTV), Aavishkaar and Aspada. With exports to 35 countries including US, Europe, Middle East, South East Asia and New Zealand, InI Farms is a truly global company impacting lives of over 5000 farmers. Headquartered in Mumbai, INI has subsidiaries and branch offices in Amsterdam and Dubai. It has been certified for all major international certifications including GlobalGAP, HACCP, ISO 9001, BRC and SMETA (social certification).

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India's population. Gross Value Added (GVA) by agriculture, forestry and fishing was estimated at Rs. 19.48 lakh crore (US$ 276.37 billion) in FY20 (PE). Growth in GVA in agriculture and allied sectors stood at 4% in FY20 and India is currently producing about 320.48 million tones of horticulture produce which has surpassed the food grain production, that too from much less area (25.66 million Ha. for horticulture against 127.6 M. ha. for food grains).

How does INI farm help the farmers? 

We are an Indian origin global company. We aspire to achieve leadership at a global scale, meeting world class food safety and quality standards. We have more than 5000 plus farmers and are located in eight Indian states i.e. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Rajasthan.

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Why choosing to produce only two fruits i.e. Bananas and pomegranate? 

Bananas and pomegranates were chosen because they fit that bill. That meant staying away from fruits like mangoes, which India is known for. When we started this, India was the largest producer of bananas but there was no export. Fruits like grapes and mangoes were exported, but banana wasn’t. But the opportunity was humongous. We were the largest producer, but the quality had to be improved at the farm gate.

Today, InI is the largest or second largest exporter from India in each of the products it deals in. The product line includes ‘Fresh-Cut’ arils and coconut, with packaging that reveals that the produce is naturally cultivated and enables traceability. For the western consumer, it makes the job of eating a pomegranate easy. For the evolved consumer, the sourcing label is now hygiene.  The product is also devoid of preservatives, so technology and packaging were key to maximise shelf life. Factors like temperature and oxygen control were critical.

How has the virus lockdown affected the horticulture industry?

Exports contribute 85% of our revenue. Initially, the supply chain was completely disrupted due to lockdown and it had severely affected our businesses. There was a complete stoppage both for harvest and movement of produce from our pack house to the port and further to the destination. The entire operation came to a standstill. But still we managed to recover from it. 

How do you see the three farm laws? 

The Indian Parliament passed three agriculture acts—Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020—during its monsoon session culminating on 23 September and i think they are very important part of reforms and defiently it will uplift farmers and will make them more empowered. 


What is the INI Farm innovation in the field of agriculture? 

The innovation we have developed is a model of contract farming where the company, farmers and society jointly invest into the development of orchards with technology and inputs provided by company. They took lands on lease system known as "batai" where profits are shared in half between land owner and farmer. This results in good profits that are shared between all the three participating entities.

We are at the employed best practices like drip irrigation for water management. All their farms are 100% GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) certified and suitable for exports. The fruit goes through five inspections before reaching the customer, it is tested in all respects.

We have our modern integrated pack houses and cold storage units for post harvesting, sorting and packaging. We  are using cold logistics in their supply chain. All fruits are fully traceable up to the field level through use of Farm ERP which is used to monitor and control operations. Using technology during farm growth, fruit testing and employing the E2E cold chain.

INI has plantations spread across 800 acres in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Its business is about Rs 1.6-1.7 crore a month or about Rs 20 crore a year. In the next five years, INI aims to have plantations of 2,000 acres and add an additional fruit to its business. It also hopes to record revenue of Rs 150 crore by then. Even as INI aims to tap the lucrative European market, it already has a few loyal customers in that region. These include Netherlands-based Levarht, a supplier of fresh produce to supermarkets in that country.

Currently, INI is focused on the export markets, considering it is difficult to secure domestic bulk orders through the year. However, Khandelwal expects the domestic markets to pick up in the next three years. The company is already in talks with domestic retail chains for long-term contracts.

This interview was taken by Pritam Kashyap, Senior Journalist, Krishi Jagran. We look forward to more interactions and collaborations in the future as well. 

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