Dyaneshwar Bodke was a floriculturist growing and selling flowers out of his farm close to Pune. But the business wasnt doing so well and Bodke was thinking of changing jobs. It was at the turn of the century that the city had its first few malls. On a lark,Bodke decided to visit one of these malls and when he passed by the vegetable department,he noticed that there were two sections one for Indian vegetables and the other for exotic varieties. The prices in the two sections were very different. Exotic vegetables were selling for much higher prices. I had my next business idea, he says.
Now,Bodke is president of a group of farmers in Maharashtra who have taken to growing exotic vegetables such as zucchini,basil,cherry tomatoes and broccoli. There are 8,500 farmers under the Abhinav Farmers Club and we grow all kinds of exotic vegetables, he says.
Ive noticed that people are crazy about exotic vegetables. They like the taste because it is new and different. Many eat them for their nutritional value too. You can eat them raw,so theyre good for dieters. And they have medicinal value as well; cancer patients are advised to eat a lot of broccoli, he says.
It is because thousands of farmers like Bodke have seen the potential in exotic vegetables farming that the sight of zucchini or Romain lettuce in local supermarkets is not unusual anymore. Before farmers like us started growing them,prices were in hundreds per kg. Now,because so many grow,the prices are more affordable, he says.
Ask Samar Gupta,whose father first began farming exotic vegetables way ahead of the trend in 1991. What began as a hobby for Gupta and his father soon became a business idea and they set up Trikaya Agriculture. Now,they grow and sell 80 different types of vegetables from their farms in Talegaon and Wangni in Pune district. When we started supplying foreign vegetables,people didnt know where to use them. These days,with so many international cookery shows and the Internet,these vegetables dont seem so foreign and people are excited about trying them out, says Gupta.
They started with growing European vegetables and then moved on to Chinese and Thai. Over the years,what was once exotic becomes quite ordinary. We have to keep looking for new varieties of vegetables, says Gupta,adding that when they introduced baby corn 20 years ago,it sold at Rs 120 per kg. Now,it sells at Rs 30 per kg,so we have stopped growing it, he says.
The main clients for these farmers are hotels,large supermarkets and malls. Trikaya,for example,supplies to the Taj and Oberoi in Mumbai and Abhinav supplies to several hotels,supermarkets and restaurants in Pune. Apart from that,the club also supplies door to door in Camp,Aundh and Baner.
Because these clients are all high-end,they expect consistent supply and quality,says Gupta. A lot of effort and investment does go into farming exotic vegetables. You have to have a greenhouse and lots of other things,but the market is only going to go upwards. Every year it is growing by 30 to 35 per cent, he says.