The pilot who landed a farming career: Nameet MV
Nameet MV started First Agro to produce safe, healthy, delicious vegetables and to change the way we eat. It’s a passion that saw him quit his high-flying job as a pilot and flight instructor to chase a dream and make a positive difference.
Training for farming
Nameet MV is a subject matter expert in Olericulture– the science of vegetable growing -- hydroponics and Integrated Pest & Disease Management. If that sounds like a highly technical realm, it is. As a Co-Founder and Chief Production Head at First Agro, Nameet is a complete tech-loving farmer, delivering on the promise of zero-pesticide vegetables as he tills the soil and tends the land.
There’s a complex science behind what he does, but Nameet celebrates his produce with the exuberance of an artist. He can’t, for instance, stop gushing about the all-natural beauty of the blushing Heirloom and San Marzano tomatoes, and a ripening batch of Anaheim chillies get him all excited. While the harvest of his produce gives him the greatest joy, the deepest satisfaction comes from knowing it is totally free of dangerous pesticides, the overuse of which has been slowly poisoning an entire population for decades now.
When the seeds were sown
First Agro has its roots in Nameet’s changing perspective on how we were eating. Where most people saw a delicious plate of food, sauced with a flourish, garnished in style Nameet began to see a toxic mix of poisons. “I began to get increasingly concerned about the unregulated and excessive use of pesticides such as endosulfan in growing grains, vegetables and fruits in India,” Nameet says. In 2008, his brother Naveen, then Asia Pacific business head of Hewlett-Packard and Nameet, who was a commercial pilot in Canada and also a flying instructor in India, met in San Francisco and the talk turned to Nameet’s concern about the quality of food back home. He had seen up close the vast green houses in Canada and had also begun to fall in love with horticulture. During his free time he worked with local farmers there.
“My brother and I believed we could change the way we eat and came up with a business idea. Along with our cousin KN Prasad we set up First Agro, committed to growing pesticide-free vegetables,” Nameet says. They homed in on an expanse in Talakkad, some 140 km from Bangalore. “They brought their business acumen to the table. I had taught flying and knew the power of learning,” remembers Nameet. He believes Nature is the greatest teacher and went about studying several crop cycles even as he gathered domain knowledge.
“First Agro is the only company in India to reach the highest level of food safety according to the Codex standards,” says Naveen with justified pride. Codex is the global reference point that defines global food safety standards to ensure that consumers are not exposed to unsafe levels of hazardous and toxic materials through their food. Nameet and his team have been able to meet these standards by combining traditional farming values and contemporary technology, not to mention endless passion.
Turning a passion into a pay cheque
First Agro’s superlative range of produce – coveted by hotel chains, top chefs and customers who are mindful of what they eat and how it is produced -- now covers the gamut from the everyday tomato and bhendi to exotic Anaheim chillies, fennel bulbs and pattypan pumpkins. “From the early days when we had to listen to comments about our veggies not being ‘pretty’, our produce is now much valued by top chefs across the country,” says Nameet. In fact, the First Agro project includes a Chef’s Garden – a concept catering to star hotels and gourmet restaurants which want to give customers the farm-to-fork experience. But with its promise of zero-pesticide, First Agro produce is not just for chefs and professional cooks. “Anyone who’s concerned about what they eat should be looking in this direction,” believes Nameet.
While First Agro is constantly introducing new produce, it’s also expanding its retail network and some 70 % of their revenue comes from retailers like Hyper City, Auchan, More and Food Hall. Over the next seven to eight years, they plan to acquire 1,500 acres of land across the country and bring it under production.
In love with the farming life
In his mission to produce pesticide-free vegetables, Nameet spends long hours in the open, toiling in the sun, braving nature’s vagaries, introducing new varieties by sourcing seeds, getting his hands dirty. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. “When I hear people say they’ve eaten our vegetables and feel the difference, the freshness, the flavour, it makes everything worthwhile,” says Nameet, the pilot-turned-passionate farmer.
That commitment to making a difference is the key to all that Nameet has achieved at First Agro. It’s a drive anyone who wants to build a dream must possess, he says.
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