This aspiring startup aims to bring big changes in agriculture with organic composting.
The rampant use of chemical fertilisers to achieve higher agricultural yields has had an adverse impact on human health as well as the environment. While awareness about the various harmful effects of chemical fertilisers is gradually growing, the use of organic fertilisers is still in its infancy in the country but there is a growing sense of realisation among farmers and others engaged in agriculture about its benefits. Contributing to this situation are entrepreneurs like Usha Giri and her company Rikishi Compost Pvt Ltd who are working to promote and produce compost manure free from harmful chemicals for sustainable agriculture.
Started with an initial capital of Rs 2.5 million, the startup uses advanced and sustainable technology from Japan to produce fertilisers. The technology is also certified by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Japan. The company is based on the philosophy of CNBM technology where ‘C’ stands for Carbon, ‘N’ for Nitrogen, ‘B’ for Bacteria and ‘M’ for Minerals. According to Giri, this feature uses sophisticated fermentation technology developed after years of research.
“With the combination of these constituents, we are certain that the fertiliser Rikishi Compost has been producing is a balanced nutrition that is required for plants,” she says. In the process of producing compost manure, organic matters are fermented and decomposed at a high temperature of 60 to 80 degrees where all pathogens and weed seeds die. Moreover, the manure produced by Rikishi Compost has a good balance of different important chemicals like nitrogen, phosphoric acid, potassium and minerals. “In addition, this technology of adding clay minerals prevents the outflow of nutrients and retains the fertiliser in the field for a long time,” informs Giri.
After living in Japan for more than 22 years, Giri experienced a huge gap in agricultural practices in Japan and Nepal. Despite being known as an agrarian economy, she noticed that imports dominate the majority of agricultural products sold across the country. She also realised the growing use and adverse impacts of chemical fertilisers on human health and the environment. While searching for alternatives to chemical fertilisers, Giri met an expert in Japan who had years of experience in the field of compost manure using locally procured resources.
“I have also lost many loved ones due to cancer and other diseases caused by the harmful intake of food that is grown using hazzardous chemicals. This has motivated me to start a company to produce organic fertilisers,” says Giri. She established Rikishi Compost in January 2018 and the company has 49 staff at present.
Products and Services
The company started by producing standardised compost manure. Now they produce customised fertilisers according to the requirements of the clients.
Located at Thimi, Bhaktapur, the company uses traditional and modern techniques and technologies in systematic and effective manners to produce fertilisers. “Frequent supervision is required to produce the compost manure as per the requirement of the customers,” mentions Giri.
Apart from producing chemical free organic fertilisers, the company also produces ‘Bagasu’ blocks which is a compost block similar to coco peat but is organic and has better functionality. This block is produced using the Japanese technique known as ‘Baiyoudo’, which means raising seedlings, and ‘Tokozai’ which is a formula to stop waste from spreading bad smells.
According to her, the company uses a highly efficient waste disposal and management system. They also provide waste management related training to local people while making them aware about organic farming while also encouraging them to adapt home-based farming methods. Further, they also encourage vendors and dealers to limit the sales of chemical fertilisers and start selling compost manure. Similarly, Rikishi Compost has collaborated with local municipalities to provide assistance to local agro firms to work in the area of organic farming.
With an objective of replacing chemical fertilisers with compost manure, the company is also actively working to promote organic farming. Since its inception, the company has been organising events and raising awareness through blogs and social media.
During the initial phase, the company faced a challenge to execute plans in areas including logistics management, vendor selection, expenditure, human resource development and other operational issues. Now after two years, the Rikishi Compost team regularly sits down and discusses the new hurdles that they might have to overcome in the future, looking at their past mistakes.
Like any other new business, the company also encountered various opportunities and challenges in its two-year journey. The major difficulty that Rikishi Compost faced was the people’s lack of understanding of the CNBM technology which the company was using to produce fertilisers. In the beginning, even the experienced farmers were sceptical of the new technology. “The new recruits of our company had their own doubts about the materials used for producing compost manure,” recalls Giri.
People were not comfortable working with a compost producing company also working in the area of waste management. There were times when Rikishi Compost had to organise events on a regular basis to inform the employees and local residents that they were a company that works to produce compost manure using waste. They started distributing free samples to the farmers to guarantee the effectiveness of the fertilisers. Slowly, people who used their product once started coming back again and word about the company’s initiative began to spread.
Meanwhile, the company also found it difficult to compete with chemical fertiliser producers and other organic fertiliser companies. “We developed strategies and with the help of our associates we were able to gain a foothold in the market,” she adds.
Rikishi Compost targets the mass market, and those who are interested in farming using compost manure. Their major clients are the dealers and suppliers who work with the government to supply compost fertilisers to the farmers. “In this age, where composting is becoming popular in every household, knowing the importance of greenery and organic farming, the demand changes as well. We target farmers as well as plant nurseries,” says Giri.
Those who have used products of Rikishi Compost have provided positive and encouraging feedback. Many users have said that their cost of production has drastically declined, and harvests have been exceptional after using compost manure produced by the company. Many have complimented the freshness and taste of the resulting agro produce.
The company uses social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to promote its products and other activities. Likewise, dealers of Rikishi Compost are also using their own marketing tools to advertise the products within and outside their circles.
Although the company was only established three years ago, the demand for manure produced by the company has increased significantly. The company is based at Madhyapur, Thimi while also operating at Paanchkhal and Rapti. According to Giri, there are plans to expand the company’s operations to other parts of the country.
Impact of Covid
Rikishi Compost was affected by the pandemic and lockdown and the situation forced it to struggle to survive. As compost manure production requires daily monitoring, the lockdown impacted the whole operation of the company. Only a handful of technicians were able to work every day to monitor the production process. As operations got halted, they were not able to produce new compost manure due to the lack of a workforce. Meanwhile, the company’s income also took a big hit due to the fall in demand of compost manure as agricultural activities came to a grinding halt across the country. But the situation has improved for the company after the government lifted the restrictions a few months ago.
Giri aspires to expand the operation of Rikishi Compost and conduct training programmes and awareness campaigns across the country. Meanwhile, she is also planning to open a training centre for SAARC countries in the foreseeable future.