“I want to reach consumers all over the world who are looking for a healthy lifestyle and thereby, benefit my farmer friends”, says Veer Shetty Biradar, a farmer from Sangareddy district in Telangana State, India. He owns 13 acres of dryland and 5 acres of irrigated land growing sugarcane, chickpea, red gram, jowar, bajra, foxtail millet, and finger millet. But most importantly, he is the man who is inspiring farmers to grow millets – he is the Millet Man of India!
The farmer cum entrepreneur now owns a food processing plant, producing millet-based ready-to-eat foods selling them in his own outlet called SS Bhawani Foods, Hyderabad. Healthy millet-based products like bajra roti, jowari roti, multi-millet laddus, millet pooranpolis, chivda, namkeens, and millet malt are some of the favourites that attract over 200+ customers to his outlet daily.
Truck driver to forever farmer
Veer Shetty Biradar, the eldest of three brothers, belonged to a farmer’s family. After passing Std 9, he began to do odd jobs to support the family. Eventually, he joined as an assistant to Dr. C.H. Ravindra Reddy, principal scientist in the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). In 2014, ICRISAT tied up with Ramoji Film City to set up an agriculture theme park. Here, Veer began to get a deeper insight into farming. While working, Veer also attended classes via distance learning at Telangana’s Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University to complete his graduation. He continued to work with Dr. Reddy till 2016 while steadily growing millet on his farmland.
But one incident in 2006 changed Veer Shetty Biradar’s life. He was traveling for work in the remote areas of Beed, Maharashtra, and could not find any decent meal around him. It prompted him to think of producing food for future generations. So, he started growing sorghum. He mainly focused on sorghum and millets because of two reasons. Firstly, they require less water and continue to grow in adverse weather conditions, which benefits farmers. Secondly, millets are healthy food.
Value-added millet products
In 2007, Veer Biradar opened a small shop in Hyderabad selling jowari roti, but the venture failed because there was no awareness of the product.
In 2009, he entered the field of value-added millet products under the technical guidance of Dr. C.L. Gowda, Deputy Director General, ICRISAT, and Dr. C.H. Ravindra Reddy, Director, MSSRF (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation), Jeypore, Odisha, launching SS Bhavani Foods Pvt Ltd in Huda Colony, Chandanagar, Hyderabad, Telangana.
By 2016, SS Bhavani Foods had sixty value-added millet products made from sorghum, bajra, foxtail millet, and finger millet. Besides, it also ran an industrial-scale kitchen and a small restaurant to serve millet foods and educate people on the nutritional benefits of millets through posters adorning the walls. Shetty soon started to sell 3,000 rotis per day through this outlet. He even began to export 2000+ dry rotis, which have a shelf life of 6 months, to Australia and 400+ pooranpolis to Dubai every month.
Growing good eating habits
Veer’s multiple shops in Delhi and Hyderabad are changing mindsets and encouraging good eating habits among urban Indians.
Along with the wide range of millet products, he has recently launched Millovit Health Mix, an immunity booster to ward off Covid-19 infection.
SS Bhavani Foods Private Limited that started with an investment of Rs 25,000, now boasts of an annual turnover of Rs. 1 crore.
In 2016, Veer Shetty Biradar established the Swayam Shakthi Agri Foundation (an NGO) in Huda Colony, Chandanagar, Hyderabad. According to Shetty, “To buy a kilogram of seed, a farmer has to travel to the town. Even then, he has no idea of the quality of the seed he purchases. We supply quality seeds to farmers at their doorstep. We even advise them on what crop to plant every season, taking into account the market prices, the glut, and shortfalls in the market.”
The foundation trains and teaches farmers to cultivate high-yielding millet crops by taking new technologies to the farming community. The farmers learn about preventing crop diseases, rainwater conservation, vermicomposting, aerobic composting, improving soil organic matter, and the latest sowing techniques. The NGO even buys back the millets at a premium price for food, feed, and brewing purposes.
The Foundation has collaborated with MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) to train 500 tribals in Koraput district to make various millet products such as laddu, sevaiyan, chiwda, roti, etc. The tribals fondly call him the Millet Man of India.
Awards and Recognition
Veer Shetty Biradar’s work is acknowledged by various prestigious organizations and the Government of India. In 2007, he received the Best Farmer Award from MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Jeypore, Odisha. In the same year, he received two other awards – Dr. M.V. Rao Memorial Award from Professor Jayashankar State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) and the Best Millet Misharayya Award from the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR), Hyderabad.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) invited him to conduct his awareness programs in 8 villages of the Sangareddy district under their project, ‘Farmer First’.
Apart from all these awards and the recognition, Veer Shetty Biradar has earned the name – Millet Man of India.