An IIT Alumnus quit his job for a community forest project. Sunith Reddy’s successful project called ‘BeForest’ has 160 farmers as its members. Sunith Reddy, who is an IIT-Madras alumnus, desired to leave the city in order to enjoy a more “sustainable lifestyle.”
According to the Hyderabad-based entrepreneur, ever-increasing urbanisation and busy lifestyles such as long commuting times and unhealthy diet make city living unviable.
Sunith Reddy explains, “Like many others, I felt bored of the stressful city life and decided to give it up, move to a rural location, and take up farming in order to reconnect with nature.”
Around 2015-16, he tried his hand at organic farming on a small plot of land near Bengaluru.
However, after the initial glitches, reality set in.
Sunith explains that he learned about the economic constraints of small-scale farming. I also spoke with individual farmers. Many people purchased farms and became weekend farmers. A handful were successful, but many struggled since the farm did not sustain them after a few years, or their excitement waned. Recurring spending, staff management, and infrastructure investment were financially taxing and presented new issues.
Furthermore, even if we were able to harvest, the quantity did not generate significant returns, he claims.
Sunith claims that speaking with many people helped him realise that full-time farmers who focused their complete attention on the effort fared better than their weekend competitors. Farmers that practised farming over a greater geographic area had a better success rate. However, not everyone can afford to acquire a huge plot of land. With the assistance of a small group of farmers, this is a possibility.
Sunith made a life-altering decision in 2017. He left his work to pursue a successful community forest initiative for others who share his views.
Sunith claims that at first, his friend Shaurya Chandra and five others joined. To begin their endeavour, they began by finding 10 acres of abandoned land in Hyderabad.
According to him, “The goal was to restore the land, and farming was not the primary objective. Small patches were worked on by the community, and they yielded results. We pursued farming because we were inspired by our early triumphs. Eventually, more people joined, and our numbers expanded within a year,” he recalls, adding that the programme was dubbed ‘BeForest.’ We constructed and managed a sustainable food forest and jointly owned living spaces based on regenerative agricultural practises, resulting in food, water, and power security.”
The idea grew into a startup that allows others to do the same.
Sunith explains, “There are many people who want to make the move to sustainability, and the startup helps them by allowing them to construct a space in a self-sustaining forest.”
The dwellings have modern conveniences manufactured from locally obtained materials, as well as a broad selection of plants, crops, and trees.
Sunith claims that community forests created by a group of landowners evolve in tune with nature, without disrupting natural wildlife habitats, routes, or hurting the lives of local populations. According to him, the collectives are based on permaculture principles — a natural design approach that makes the best use of resources available on site that complement one other.
He goes on to say that, unlike traditional projects, the land here is held by the collective, and that everyone has equal access to all of the resources, including the water bodies, hills, waterfalls, fields, woods, and other zones.
According to Sunith, the community members design a course for how each collective is administered and earn a fair share of the cash generated by farming and related activities at each collective.
He claims that BeForest supports and helps the process during the initial years for a price comparable to a small residence in the city in exchange for a percentage of earnings split over a defined period.
Sunith asserts, “The collectives are self-sufficient. They also have a lower energy footprint since they emphasise the use of locally sourced materials for housing. The everyday lifestyle is influenced by traditional villages. A source of drinking water is what these villages revolve around.”
According to him, “the ROI is assessed in terms of clean air, water, low noise pollution, and healthy, naturally cultivated food. The other returns calculated are the community’s common values and understanding of the location, land, and farming traditions.”
Sunith Reddy says that the community also functions as a network to help small community farms add value to their products and achieve a fair price through branding and taking them to the “proper markets.”
According to a source, 160 farmers are members of the startup. They are all part of a 400-acre community forest in Poomale, Coorg, and Hyderabad.
Sunith claims that two other collectives near Mumbai and Chikmagalur are in the works, bringing the total land area to 1,000 acres. Coffee, bananas, millets, moringa, and multi-crop vegetables are grown by the community.