When we hear or read about startups, new and out of this world technology fills up the space. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, technology like artificial intelligence and e-commerce make the headlines. All this is amazing, inspirational and furthering the progress of mankind leaps and bounds. However, the impact of startups in traditional domains leaves much to be desired.
One such area is agriculture. Pakistan being a primarily agrarian economy, contributing 21% to its GDP and employing 45% of its labor force has a lot to gain when it gains traction in the agri-startup area.
Just one year back, I got in touch with four about-to-graduate individuals who were taking part in FICS (Finding Innovative and Creative Solutions) a startup contest started by NUST (National University of Sciences and Technology). They had made a machine that could efficiently dry apricots (something found in abundance in the northern areas of Pakistan) using solar energy. The group was an ideal mix: Two engineers, one business graduate and one horticulturalist; two girls and two boys; and two of them native to Skardu a place that probably has more apricot trees than people. I got interested and started talking to them.
Fast forward a couple of months, they decided to get their hands dirty and harvested, sorted, packed and hand delivered a metric ton of fresh apricots. In the end of the season, they had learnt loads, impressed their customers, and had themselves (and me) convinced that selling apricots either fresh or dried was a very lucrative business.
While I was engaged with them in discussions, I did a bit of homework myself. Pakistan is the world’s 6th largest producer of apricots (FAO 2016 data faostat.org) growing 177,000 tons each year out of which 120,000 is produced only in Gilgit Baltistan. Unfortunately the 1.8 million people that reside in Gilgit Baltistan (Burki, Shahid Javed (2015), Historical Dictionary of Pakistan) barely benefit economically from this agricultural produce. They waste around 50% of it, and consume the rest of it in various forms. On the other hand, global trade clocks around a billion dollars each year for the same commodity. This was surely a face-palm moment for me.
It was unfathomable that such a huge opportunity presented itself each year while we looked the other way, while continuing to complain about the state of affairs. Surely the youngsters had started chiseling away the top rock of a gold mine. And this is where I joined them.
Over the next few months, we conducted a survey, geo-tagged around 7000 apricot trees, spoke to 500 odd farmers, raised investment, built a processing plant, spoke to local leaders, government, investors, customers and everyone we could tell our unbelievable story to. We contracted our first 1000 trees by convincing the farmers that this was the future in January 2018.
This year is going to be the first season for full scale operations, when we sell organic, wild, fresh and dried apricots across the country and abroad. The fruit ripens in July.
Shazday’s processing plant when it was under construction in Skardu, Gilgit Baltistan.
Shazday Fruits, as we call the venture is aptly named. Shazday is a Baltistani word that literally translates to gift of God, and for sure Pakistan’s agricultural produce is nothing short of a gift from God. Having learnt so much, I am fully convinced that agricultural entrepreneurship is the easiest way to make the biggest impact in Pakistan, both economically and socially.
You can visit Shazday’s website at www.shazday.com
Or their facebook page at www.facebook.com/shazdayco
Ovais Zuberi is a supply chain professional and has worked with various MNCs in Pakistan and the Middle East. Loves working with startups helping them navigate through the challenges faced in the early life cycle of a company.