Green revolutionaries: Meet the founders of Eco Oscars awardee agri-tech startup ‘Kheyti’
As the award propels Kheyti into much-needed and well-deserved recognition, they are eager to scale up and expand their operations. This is just the beginning of the greenhouse revolution
Sathya Raju Mokkapati was 17 when he saw a farmer eating mud out of hunger in his village in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The image stayed with him. Thirteen years later, in 2015, he co-founded an agri-tech startup, Kheyti, along with Ayush Sharma, 37, Saumya Sahay, 33, and Kaushik Kappagantulu, 36, to supplement and enhance the income of farmers through their innovative ‘greenhouse-in-a-box’ method.
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Kheyti recently won the Earthshot Prize 2022, also called the Eco Oscars.
Sharma and Mokkapati—friends for over a decade—had earlier founded a similar startup, Cosmos Green. The seed for Kheyti was sown when Mokkapati travelled with Kappagantulu to hundreds of villages in India in 2015 as part of Acumen Fellowship, a leadership development programme, to understand the problems faced by small farmers—no rains or unseasonal rains, extreme heat patterns and risks of pests due to the heat.
Kappagantulu, who roped in his former colleague Sahay, says, “Many farmers we met said their aim was to generate extra income each month. With that as a goal, we worked backwards and realised that the answer lay in greenhouses, which could minimise risk from vagaries of climate and regularise incomes.”
Thus was born Kheyti’s ‘greenhouse-in-a-box’, an affordable, modular greenhouse that uses 90 per cent less water than standard greenhouses, grows seven times more food, and gives farmers a steady dependable income. The durable greenhouse also cuts off heat, prevents bugs and saves water, making it easier for the farmers to earn higher revenue.
Traditionally, greenhouses were earmarked for exotic vegetables such as broccoli and lettuce, but the startup has adapted them for wider use—almost all Indian vegetables from cabbage to cauliflower, leafy vegetables and other common ones like potatoes can be grown now. Kheyti installed their first greenhouse in 2017 in Siddipet (Telangana) before expanding to seven states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, benefitting over 1,500 farms.
By bringing down the standard one-acre size of the greenhouse to one-tenth, the startup has managed to bring down the cost from Rs 30 lakh to Rs 60,000, making it accessible and affordable. Mokkapati says, “Agricultural incomes are dependent on climate risk. Kheyti provides a model of farming which is economically viable and environmentally friendly too.”
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Helping farmers meet the dual purpose of generating more income as well as creating diversified sources to do it, the 37-year-old says, “Small farmers usually extend their surplus income to buy cattle, which cost Rs 50,000 to Rs 80,000, the same amount Kheyti is helping them earn.”
As the award propels Kheyti into much-needed and well-deserved recognition, they are eager to scale up and expand their operations. This is just the beginning of the greenhouse revolution.