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Sri Lanka: “Ever since we started, costs have dropped and economics have improved"

“Even greenhouses are relatively new here,” says Aneeshan, one of the co-founders of Honest Greens. “There were no high-tech greenhouses to be found, until five to ten years ago. Our farm, therefore, is something rather odd here. Many people are trying to work with hybrid systems, but the main problem is high humidity and erratic weather patterns. During the monsoon seasons, humidity could hit 100%.” According to Aneeshan, this causes many problems for greenhouse farmers, therefore the company wanted to come up with something consistent and controllable.

The co-founders

Boosted by critics
Sanuja explains that “compared to local lettuce grown by traditional farmers, we are more expensive. However, their prices fluctuate drastically, whereas our prices are always stable.” Sanuja notes that vertical farming is new to the country and that people were initially skeptical about it. “People think that our choices are unwise, given electricity is very costly here whereas the sun can be used as a free resource. However, we also notice that many others are fascinated about the concept, as it’s something completely new and unexpected here.”

One of the co-founders, Sanuja, explains: “We’re cultivating varieties that are frequently used in the Sri Lankan cuisine. As our country is an island, there are many fluctuations in product availability and price. With our technology, we want to cater to this inconsistent supply.”

Starting in 2015, Honest Greens has been cultivating several greens inside their farm, which is based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. As the team was new to the industry, they literately took the time to experiment, improve and build up the growing system by themselves. Ever since 2019, their products can be found in local supermarkets around Sri Lanka. The growing facility is 930m2 comprises, with a cultivation area of 370m2. This floor area consists of 10 stacked layers, upon which plants can be grown.

Entrepreneurial approach
Ashish, one of the other co-founders, adds: “We all know it normally takes a lot of time before greens end up on the shelves. We’re glad that we can now render more stability to the market and a guaranteed supply to consumers.” With the home delivery platform, Honest Greens delivers directly to customers, a feature that came in handy during the lockdown. According to Sanuja, the company is looking to expand and increase its product lines. “We already launched pak choi and are working on growing coriander and spinach.”

Besides national expansion, Honest Greens is also planning on taking an international approach in the future. “Once we’ve created a profitable and stable business here, we will scale our company to countries with a large population such as India and Bangladesh,” says Sanuja.

As Ashish Advani explains, their main goal is to give consumers better options in fresh produce available. “People need to eat and food insecurity is becoming a bigger issue worldwide. Countries should own their entire supply chain."

Opportunities ahead
To balance everything out, the team is constantly working on bringing down the unit costs. Unlike in other parts of the world, labor is cheap in South East Asia, so automatization isn’t a high priority, says Sanuja. “Ever since we started the costs have dropped and the economics have improved. We are also looking into solar energy, to lower our electricity costs.”

Ashish notes that the company can do better on CapEx, whereas in Sri Lanka there are many options for industries to use the roof space. “By doing so, solar systems and electricity can be put up back to the grid. However, it’s not really used so far, but as time goes on, in terms of energy, unique economics are ahead of us.“

For more information:
Honest Greens
Sanuja Cooray, co-founder
[email protected] 
Aneeshan Tyagarajah, co-founder
[email protected]
Ashish Advani, co-founder
[email protected] 
+94 11 702 4251