Sunita Nemaphuki, CEO of R&D Innovative Solutions Pvt. Ltd., believed that agriculture has a greater scope in Nepal. That’s why she started her journey as an entrepreneur and with sheer determination and hard work, she proved what she believed in. In this article, we’ll find out everything about this brilliant social enterprise that aims to become the top value chain based agribusiness solution provider in the country.
1. How did you start your journey with R&D Innovation Solution?
The journey was a long one and here’s what actually happened. As a passionate student of communication, I saw that there was a severe lack of information in agriculture sector but a lot of success stories. Most of the information regarding agriculture was in English language and the documents weren’t even updated. At the same time, agricultural technology was increasing rapidly that people were unaware of. So, I took it as an opportunity to provide them with necessary information and consulting.
We thought of communicating about agriculture through mobile application but the farmers weren’t friendly with such technology . So, we planned to make videos and distribute them to farmers but it didn’t work too. After a lot of brainstorming, we finally came to a conclusion of publishing colorful magazines.
It took us more than 6 months to research on this sector. While it gave me a thorough insight on why people aren’t interested in agriculture, it also showed me its potential benefits. Having an experience in an advertising company, I knew how the products could be beautifully advertised. So, after publishing the magazine, it was well liked and that motivated me to do even better. We started by publishing 10,000 magazines and distributed them on a subscription basis with no corporate advertisement. It has now been 6 years that we’ve been doing so. We registered the company in 2010 as a private limited company and started the operations from 2012.
2. What was your team size when you started the company? How has it changed now?
Technically, it was just me when the company started. But, I got a lot of support from a couple of my friends. There has been a lot of change in the operation as well as scale of the company since last few years. We have added new avenues in our business. Apart from publishing agriculture magazine, we have initiated contract farming in chemical free fresh vegetable production, which I believe is the most innovative work we have been doing in the agriculture sector. We have started working in the entire value chain of vegetables with introduction of cold chain management system for the first time in the country. So, a lot of upgrade has happened in terms of investment, revenue as well as human resources in the last couple of years. At present, we have a team of 30 people working in the company around the nation.
So, from 2012, I’ve worked tirelessly including when I was pregnant. I worked even till the last day of my delivery and came back to office 15 days after. So, you know how much effort I had put in this company to make it bigger and better.
3. What is the social change that you are intending to bring through the company?
We’re trying to make agriculture a viable business by supporting and encouraging existing farmers who are in huge numbers in our country. By doing so, we;re not only helping the farmers and their families meet their day to day needs but also providing them the income to pursue additional careers.
4. By supporting farmers, do you mean you provide them funds?
We don’t provide funds or cash directly to farmers rather we invest on the inputs, tools, infrastructures needed for them to grow crops. All of it is provided under certain agreement called ‘Contract Farming’. In this process, farmers are provided with all the necessary inputs, tools, technical services as well as a crop calendar. Once the production is ready, we buy it and deduct certain percentage to cover the expenses incurred for the inputs they have purchased. We have been providing one stop solution for the farmers so that they can simply focus in increasing the productivity of the crops. The farmers receive extended service free of cost as it has been supported by EDP program of OXFAM GB.
5. Could you tell us how the investment model for farmers work?
It’s very simple. We invest on the quality inputs needed for farmers, which they have to pay back once they sell the crops. Since, we have a buy back guarantee of the products in which we invest for, it seems like providing line of credit for farmers for a period of crop plantation to harvest. In some cases, we have invested on infrastructures such as greenhouses, irrigation systems, which have longer payback period. In such cases, there is an agreement to deduct certain percentage from the sales of their produces, until the investment is recovered. To make sure, we don’t run out of investment, we have taken loan from Nepal Bangladesh Bank.
6. How do you convince farmers to work with you?
Farmers are not early adopters of innovations so it’s not easy to convince farmers. As, we have been working in this sector since more than 5 years, we know what works and what does not. Farmers believe in what they see rather than the theory so we prototyped a chemical and pesticide free vegetables demo farm in Gundu, Bhaktapur, through the support of SPRING Accelerator program . Once they started seeing green leafy vegetables without the use of chemicals even in the off season, they were keen to know more about it. Slowly, they started showing interest in our practices and to work in our model.
We started contract farming with 17 female farmers in 2016. It was easier to convince them via word of mouth influence by the first batch of farmers. So, its our services delivered to farmers that makes them convinced to work with us.
7. What are the challenges you faced or are facing while working in this sector?
The major challenge of working in this sector is changing the thought process of people regarding agriculture. Most think that there’s no money in agri-business and its not time-worthy. What I simply want to say is that there’s no money anywhere if you don’t work on it. The biggest challenge we have been facing is the retention of human resources. As, we have a lot of mobility in rural areas, people lack interest to work there.
8. How have you overcome them?
In order to change the mindset in agribusiness, we regularly publish success stories of farmers as well as agri–entrepreneurs. It has helped to create a positive thinking among our readers. In terms of human resource management, we prepare team members regularly. We hire interns, train them and always prepare a pool of candidates in reserve. Although its resource consuming, it’s better to have ready candidates because we never know when an employee might leave the company.
9. Since you have a shop as well, how much quantity of the products are sold on daily basis?
As we deal with daily consumable products, we have revenue of around 80-100K per day on an average. We are positioning ourselves as a value chain player in safe food production and supply chain management. We are focusing on volume sales ( B2B), as our backward linkage ( production node) is increasing day by day.
10. Is the clientele of R&D enough to generate profit as of now?
Let’s say we have a good number of transactions per month to sustain and profit from the business. About profits, it depends with different departments. In the farmer’s side, we’ve only made investments but in the market side, we’ve generated quite a lot of revenue.
11. How many farmers have you been working with and what are your future plans?
At present, we have been working with more than 10,000 farmers through various wings of the company. By 2020, R&D will have 100 AgriCenters in Nepal and each AgriCenter will be working with 500 farming families. We have plans to export our products and are working on that. If everything goes as per our plan by next decade, we’ll be working with a million farmers and become the best value chain based agricultural company in Nepal.
12. Do you consider yourself as a social entrepreneur?
Yes, I strongly believe that I am a social entrepreneur because I’ve been working for the welfare of people. I have been working for change in the society. My team is working for sustainable agriculture development, creating rural entrepreneurs, consumer awareness, environmental protection as well as building a vibrant local economy.
13. Do you measure social impact of your work?
We have been doing this since last 2 years through Coffey, an international organization with support from SPRING Accelerator and OXFAM. They have been evaluating our performances socially as well as financially.
Interested in learning more about this innovative company? Check out and connect with R & D Innovative Solution Pvt. Ltd. here.
Interviewed by Jasmin Karmacharya