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Aneel Kumar Ambavaram, the Managing Director of YasasreeViroha Impex Pvt. Ltd., grew up in a Kadapa, a village in Andhra Pradesh. Kadapa is located in a very dry region of India known for its labor-intensive sweet orange cultivation.
After completing his master’s degree in organic agriculture from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, Aneel went on to work with several multinational companies selling pesticides to farmers around the world. As he worked his way up the corporate ladder, he was becoming more and more dissatisfied with his career.
During his trips around his native region of Andhra Pradesh, Aneel observed the poor working conditions of tribal farmers. He saw that that the farmers were struggling to sustain their livelihoods around producing and selling their sweet oranges. After 15 years working for multinational companies, Aneel decided to leave his corporate job behind to help these small holder farmers.
Since leaving his corporate job, Aneel has worked to uplift farmers by identifying additional income streams and developing market linkages for their products. His research found that 80% of the small fruits in sweet orange and lime orchards drop off the trees and go as waste. However, these small fruits contain pharmaceutical value.
By teaching farmers and rural women to collect the small fruits, and then selling them to international pharmaceutical companies, Aneel’s company YasasreeViroha Impex is able to drastically increase the incomes for these small-holder farmers and women workers.
Our team recently visited Yasasree and spoke with Aneel about the problems he’s seen in this region and how he aims to solve them.
Q: In your travels around Andhra Pradesh, what did you see as the most pressing issues facing farmers and rural workers?
"Horticulture laborers, especially women, are generally unskilled and have low household income that is limited to seasonal cycles. Hence they live in poverty.
At the same time, the life of a small sweet orange farmer is equally challenging. Sweet orange cultivation involves high investments amid market vagaries. Some years the price may go down to 25-50%.
Changing climate and up-surging inputs and labor costs are adversely impacting the livelihoods of the [small-holder farmers]."
Q: What challenges did you observe around sweet orange cultivation?
"While the market has been a gamble, a number of external and internal factors cause sweet orange trees shed fruits prematurely. Aberrations in rain/irrigation, wind, cyclones, etc. accelerate fruit dropping, leaving farmers in drudgery.
Also, after planting, farmers have to wait for four years before starting revenue generation. They pinch off the small fruits to allow healthy vegetative growth of the plant, which is labor intensive but generates no value to the farmer."
Q: What was your inspiration to launch Yasasree?
"An unreliable market devastates households. Diversifying family income seemed to be one possible solution. I launched [YasasreeViroha Impex Pvt. Ltd.] in order to test innovative livelihood models and create direct access to international market.
Now, we are working in more than 100 villages and our work is creating a tangible impact on the ground."
Q: What is your vision for your company?
"We envision a world wherein collaboration and human-centered approaches create new opportunities for all the stakeholders including the bottom of the pyramid."