Seven social entrepreneurs on a mission to make agriculture sexy again

Host stories

Ben Fraser

20 April 2015

Sit in the office of the BOHECO (Bombay Hemp Company) for any period of time and you quickly appreciate the bustle of activity that has created the only company in South Asia producing industrial hemp (a trillion dollar super crop). Looking at India’s agricultural villages (50% of the workforce and 18% of GDP) and the reality of their poverty, BOHECO recognised the potential for change and decided to act on it.

The agricultural industry is the backbone of the Indian economy and yet is socially and economically under-developed. This did not sit well with the boys from BOHECO. Having learnt at university that ‘business is the only way to change anything’, Chirag, Jahan, Sanvar, Delzaad, Yash, Avnish and Sumit went about setting up a business model to make farmers independent and give them the ability to create economic opportunity for themselves.

The seven young social entrepreneurs got together at university as part of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise, now known as Enactus) which, as business students, taught them that there was a middle area between exploitative capitalism and NGOs. In short, they could make a difference while running a successful business. After a trip to Australia to research the booming economy of hemp, they realised its potential to transform the agricultural industry in India.

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With 25,000 uses (from bricks to food to car fuel to shirts) across 47 countries, hemp is a super crop that is already grown naturally across much of India. It has a strong historical connection to indigenous culture and so part of what BOHECO does is educate local farmers on the extent of its uses. The team hopes that through education (eg spreading the word that hemp is not the same as its narcotic brother, cannabis sativa indica) its growth will have a cascading effect on the economic and social outlook of rural communities.

Chirag and his team are getting positive responses from every direction, with 15,000 hits per month on their website – proving that Indians want to rejuvenate agriculture and just need some guidance. However, their proudest accomplishment is the support BOHECO has had from the government, whose response has not been ‘if hemp can happen’, but ‘when’ – and with BOHECO leading the way.

They got the same positive response while hosting Leaders’ Quest on the Pow-Wow – seeing so many people from different walks of life interacting. Never before could they have imagined a ‘farmer and a military man sitting together’. Not only was it thought-provoking, giving them great perspective on what they were doing, but it was fantastic to see everyone reacting enthusiastically to their concept and throwing out their own ideas. They have developed a few relationships out of the Quest, and look forward to seeing these flourish – especially as they prepare for the next step: looking for investors.

Already 350 people (with over 8000 hectares of land) have contacted BOHECO, saying they want to grow hemp and set up an industry. It’s exciting for them to see the possibility of expansion from such a simple crop, and to see the interest in agriculture. It’s been made sexy once more! They are now developing a stable crop from the hundreds of different wild varieties, a crop that will grow consistently from year to year and to the same height. They’re excited to get growing in 2015 – especially as they have already seen the impact that hemp can have on 25 families. This is one of the fantastic aspects about the guys at BOHECO: their inspiring determination to keep the social development of the farmers at the heart of their company.

They finished the conversation with some advice for budding social entrepreneurs, quoting Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” BOHECO has gone through the hell of creating a successful start-up and has done it unconventionally – in the traditional industry of agriculture – with social development in mind. A truly impressive group of young men.