Hilltribe Organics gives farming families a sustainable income
Eggs are a huge part of the daily diet in Thailand. However the mechanics behind producing enough eggs to meet consumer demand results in an abundance of large-scale modern farming operations where the chickens live in confined conditions and are fed an alarming number of antibiotics, hormones, and other questionable chemical supplements. This is what keeps the price of eggs low, but what’s surprising is how little extra it costs to purchase eggs made in a 100 percent organic fashion.
Take for example Hilltribe Organics, a Bangkok-based company that provides free-range eggs—which cost only about 5 baht more each than regular eggs—to several grocery store chains in Bangkok, including Tops Supermarket, Big C, and Villa Market. This company is just one of the many healthy food retail product lines from Urmatt Ltd, and the forward-thinker behind this highly successful enterprise is Arvind Narula, a businessman who manages to balance business savvy with social responsibility. But going green has never been just a case of jumping on the organic bandwagon because it’s a popular trend. Before getting into eggs Arvind was (and still is) in the agriculture business, and his operations have been organic for quite some time. In addition, his progressive business model puts an emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of which a large part entails making sure that farmers working for Urmatt are earning a good wage and not exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals.
Arvind’s career in agriculture began around 1982 when he and some partner investors began growing basmati rice in Chiang Mai. Success came swiftly and by the 1990s they were employing thousands of families throughout the north of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. And although it had already begun going green, the decision to go 100 percent organic was motivated by a singular, life-changing incident.
“We owned three or four thousand rai of farmland in Chiang Rai,” he explains. “I was out there one day and saw a farmer with an insecticide spray backpack, and a baby in his front pack. And he was spraying! I had seen that there were children in the area being born with defects, but when I saw this guy with the sprayer it changed my life. I thought ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. So I started to learn about going organic. We lost money for the next seven years, but I stayed the course, knowing that I didn’t want to use chemicals anymore. Eventually it took off and we’ve never looked back.”
But the story of Hilltribe Organic eggs began only recently, as Urmatt began launching several retail-ready organic products. It started with the eggs, but has since gone on to include Life Brand organic soluble rice bran, Perfect Earth organic chia seeds and organic chia pasta, and their latest product, Maprao organic coconut water. “We do retail, but we also sell to hotels, and restaurants,” adds Gaurav Sehgal, Arvind’s nephew and Urmatt’s current Director of Sales. “Robuchon, Nahm, Bo.Lan, Rocket, Bad Motel—they all use our [Hilltribe Organics] eggs.”
And it’s these humble eggs that really illustrate what a difference the company’s CSR has made to the farmers they employ. Each farming family that registers to work with Hilltribe Organics is given a total of 600 hens—all free of charge—as well as everything needed to set up operation, including organic feed (at no extra charge). Urmatt then buys back all the eggs from the farmers, giving them a guaranteed income. At first it all sounded to be too good to be true, but once one farming family tried it and prospered there were soon 200 more families eager to enroll in the program.
Since the launch of this endeavour the income of each family involved has tripled, but more importantly lives have been changed. “In a show of gratitude,” recalls Arvind, “one of the farmers came up to me, held his hand, and said, ‘I really want to thank you. Because of all you’ve done, my daughter doesn’t have to work at night anymore’.”
Find out more about the full Urmatt product line at: www.urmatt.com