Hyderabad-based start-up Beforest launches permaculture projects


Going beyond farming, Hyderabad-based sustainability start-up Beforest has begun implementing permaculture practices on a large scale spanning over 100 acres each in six places across Telangana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

Permaculture is growth of agriculture systems in a self-sufficient and sustainable way. Beforest’s approach is to acquire large areas of land running into at least 100 acres and set up communities or collectives, where the inhabitants grow their own food.

These are like mini-villages that are not some 100-200 acres that function as a mini-forest. Houses occupy only 10-15 per cent of the landscape with food-growing areas making up the rest. 

Sunith Reddy, CEO and co-founder, Beforest

Sunith Reddy, CEO and co-founder, Beforest

 “It’s not about just growing food. We have to grow food in a way where soil is continuously getting enriched. There is diversity being introduced into the ecosystem and it is all done in a way independent of humans, just like a forest. We call it food forests and they rely on the permaculture framework,” said Sunith Reddy, CEO and co-founder of the company.  

Beyond farming

Beforest approach goes beyond farming. “It is  about cultivating a forest-friendly lifestyle that addresses the broader goals of forest restoration and conservation,” he told businessline in an online interaction. The approach of Beforest, launched in 2018, is not to set up just farms but communities that thrive on  shared values and aspirations, particularly sustainability. 

“We went back to the drawing board to start from scratch to create a farming community. We wanted to acquire a large enough landscape,” Reddy said. 

Beforest looked at creating a collective that is self-contained with each one costing between ₹50 and ₹100 crore. This led to the creation of the Hyderabad collective. The company wanted to create a secure landscape with food, water and power. It reached out to an urban audience to see if anyone was interested. 

Adding more

“People who have always dreamed of their own farmhouse ended up buying a collective ownership of these large landscapes. So that’s why we call them collectives.  We now have hospitality also in our collectives. We have food production and value-added produce,” said Reddy.

That was in Hyderabad. After that Beforest has come up with three such collectives in Kodagu in Karnataka, one near Mumbai and another near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh with a total of a little over 1,000 acres. “Eventually over the next decade, we want to do at least 10,000 acres of self-sufficient landscapes. The landscape is meant for anybody who is looking to buy a farm but with an undivided ownership,” he said.

The structure of these collectives depend on the law of the State where the land is acquired. Sometimes it’s a limited liability partnership. Sometimes it’s a private limited company. But the idea is to work like a co-operative,” said the company’s CEO and founder.

No easy entry

For someone wanting to be part of the collective, things don’t end with applying or approaching the company. “Roughly, one in seven applicants is selected. The six collectives of the company are owned by 200-plus families selected from about 1,500 applicants,” he said. 

One of the features of Beforest’s acquisition is that it does not look at a property unless it is confident that it can rejuvenate. “Our eventual goal is to grow food — everything — that sits in a regular kitchen. At this point, the collective in Hyderabad grows a lot of rice, millets, vegetables and fruits. The Kodagu collective grows coffee, cardamom, pepper, avocados and dragon fruits. Each of the collective produces 20 to 25 crops, he said.

In fact, Beforest has two types of collectives — farming and wilderness. Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bhopal are farming collectives. “The idea is for mainstream living, especially for professions which don’t require you to go to office. Okay. You can say about 80 per cent of our members in these collectives on a daily basis. These people are looking to move there as soon as their houses get ready,” he said. 

The wilderness collective is a pure conservation effort. “We enter a nature-dominated zone and create an economic model. Like the Poomaale coffee estates. We make sure the coffee is grown in a manner where it’s adding to the diversity,” said Reddy. 

Mixed responses

The farming and other operations are taken care of by the inmates themselves who are asked to consider themselves as CEOs. “If a member has some very clear ideas or experiments they want to try again, Beforest is the enabler to make it happen. An example is our Hyderabad collective, which is situated in a dry area,” he said.

In fact, the collective grows ample food for 88 persons who are set to occupy the collective. 

Growing rice was beyond the company’s imagination but a member came forward with the idea of doing dry land farming. ”Now, we are able to do about 2-2.5 tonnes of rice which is more than enough for our collective members,” said Reddy. 

While Beforest met with a good response from a city like Hyderabad, it did not draw a similar response for a place near Bengaluru. “When we plan to do something at a place, we announce it by word of mouth or social media. People then come forward. Also, we look into dry and barren landscapes which are not conventional,” he said.

Each collective kickstarts an entire economy in the area which is sustainable. Beforest uses this opportunity to “upskill local people and employ them”. For example, in Hyderabad, Beforest constructed the houses with compressed mud blocks. For this, brick makers were trained resulting in new business income for the makers. 

Own brand

In Karnataka, the collectives engage coffee husking and roasting units. Besides, each collective employs at least 20 families. In the short-term, these collectives could create 100 jobs each, he said. 

Beforest has launched retail chains, where its collectives’ produce is sent beside friends. The company has now created a supply chain linkage and marketing it under the brand name “Bewild”. Most of the coffee, cardamom, pepper, honey vegetables, jams and surplus rice are marketed under the Bewild brand. “We were recently recognised as the producer of the best robusta coffee,” said Reddy.

The company is asking neighbours of its collectives to grow crops such as vegetables in the same way it grows. This also gives rise to micro-enterprise, another employment opportunity. It has also begun processing agricultural produce into jams and pickles. “We also process some wild produce that have to be processed as they cannot be consumed fresh. These turn sour 10-12 minutes after harvest. We are also trying to create forgotten foods,” he said. 

Though Beforest puts up Bewild brand produce on sale, the company’s philosophy is that they should first cater to its members and staff. 

“These are measures that will ensure sustainability in the long term. This includes bio-diversity checks. We have four returns framework – return of inspiration, social capital, natural capital and financial return.  


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