This Hyderabad couple’s organic seeds venture conserves native crop varieties, clocks Rs50 lakh annually

Seedbasket, set up by Chandana and Naveen Gade in 2016, was born from a desire to feed their infant daughter organic vegetables. From two to 1500 orders a month, Seedbasket has grown rapidly and is saving native seeds for future generations

Aruna Raghuram
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Chandana and Naveen Gade, Co-founders, Seedbasket

Chandana and Naveen Gade, Co-founders, Seedbasket

A passion for growing plants comes naturally to Chandana Gade as she is from an agricultural family. When she was a child, her parents used to cultivate paddy, cotton and vegetables. “I remember coming home from school and going to our farm to help my parents. I used to help in weed removal and harvesting the crop. It was fun. We never bought vegetables and would grow them in our backyard in our village Gundlarevu in Khammam district, Telangana,” says Chandana. 

Today, Chandana, 37, is the co-founder (along with her husband Naveen Gade) of Seedbasket Agro Services based out of Hyderabad. Launched in 2016, the venture, which started with two orders in the first month, earns annual revenues of Rs50 lakh now. Seedbasket gets 1,500 orders monthly and has developed a base of 30,000 customers in the last two years. 

Seed of an idea 

“After completing a Master in Computer Application (MCA) in 2010, I got married and settled down as a homemaker in Hyderabad. My husband Naveen worked as an engineer in a private company. My daughter was born in 2014. When she was six months old, we wanted to feed her rice and organically grown leafy vegetables," Chandana says.

"Getting the vegetables was tough. They were expensive and I was not sure whether they were really organic. That’s when I thought of growing leafy vegetables like spinach and fenugreek on the balcony of our apartment." 

The couple wanted to procure native seeds but found it difficult to get a small quantity. At that time, there was no dedicated online marketplace selling native seeds. They felt that many parents like them and health-conscious people could want to grow organic vegetables in their balconies or backyards. Why not build an online platform to help them?  

Balcony garden
Native seeds flourishing in a balcony garden. Pic: Seedbasket 

“I shared this idea with my husband Naveen and he liked it. We decided to sell native seeds and other gardening materials. Naveen helped me set up the website and with the digital marketing. It took six months to get the website ready. Meanwhile, we were exploring sources of seed procurement. We were in talks with farmers who use native seeds,” she relates. 

Also Read: This techie quit TCS for the love of social work; has conserved over 250 varieties of native seeds

One of the farmers who supplies native seeds to Seedbasket is Alla Madhu Babu, 53, who lives in a village near Bhadrachalam, Telangana. “We use ‘desi’ (native) seeds to grow our crops and also sell the seeds. Earlier, after harvest, we would use the waste material to feed our cattle. We met the Seedbasket founders at a function. Now we separate the seeds in the waste and sell them to Seedbasket,” he says. 

Madhu Babu has been selling native seeds to Seedbasket for the past four years. “We earn around Rs 2 lakh per year from this,” he says.

“We also collect seeds from crops that are growing well and dry and store them. We either use these seeds ourselves or sell them. The seeds require organic treatment before sowing,” explains Madhu Babu.  

Chandana also underwent training in home gardening. Soon, she was experimenting on her balcony. “Both the training and my own experiments gave me sufficient exposure to enable me to answer any queries customers might have. We started Seedbasket with an initial investment of Rs 1 lakh in our 2BHK apartment, dedicating one room for business,” she says.  

Also Read: How Tamil Nadu’s aeronautical engineer-turned-farmer is creating native seed bank to promote organic farming 

Benefits of native seeds

The benefits of using native seeds are many. Native seeds do not need chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Native seeds may give lower yield than hybrid seeds but they are also less expensive. “When we cook vegetables grown using native seeds, we get an authentic taste and superior flavour. The food is also nutrient-rich and healthier,” Chandana explains. 

Seedbasket grow bags
Seedbasket grow bags. Pic: Seedbasket

Another major benefit with native seeds is that they can be collected from plants and stored for use unlike hybrid seeds, which have to be purchased for every crop, she adds. Other well-documented benefits of using native seeds are that they require less water to cultivate and are suitable for rainfed areas. Since they involve organic farming the soil or environment does not get harmed.

Also, indigenous varieties of seeds are naturally pest-resistant and are suited to local climatic conditions. Some are drought and flood-resistant as well. 

However, awareness needs to be created about native vegetable varieties so that people will buy them and farmers will be motivated to cultivate them. It is essential to revive the use of native seeds to save them from extinction. Seedbasket is achieving this.

Also Read: Debal Deb: Seed warrior who has conserved 1,480 traditional rice varieties & shared them for free with over 7,600 farmers 

Initial hurdles 

“Our major challenge is the procurement of native seeds because commercial farming is becoming the norm. It is tough to get native seeds from farmers,” she says.

“We procure the seeds of some rare varieties in bulk and test them for germination quality. If we don’t have enough demand or if germination quality is below 60-70 percent, we have to discard the seeds,” says Chandana. 

The seeds are stored in cold storage facilities and used throughout the year.  

In the early years, shipping and logistics were challenges for the venture. Now they have been streamlined. Also, they were getting several queries from customers and spending a great deal of time answering them. So, they decided to prepare an instruction manual, which is sent with each order. 

seedbasket founders
Chandana and Naveen with Seedbasket seed packets. Pic: Seedbasket

The manual equips home gardeners with the following knowledge - how to sow seeds, how long seeds take to germinate, the sowing season, harvesting period, what types of containers to use to grow plants, the right type of soil needed, watering, how to get plant nutrients from kitchen waste and use these in different stages of plant growth, and pest control.  

Also Read: Aamon: Tribal women in violence-hit Bengal province triple incomes with organic rice; revive traditional varieties

“Covid was another setback and we had to stop our business for a few months. However, there was a resurgence in gardening as people were staying home and living in villages. Our business started growing thrice as fast after that,” she says.  

Native seed kits for India and abroad

“We procure native seeds from farmers and vendors across India. We sell 60 types of native vegetable seeds. If you include exotic imported seeds, herbs, microgreens (young, tender plants used in salads and as garnishes), and seasonal fruit and flower seeds, we sell over 200 varieties of seeds.” 

The top-selling seed varieties include spinach, okra, red okra, tomato, brinjal, coriander, rosemary, amaranth, red amaranth, broccoli, Indian round gourd (tinda), lettuce and white bitter gourd.

farmers and seed buyer
(Left) Alla Madhu Babu, a farmer who supplies seeds;(Right) Pradeep Mogilisetty, IT professional & Seedbasket customer 

Seedbasket also sells seed kits for leafy vegetables, seasonal vegetables and microgreens. People also approach them for customized native seed kits to use as return gifts for their home events/functions.

“We supply native seeds to Indians settled abroad as well who are interested in growing Indian vegetables in their gardens,” she says.

“We sell our kits to NGOs including HelpAge India and Centre for Rural Development. We also supply native seeds to NGOs that grow vegetables in government schools and use them in mid-day meals in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh,” says Chandana.    

Other products sold by Seedbasket are ‘grow bags’ (light, flexible bags to grow vegetables), gardening tools, coco peat (an organic medium made from coconuts used in seed sowing mixes), plant nutrients, cow dung cakes and pesticides like neem powder and neem oil.  

Also Read: V Priya Rajnarayanan: This MBA has saved over 500 varieties of native vegetable seeds; gives them free to farmers & gardeners 

Not just a business 

Chandana says when she launched Seedbasket, she didn’t consider it as a business. “Even today, if a customer is not happy with our products, we give them a full refund. We started making profits within six months of launch. We have a team of six people to help us. Currently, our sales are mostly online, through our own website and Amazon. Recently, we listed our seeds in supermarkets in Hyderabad. We are exploring other offline channels,” she says. 

organic bottle gourds
Organic bottle gourds. Pic: Seedbasket

Online customers are mostly from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi. Seedbasket has customers from Arunachal Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands too. 

Pradeep Mogilisetty, 37, is an IT professional based in Bengaluru and an ardent urban gardener. He has been buying Seedbasket products, their native seeds, vermicompost and grow bags, for over two years to grow vegetables in his balcony. The vegetables he grows include spinach, turmeric, brinjal (three varieties), tomato, lady’s finger, curry leaves, and coriander. Except for guava, dragon fruit and lemon, all the other crops are organically grown, he says. 

“Most of our requirements are met from our kitchen garden. We love the fact that we can just pluck vegetables and cook them. We find the taste of vegetables grown from native seeds far superior as compared to what we buy from the market. The native seeds I have bought from Seedbasket have a 90 per cent germination rate. Also, I find the Seedbasket founders are very responsive in resolving issues. They feel accountable for the products they sell,” says Pradeep. 

Seedbasket has started a YouTube channel to guide urban gardeners on how to grow vegetables in pots/grow bags on their balconies. “We have over 20,000 subscribers now. 

Future plans include expanding our business through offline channels and reaching more people in urban centres as well as villages,” says Chandana.  

(Aruna Raghuram is a freelance journalist based in Ahmedabad. She writes on women’s issues, environment, DEI issues, and social/development enterprises.)

Also Read: This septuagenarian Odisha couple has saved 1072 native rice varieties; shares seeds free with farmers

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