Growing grass instead of poppy and yet making money
Making tea from Lemon grass? Well, it may sound odd, but Ragesh Keisham, a 44-year-old Imphal-based entrepreneur, has been doing it successfully for the last 9 (nine) years. Underemployed and struggling to run his family till 2008, today, he runs a business whose annual turnover is Rs 8 Crore.
Ragesh is the Founder of SuiGeneris Inc, a venture that has innovated and discovered a new variant of tea made from lemon-grass aka Cymbopogon Citratus, which is being sold under the brand name of CC Tea that is a 100 per cent natural caffeine-free herbal tisane loaded with scientifically proven health benefits.
SuiGeneris means unique or “one of its kind” in Latin, and Ragesh says he chose the name because that is what he has set out to achieve with his venture. SuiGeneris and CC Tea were launched in August 2011, but the legwork had started in 2007.
Ragesh’s tryst with agriculture started in 2005, when he started researching and brainstorming with many experts in the agricultural field about that one product which could be turned into a bigger venture. During one such discussion with Dr. M Ahmed, a senior scientist from the aromatic field, the perfect solution was suddenly evident and Ragesh was impressed by the numerous therapeutic benefits of Cymbopogon Citratus(CC). As some varieties of lemongrass grow in the wild, a very high yield was predicted for CC in Manipur. Ragesh’s quest had finally found a direction and he incorporated SuiGeneris Inc in 2007. Next he imported 10,000 saplings of superior quality CC from Indonesia in 2007.
Ragesh thought of an ingenious way to sell his product. During his research for CC Tea, he had read a lot about the impact of global warming on the environment. So he decided he would give talks in local schools, colleges and clubs about the subject. “I prepared a presentation of 1.45 hours where I gave a lot of message about global warming and climate change. I recruited 2-3 people who helped me take appointments from local schools, colleges, and clubs. In the presentation, the last 15 minutes I reserved to talk about CC Tea, and how global warming and CC tea are linked. Once the participants understood the problem of global warming, I told them we had to plant lot of trees. I asked young children if they would like to be my volunteers. Those who wanted to volunteer had to pay me Rs 100 per month and I would plant a tree on their behalf and they would also get a pack of CC Tea.”
From starting in a small 200 sq. ft. space to now a factory spread over 5 acres, SuiGeneris has come a long way. The company now employs about 2,000 women in its fields and has a team of nearly 100 executives who are responsible for the various aspects of business.
According to Ragesh, with the current machinery they are producing about 30,000 units of CC Tea – which includes 200 gms tea packet, as well as tea bags. SuiGeneris has managed to take 600 acres of land on lease, where production is currently underway in full swing.
Ragesh’s one packet containing 100 tea bags costs Rs 399, while the one with 40 costs Rs 200.
“CC Tea cannot be compared with conventional tea or any other green tea available in India because ours is a superior product. The same quality of herbal tea from China, for example, would cost Rs 1,500 per 100 gms. More importantly, our product has verifiable health benefits. We are collaborating with Dr Sachin Kumar, Associate Professor at the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT-Guwahati, who is leading the research on the health benefits of CC Tea. We found that on six human cell lines, CC Tea has innate immune-boosting potential and other anti-viral properties,” says Ragesh.
It is said that CC Tea has potent antiviral compounds to the NDV (Newcastle Disease), and JEV (Japanese Encephalitis Virus) besides boosting innate immunity to prevent the spread of foreign pathogens. The tea is also non-toxic at a reasonably high concentration. It is claimed by few consumers of the CC tea that CC Tea helped them sleep better, control their blood sugar levels and ease constipation troubles.
Ragesh’s venture has also had a positive social impact. It has already empowered the lives of more than 2,000 underprivileged residents of Manipur. His company takes farms on lease from marginal farmers, who were once illegal growers of poppy and cannabis. Besides, these marginal farmers are now paid separately if they work in their own fields.
It may be noted here that large-scale illegal poppy cultivation as a cash crop in the hills of Manipur has had multi-faceted disastrous impacts on the social and economic life of the people. Poppy cultivators justify themselves citing livelihood issues. It has now gradually assumed a near narco-terror/militancy funding base with the direct or indirect involvement of certain armed groups in the illicit poppy cultivation, opium production and trade. Cultivation of conventional agricultural crops such as paddy and other direct consumable items have slowly been discarded as growing poppy is found to be more rewarding.
Viewed against this background, Ragesh’s venture that promotes cultivating grass instead of poppy is a huge social boon too.