"We are a soilless farming company, growing our produce in water. The otter is a fun-loving aquatic mammal and symbolizes our efforts. The Red Otter is a rare species of the otter family, much like us. We were one of the first movers in the space in India and are pioneering commercial aquaponics farm systems."
That's what Srishti Mandaar, co-founder of Red Otter Farms, says when asked about the name of the company - one of the first and biggest aquaponics growers in India. At their farm in Uttarakhand, they grow leafy greens and other crops on an acreage of 10,000 sq.ft.
Srishti Mandaar and Anubhav Das, founders of Red Otter Farms
When Red Otter Farms started out, they looked for out-of-the-box solutions for a range of issues – from environmental controls to input and output management. "We were not satisfied with the solutions available and decided to build our own proprietary software specifically for aquaponics farm systems", Srishti explains. "We have also partnered with an instrumentation company to custom-build our monitoring panels. While we are working to develop the tech, we have resorted to manual data management. With over two years of data from every plant stage of growth and environmental factors, we are excited to start our analytics."
But why did they go with aquaponics in the first place? Srishti: "India is an agrarian economy employing more than 60% of the population – and yet it is one sector that has seen the least deployment of innovation. Farm output has grown in the low single digits and as social innovators; we wanted to bring about a change. In our observations, we realized that we needed to provide a different and new approach to the sector."
At Red Otter Farms, they view aquaponics as a game-changer. "Positioned as it is, it helps conserve scare resources of land and water, while providing manifold gains in yields. It very possibly is the ‘future of farming.’ Additionally, it is a technique that removes the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides – another reason why we are proponents of the techniques."
Aquaponic produce is a fairly new concept in the Indian market, so this called for some out-of-the-box marketing as well. For instance, Red Otter Farms has partnered with a chef, Bakshish Dean, to give advice on the composition of the grower's salad mixes.
"Our founder, Anubhav Das knew Chef Dean from his days as a brand consultant and food photographer. When we reached out to him to share our produce, he was very excited about the possibilities of aquaponics. Chef is a veteran in the hospitality industry and believed that it could provide a solution to the erratic supplies that he always had to manage. From there, it was a quick step for him to join in as a mentor."
Apart from that, the grower focuses on direct marketing channels to reach out to retail clients. "For our direct to home outreach, we are leveraging social media and relying on our clients spreading the word", Srishti says.
One way in which those clients are reached, is through on-demand supplies. Presently, given their capacity, they have a cap on the quantities they produce every week and hospitality clients have a fixed order from them.
In addition to supplying produce to hotels and retail stores, Red Otter Farms recently launched FreshBox – a home subscription plan that brings the salad leaves to doorsteps. Currently they are serving South Delhi and Gurgaon but will soon be expanding their offer across more areas.
"Our aim is to help our ‘family of clients’ replace their chemical-ridden food with chemical-free food", according to Srishti. In order to achieve that mission, expansion is inevitable. "Given the number of people who would like chemical-free food, we cannot stop at just one farm. Over the next couple of years, we plan to farm more, produce more and make this journey a clean food movement, while saving resources."
Another way in which the team at Red Otter Farms is looking to spread the concept of aquaponics across India, is by sharing the knowledge they have acquired. They actively engage with interested organizations and individuals, and helps establish new farms as a partnership. And this Design & Build program has already garnered quite a lot of interest: "Almost every day we receive a request for information to set up a farm. Often people get in touch to just understand more about aquaponics – from backyard enthusiasts to serious farmers exploring clean food technologies."
Ultimately, what the people at Red Otter Farms would really like to see is for aquaponics to get adopted more widely. "We believe aquaponics has great potential – it’s resource-smart and chemical-free. Yields are 10-12 times greater and the quality is far better. We would like to see it gaining popularity as not only an alternative farming method – but also becoming the main method of how we grow our food – responsibly and sustainably", Srishti concludes.
For more information:
Red Otter Farms