Ashna Afroze, Prakriti Farming
Prakriti Farming
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After my son was born, I wanted to provide him with the best source of nutrition like any other mother would. But I came to a saddening realization when I was looking for the right food for him. In Bangladesh, there were not many healthy options for buying organic food. Besides, there was no way to verify the quality of the food that was being sold claiming to be organic. This broke my heart. And I thought to myself that there are many mothers like me who are going through the same issue. So, I am not alone and maybe I can do something to solve this problem. That’s when I thought of starting Prakriti Farming, a place where people can buy authentic organic food without worrying about harmful chemicals.

My initial journey started in 2017 with a rooftop garden. Since it was just the beginning, I had very little production. But as time went by, my business started growing. Currently, I have around 300 farmers working for me. Through this project, the lives of rural farmers are also changing tremendously. Before this, the farmers did not have access to a developed market. This deprived them of receiving fair prices for their agricultural produce. Through Prakriti Farming, the rural farmers gained access to the urban market in Dhaka. This helped them to increase their earnings and improve their livelihood. But the journey from managing a rooftop garden to managing a network of 300 farmers was not easy. I could not have done it alone without the support of many people, NGOs, and other organizations.

There were numerous hurdles along the journey. If I start listing them down, it may take a whole day. But some of the struggles were more challenging than the others. And that is why they are the ones that I remember when I look back and feel proud of how far I have come. One such challenge was when I decided to expand my business and include local farmers in my business. I reached out to a community of farmers in Tangail. The cultural differences played a significant role in navigating my way of doing business with the farmers. The communities in the rural areas are mostly male-dominated. So, it is difficult for a woman like me who does not even belong to their community to come and give instructions to them about how to do farming. I had to invest a lot of time and effort in understanding their mindset to do business with them. But it was worth it because now these farmers are my biggest strength when it comes to my business. I can trust them with quality and they can also rely on me. That’s how a successful business works, only if trust works both ways.

Another big challenge that I faced was right after the pandemic hit Bangladesh. It has brought all businesses to a standstill globally. And my business was no different. For the first few months of lockdown, orders completely stopped. From the late September of 2020, the orders started picking up slowly but it was still difficult for me because there were very few delivery men available to get the products delivered to the customers. During those uncertain times, we were crippled by the fear of getting affected. So, the delivery men were not comfortable with delivering food from door to door. In many instances, due to the shortage of delivery men, I had to deliver the products myself. The adaptability of my business helped me to sustain through these difficult times. When the lockdown started, I immediately shifted my business online. It was an overnight change but we did pretty well. And these situations taught me very valuable lessons about courage and resilience that has helped me grow my business even beyond my own imagination.

Life is not a fairy tale, so there are times when we feel completely hopeless. I also went through some personal struggles when I felt that I cannot continue doing business anymore. I felt like quitting. But it was at those times, I decided to push myself a little further. It was very difficult, but those moments were the defining moments of my life. And today, I am glad that I did not let situations get the best of me and give up on my dreams. I have won the first prize from World Bank for my initiatives in the food sector as a women entrepreneur.

As my business was growing, I tried to build a network with investors and consultancy firms. That’s when I came across LightCastle Partners. To me, LightCastle Partners is like a family. They have supported me from the beginning of my journey. I got to know about the Bangladesh NutriStar competition through them and gained recognition.

Consumers are becoming more health-conscious day by day. So, the demand for organic food is increasing. But at the same time, the market for food products is highly saturated and there is no regulatory body to verify the authenticity of my products. As a result, I have to heavily rely on marketing. So, I am planning to invest more in marketing my products which will help me a lot to expand my business and accomplish my dream of a healthier Bangladesh.