In conversation with Mr. Pragnanand. B, Founder - Managing Partner, Adiseshu Vanajakshi Institute of Natural & Alternative Systems for Health & Healing (AVINASHH)

AVINASHH - a partnership firm, Dr. Adiseshu Vanajakshi Institute of Natural & Alternative Systems for Health and Healing is a Health & Wellness organization that has been into research and development of healthy and natural products, especially Millets, since 2014. As a secondary processor in the millets industry, they got engaged in mobilising, motivating, and formalising farmers producers’ organisations (FPO’s) to produce millets for fair price avoiding middlemen. They were a key exhibitor at the premier edition of MILLETS INDIA. They also have been conducting, participating in local food festivals and Millet & Organic Melas to connect the urban consumers. AVINASHH has planned for an Interorganizational Nutrition research project with a sample population of 5000 children living in the remotest tribal, rural area urban areas of North Coastal Andhra Pradesh to study the nutritional outcomes of millet foods.

Let’s dig deeper into their business model, their plans for IYOM and their outlook on the industry as a whole.

Q. How are you preparing for the international year of millets? And what role do you think Millets India as a platform plays to support the industry?

After procuring the FSSAI license we kick started the business in Visakhapatnam City. The product was well received by the consumers due to its availability and affordability. This encouraged us to continue the business. Since then, we have been attending millet and organic related events and conferences that are happening across the country including Millet India 2022 organized by NürnbergMesse India Pvt. Ltd.

We got selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and received the first instalment of grant-in-aid under the RKVY/RAFTAAR scheme. It got incubated at NutriHub, Indian Institute of Millet Research, Hyderabad. We started business in our premises after seeking license. Recently, we had the opportunity to promote our products in ‘One Station – One Product’ – a stall allocated for a brief period under the Ministry of Railways scheme. Thus, the ‘local-vocal’ concept is being implemented.

With regard to preparation for the International Year of Millets (IYoM), our primary principle is to ‘catch young and engage early‘, to bring behavioural change among the children and youth as future is theirs. With an intent to create awareness around millet consumption we have been conducting sessions on the benefits of millets in various schools and colleges. Apart from this, we are demonstrating millet products and getting them taste the millet foods.

We are planning to make this journey of unorganised sector into an organised one.

I have been invited by Jagruthi MACTS as a Resource Persons to teach women to prepare millet products in MEDP Training Program funded by NABARD. The sessions included both theory and practical on processing, branding, packing, labelling and marketing of millet products.

We are also planning to demonstrate the commercial millet roti machine – ‘MilletMatix’, ventured by us in various tier 1 and 2 cities.

We are poised to start millet canteen in the premises of the Department of Yoga and Consciousness in Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. Hon’ble Vice- Chancellor of Andhra University has offered a space in the Campus to start a millet production unit. Students of the newly established Department of Food Sciences & Technology would learn about processing and entrepreneurship.

Under the National Food Security Mission (NFMS), a nutritious cereal component for Millet is being implemented in 212 districts of 14 States. Showcasing of India’s soft power to the G20 delegates turned the push towards increasing millet production will also contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

MILLETS INDIA 2022 was instrumental in creating a platform for millet based processed foods start-ups. The initiative facilitated Start-up products like ours enabling B2B possibilities.

MILLETS INDIA is a much-needed platform to seamlessly weave different stakeholders working in millets processing. We are looking forward to work with MILLETS INDIA to sustainably promote our products and innovation on long-term basis.

2. India has a rich heritage and a variety of millets. How are these different local varieties being taken into mainstream products?

India has a vast heritage of millets which have been mentioned in some of the oldest Yajurveda texts such as foxtail, (priyangava) barnyard (aanava) and black finger (Shyamaka). Through this we can understand that millet consumption was very common per dating to the Indian Bronze Age. (4500 bc).

Even today, Millets like Ragi are staple diet in many parts of India which can be consumed in variety of ways.

With the idea of going back to roots to stay healthy, this heritage of these millet foods can be taken to the ground level by creating awareness sessions to students, communities and conducting food exhibitions. This will help us to take them to wider population.

According to World Health Organization, Diabetes cases are increasing rapidly in India with an estimated 8.7% diabetic population in the age group of 20 and 70 years. Lack of gluten and complex carbohydrates in millet foods can be promoted to make India and world population healthy.

Incentives are being provided to farmers who are into cultivation of Millets. This are being done through local FPO’s and creating value supply chains. The contribution made by the NABARD is immense and laudable.

Millets are sustainable to the environment and hence their environmental impact can be stressed through the help of climate change agents.

Changing the form of millets into various consumable products such as Ragi Pizza, Jowar cake, poori, biscuits, cookies, savouries help to reach younger population who crave for junk foods.

By providing ready to eat or cook products we can make the job easy for many. The MilletMatiX machine which we have ventured helps us to produce 2400 rotis per day which eases the burden of human resources. Introducing technology into millet consumption paves a great way to reach to doorstep of everyone thus making them affordable as well.

Presenting case studies who lead a sustainable life through consumption through digital and social media. Reaching out to medical professionals to suggest millets into diet plans will be helpful.

Millet diet can be introduced into Mid-Day school plans and can bring conscious change in the eating patterns of people.

3. You have a very unique story of how you ended up in the Millets industry. Please tell us about your journey.

An unknown journey that begun in a small town Nalgonda. Born in Telangana region of erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh and in a very economically poor family, our staple food used to have major millets, especially ragi malt, jowar and bajra rotis. While our both neighbours, elders and children got infected by Chickenpox, a highly contagious disease caused by the initial infection with varicella zoster virus (VZV), we remained safe although we used to mingle with them. We never got infected that surprised our family doctor. After enquiring about our daily diet, he found that we were regular users of major millets, especially ragi malt mixed with butter milk. My mother used to give Ragi malt to us that helped us to stay healthy. When I grew up, I have witnessed the consumption of millets during my job in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu states. After I decided to work in Andhra Pradesh, I stumbled on an organization named Deccan Development Society, an NGO working on millets in Pastapur Village, Zahirabad Mandal, Medak District, Telangana State and Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN), a Public Trust, Hyderabad. I visited and tasted millet meals in Café Ethnic, Pastapur, run by women self help groups. I developed a taste for minor millets.

After my marriage, I relocated to Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. I married Sai Padma, who is a polio survivor and was operated 18 times, major being her spinal cord surgery. She used to take excessive drugs like antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines. She has reached a point where most of the drugs and diets have become allergetic. That’s when I have decided, I should do something improve her health. So, I carefully studied her diet and started changing one by one. First the composition of her diet and changed the staple diet to millet based one. We witnessed visible changes in her health. Gradually, she reduced allopathic medicines and now for the past 6 years she is not using any such medicines. The visible change in her health condition was noticed by her friends, family members and relatives. They started approaching me with a request to extend the same to them. These requests made me think to institutionalize the efforts. During this period my mother died due to cervical cancer and mother-in-law due to cardiac arrest. Hence, we established an institute in their memory. The name of the institute is Dr. Adiseshu Vanajakshi Institute of Natural & Alternative Systems for Health & Health (AVINASHH), a start-up focused on the principles of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Acupuncture and Acupressure. I focused my research relying on the concept: FOOD IS MEDICINE. I sarted giving customized diets to friends who wished to change their lifestyle and improve health condition. With their positive feedback and encouragement, I gained confidence, and started customizing ready to eat (Ready to Eat) and Ready to Cook (Ready to Cook) value-added products. I innovated millet flours. I conceptualized the MilletMatiX roti making machine that can roll out two rotis in a minute. The machine is still in its nascent stage. I am looking for investors. Many of my products including MILLEE received excellent feedback from customers, vendors and value-added product makers. M/s. AVINASHH is now recognized by Government of India as one among the promising millet start-upsI found my calling in serving people regaining health with these tiny grains but mighty ones.

4. What does the procurement process look like for a millet start-up?

It is a hard and tedious process. Working with unorganized farming sector seemed to be the most difficult part in the millet start up ecosystems. Millets have been grown and consumed locally in the remotest tribal and rural areas of Visakhapatnam, Narsipatnam, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and Manyam Districts of North Coastal Andhra Pradesh and even in other parts of India. We are sourcing the raw materials from these areas after mobilizing, motivating, and formalizing farmers into Farmers Producers Organizations (FPOs) to produce millets to buy back at fair price avoiding the middlemen. This is the way that we are mainstreaming different local varieties. I acknowledge the commendable efforts of the NABARD not just in the initiation of the FPO & Farmers’ Interest Group (FIG) and cluster approach concepts but also for the hand holding financial support for getting established. It has made convergence possible.

5. What kind of a national, health or social impact you are helping the public to focus on?

National Impact:

Conducting awareness and sensitization meetings amongst political leaders and policy makers. Indian Government has already been doing this and to create awareness, recently External Affairs Minister has hosted a Millet lunch for all delegates at United Nations Security Council meeting.

Conducting millet road shows thus ensuring visibility for the movement and making them available at every provisional shop or a grocery store.

Representing India in various international expo and exhibitions.

Designing conceiving and promoting child centric millet promotions through our millet breakfast programs.

Health Impact:

kick starting millet breakfast in various schools and Anganwadi centres through meal programs and taking research-oriented surveys and studies regarding the health impact of Millets.

Customising machinery and Technological solutions to accelerate millet consumption in value addition products.

Designing our products basing on individual health parameters. This will help in creating better impact than designing a common product for all.

Social Impact:

Establishing more farmer producer organisations and buying their produce from them enables to enhance their revenues streams.

Ensuring end to end supply chain logistics regarding the millet value chain.

Combining the efforts of farmers and women by bringing new players into the millet food business operation. Child centric product development and improving the captive consumption amongst the user community.

Training tribal and rural youth in this new business operations in different capacities facilitating job creation.

Consumer awareness and ensuring quality standard by FSSAI would enhance the demand for super foods.

6. Do you see a shift in the overall preference of Indian consumers when it comes to super foods like millets and organic food?

Yes, I do see the shift very visibly, amongst all sections of population of Indian customers towards more healthier options like organic and millet foods. But there are still a lot of myths and dogmas around super grains. For many consumers organic means very expensive and not easily affordable to common public. Similarly, there is another belief that that millet food is not tasty and it's very bland to palate.

Lot of consumer awareness is needed and should be planned by every stake holder working in this super grains millet foods domain. To do this, we have innovated foods that can be appetizing to the palate such as Ragi rotis, Dosas, Pizzas etc. The role of Chefs, both national and international play an important role in this direction.

Pandemic conditions has pushed Indian consumers to take immunity boosting foods seriously for their health and healing.

Now it's in the hands of every business owner, researcher to make that choice as a conscious choice with sustainable results.

7. Where do you think the current eco-system can do better to further support in increasing the reach of product like yours to the general public?

I have the following propositions to make our unique products to market.

Sustainable products take time to reach market and more available to general public. Exactly, that's where existing food Eco-Systems will come handy. Policies have to be modified to suit the start-up funding for research and development that paves way for more innovative and sustainable products, thus enhancing the achievement rate on World Intellectual Property Rights Index.

Allocating space and opportunities seamlessly to manufacturers like us.

Ranking to foods by authorities may be introduced based on parameters like low GI ratio, immunity boosting capacity, shelf life, flexibility offered to value addition etc.

By conducting theme wise and community wise food expo/exhibitions like healthy foods Mela, conscious products conferences.

When an entrepreneur sustains, he/she is encouraged to bring more products. Emphasis should be given to showcase start-up millet products in National and international forums.

Institutional buying and collective bargaining can be possible when millet entrepreneurs can be piggyback on current food Eco-Systems.

Customers wish to check healthy alternatives for their traditional and choice foods. But platforms like millet India can be of a great use by creating social media and mainstream media product portfolios of different vendors and millet entrepreneur’s directory etc.

Incentives to private investors would boost the millet ecosystem.