[Interview] Mariam Hussain, Co-Founder, Amader Khamar, Bangladesh
Mariam Hussain co-founded Amader Khamar, a research and developement project working with local farmers in Bangladesh, commencing business operations in 2019. The initiative was selected by the United Nations in 2021 as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world.
Could you introduce your company?
Amader Khamar (in Bangla; means "our farm" in English) is a social collaboration for developing an enterprise to create a marketplace for farmers and to develop an access to safe food. Amader Khamar is an initiative to deliver fresh and healthy food from farmers’ produce to city residents. Amader Khamar closely works with small-scale farmers (particularly women farmers) for growing safe and organic food inducing natural environments. Moreover, Amader Khamar also organizes regular training and mentoring programs for youth farmers and their effective participation in the agricultural industry. Our head office is located in Rangpur, Bangladesh and the outlet is in Dhaka city. Through collaboration with farmers, Amader Khamar also connects consumers online and delivers their needs (vegetable packages).
Were there particular circumstances in your community that led you to start your agri-food business and what support, if any, did you receive from the local government or your community?
There are two major reasons for initiating Amader Khamar - providing an access to safe food particularly for city residents and a direct market-place for small-scale producers. Statistics show that there are about 65% processed food or chemically induced vegetables in the market. The consumption of these foods also causes about 3 million people to suffer from various diseases each year. Interestingly, these numbers are only increasing which is directly a concern for public health. On the other hand, small-scale producers do not make profit or well-paid because of middle-business people that are directly associated with transports and high labor costs. Therefore, local farmers group together for sustaining agriculture and their ancient business for the future.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic directly or indirectly impacted your business operations?
Covid-19 pandemic has more negative impacts than positive. Mostly, we could not hold training programs and enhance our offline collaborations. However we strive to extend our work via online marketing, webinars, and discussions to look for possible investors and expand business. Moreover, there has been difficulty in delivering food during lockdowns and limited transportation. As the vegetables and milk (our products) are prone to damage without quick delivery, we collaborate with local delivery systems for serving our customers safe vegetables on time. This pandemic taught us a lesson on developing and expanding our own logistics with cold storage facilities while delivering safe food and vegetables to customers.
What other challenges have you faced in your journey and how have you worked to overcome these?
Besides delivery, the challenges also remained for communicating with investors and collaborators. During the pandemic, possible investors find difficulties in investing in our business which eventually affects our growth and outlet operations. The rent price also increased significantly which made us shift and close outlets. To overcome this situation, we mostly headed to operate our business via online and direct access from farming lands. Meanwhile, we also educate ourselves for growing our markets via technological development in operational services.
Describe what it means for your agri-food enterprise to be selected by the UN as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world?
First of all, it is an honor to be selected as one of the 50 Best small enterprises in the world. We feel very much supported and hold our strategies before falling apart during a pandemic. At the same time, we have developed a greater sense of responsibility to grow our business not only for the sake of making profits but also to share humanities for the people. As one of the best SMEs, we feel more confident that enables us to serve customers our best in order to grow a healthy city society. As daily consumption of food will never change despite any pandemic or disasters, we feel more conscious at our work that will grow more faith among customers. We aim at enhancing more suitable markets and sales from agri-food value chains to supply chains.
What is your vision for 2022 and beyond in delivering a more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system?
Amader Khamar is preparing for operation and more work in the head-office, Rangpur, Bangladesh. We are growing our products like farming inputs, farming technologies, and developing our mobile app for business extensions. Winning the competition for 50 Best SMEs, we are also working on a project collaboration with the agricultural ministry of Bangladesh to obtain a project: Nutrition in City Ecosystems (NICE). We also aim to grow more partnerships with more small-scale producers and local ventures to facilitate our NICE projects and business expansions.
What further support does your business and others like you need to create good and sustainable food for all?
To expand our business with more employees and outlets, we are seeking investors and sharing our potential to maximize profits and serve safe and sustainable food for city residents. Beside investments, we are also growing our networks for technological support for operating our mobile app and logistics in the next two to three years. In order to grow fast, we are expecting more support from the local government, venture capitals, and international donors to grow our funds and business capital. This will not only create youth and women employments but also will ensure practicing the concepts of safe and sustainable food among households.
What key advice would you give to others that would like to follow your example to become passionate, values-driven, innovative food entrepreneurs?
I think particularly as a growing entrepreneur that collaboration among experts and youth will smooth our business to row over the shoreline. We all need to understand that making food systems safe will help us grow a healthy society and beautiful environment. When we have safe food, we can stand fighting against any pandemic or disease. Therefore, we need to pay strict attention to our work from farming land to consumers’ table ensuring safety and maintaining future sustainability through our service and eventually our business.
Is there anything you’d like to add that you feel strongly about in providing Good Food For All?
Good Food For All, this is our basic human right. Manipulation in food quality or safety does not only violate our values but also puts us in danger and at a disadvantage when combating unseen diseases. We have to foresee our future which can mostly be ensured from safe and sustainable food for all, which is the root of changing immunity and humanity.
This interview is part of a series covering the winners of the United Nations Global Best Small Business Contest of Good Food for All.