From smallholder farmers in India, Malawi and Nepal to the biggest World Organic trade fair in Germany
In developing an agricultural value chain, many perspectives and aspects must be taken into consideration; it requires a thorough understanding of the realities and challenges of the smallholder- farmers standing at the origin of the chain as well as all necessary legal- and buyer requirements to access formal markets. To help facilitate this process, I had the opportunity to visit a host of different places in the last few months and talk to the many actors involved, from the farmers and farm workers to traders and exporters, to buyers, certification agencies, scientists, and local and national authorities, all who have a role to play to get the food on our plate.

Today I’d like to offer a small glimpse of our work in India.

The Assam lemon, a hidden treasure in the North-East of India 

Our team based in Assam was excited to tell us about a local lemon variety – the Assam lemon (Kaji Nemu) – boasting a unique taste, sweeter than ‘normal’ lemon, much fuller in the flavor profile with a pungent and rich, aromatic scent. Its natural sweetness and juiciness have made it a local staple, ubiquitous in use across the region. Almost every smallholder farmer household in Assam, North-east India, has a few dozen of these lemon trees on their plot.

Something I had to see and taste myself!

Due to the lack of regional distribution centers and formalized value chain, these lemons are currently traded, almost exclusively, on the local market. With local supply exceeding demand, farmers fetch comparatively low prices despite the unique characteristics and quality of their products. Would it be possible to facilitate a premium and fair international value chain, which will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of these smallholder farmers?
To get to the bottom of this, I teamed up with my colleagues from our local office in Guwahati, India, in early June ’22 on an adventurous trip to meet local farmers and other relevant stakeholders.

Agroforestry at its best

I am very grateful for the warm welcomes we received from the community and the farmers from Jamogurihat, Sonitpur. The highly functional design of the ecosystems they created on their small plots left a great impression on me. Comprising multiple layers of perennial and annual vegetation, various crops as well as several animals, all have a function to make the farm run well without any external inputs. And yes, my colleagues were right, tasting these lemons are something else, nothing compared to the ‘normal’ Eureka lemon I am used to getting in Europe. Much sweeter, incredibly juicy, and just so flavorsome! A real treasure!

The farmers expressed their willingness and excitement to collaborate and join forces to supply for the international market.
Next up, we were welcomed by the governmental authority responsible for ‘‘The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development’’ (APEDA). They were keen on providing their support and knowledge regarding all legal things necessary to be able to export. They encouraged us to proceed and guaranteed their help!

We also went to the Biswanath College of Agriculture, Assam which happens to have a dedicated pilot farm for studying this lemon. The perfect place to discuss and learn about the best growing practices and the characteristics of this variety of lemon.

After a week of meeting relevant stakeholders, we are very positive that we can secure sufficient high-quality supply to sell on the international market.

With still some lemons in my bag from my visit to Assam, I accompanied my colleague Lennart (COO), on a visit to the BIOFACH in Nuremberg in Germany, the world organic trade fair that took place in late July 22. A perfect place to talk to buyers and better understand the potential demand for this unique lemon.
We talked to juicing companies, taste developers, and fresh fruit traders. We were overall met with great interest and excitement to research its market potential. The lemon could have many uses due to its high juice content and a new pallet of taste and aroma. Samples of the lemons will be sent soon to the buyers who indicated their interest. We have also learned a lot from the trade fair, and new questions arose. Can we also make juice concentrate in Assam? Can we use the peel and what are all the qualitative aspects of the lemon? Things we are working hard on now with the team in Assam.

Stay tuned for more impact products

Ginger and turmeric powder from Nepal

aQysta is not only active in India but also in Nepal and Malawi. We are actively growing high-value products together with smallholder farmers and connecting their products to international value chains so better prices can be generated. We also noticed the potential of other products. For example ginger and turmeric powder from Nepal and peanuts and ginger from Malawi. Crops that are subjected to oversupply in local and national markets. We are working hard on the necessary steps to meet all buyer requirements and to be able to open up export market value chains. 

How can you be involved?

Are you an interested buyer or do you know someone who would be?

Contact us to know more!

– Heleen Verbeek, Agronomist and Value Chain Developer