Ferdous Biotech

Ferdous Biotech: Agriculture Powered by Innovation

Dhaka, BangladeshRangpur Division , Bangladesh
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$5 million+
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

There is an opportunity to transform food security in Bangladesh. What we achieve here can be replicated. This is a gateway into global food security. We have chosen potato as the staple crop to scale using tissue culture technology and researching into hydroponics to reduce the timescale.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if small hold farmers could plant the seeds that grew a society, economy and environment beyond aid?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Agriculture in Bangladesh is led by the ingenuity of small-hold farmers, and dominated by the power of importers. Most of the local seed is of lower quality than it needs to be and is prone to virus attacks destroying the livelihood of farmers who are unable to make surpluses and access higher value export markets. This creates conditions for food-insecurity, poverty, and unsustainable environmental practice such as overuse of pesticides.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

At the heart of the problem is the quality and access of the seed. Tissue-culture is the only way to remove viruses. Viruses cannot be treated later, and so whole crops can be lost. We are the only private sector (social enterprise) producer of seed seeking to innovate in this way, and the only one in the market trying to challenge the fundamental science to work alongside others like hydroponics to make the science commercially viable. The solution is simple - we have achieved proof of concept for the 5 year production cycle and now we want to scale. At the same time, we know that we can bring down the production period from 5 years to 3 years, and our current research is part of that solution in 7-10 years time.


Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Jabbar owns 3 acres of land in Rangpur that he has been cultivating for the last 18 years. He has grown rice, wheat, sugarcane - you name it and he has grown it. He had not been able to specialize in any crop because of inconsistent quality of the seeds, increasing price of imported seeds and fluctuating market prices. Since 2012, he has been one of our partners - he orders our seeds in advance, pays 40% and the rest after the harvest. We provide him year around customer service and he has no worry about any crop loss from virus attacks. He has now expanded by leasing another 5 acres. We guarantee the seeds and buy his harvest for export. At present, he is a potato farmer by profession and a proud father of his soon to graduate daughter.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We have produced 400 tons of seeds this year. We started with 60 tons in 2011. We have employed 1200 farmers so far in our production field, and sold it over 52000 unique farmers across the country. This year, we have contributed $400,000 to the agriculture economy and our farmers have used our seed to produce over $720,000 of table potatoes. 2400 children of our employed farmers have been able to stay in school and 7200 individuals have been able to access primary healthcare to date. At scale, more than 2200 farmers will be employed. 60% of these beneficiaries will be women. We will indirectly reach 2,000,000 vulnerable, low-income people in rural communities across Bangladesh. Over 400,000 farmers will become our customers with approximately 150,000 deciding to continue potato production the next year. In 5 years, through our potato, Bangladesh can expect $14 million in exports.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

LAND BANK - Agricultural land in Bangladesh is reducing by 1.8% annually. We are going to open a Land Bank with the use of a Special Purpose Vehicle registered in London. INTERNATIONAL FARMERS' ACADEMY - already inaugurated by the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh, it will be a platform for global and local scientists to work with our farmers to continue to innovate and not just in potato. FUTURES MARKET - pilot with potato seeds to reduce pressure on farmers cash flow EMPOWERMENT - in 10 years, we will be the first public limited company to be owned by farmers in Bangladesh.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

2016 budget $537,085 & $618,453 in 2017. This converts into 50,000 tonnes of seeds, at key stages of production. Research partnerships enable us to convert this amount of seed into up to $7.2m in Y3/4 otherwise $7.5m in Y5/6, by knowledge transfer to reduce our cycles & increase production rates. We are talking to investors & funders for the early stage Y1-3 to pipeline the Y4+ investment to scale & plan to grow the dairy & other product lines

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The Government produces 36,000 tonnes while BRAC produces 15000 tonnes Around 12000 tonnes are imported. Total demand is 700000 tonnes annually. While their production is also based on tissue culture, the former is the state and the latter is the largest NGO in the world - they do not face the cut throat nature of the market. We do and that makes us efficient and crave for innovation. That is why we are looking at hydroponics to reduce the production time, launch the SPV and secure the land bank. The vision is that future innovations will come from our farmers as owners of the enterprise.

Founding Story

The Aha moment evolved from 2005. I saw Bono's campaign for Live 8, and inspired by it, i dropped out of school at Grade 10 and started my organization. At first, it was a non profit donor driven organization. And it worked - I had projects funded by the UN and MTV, but by 2010, having been exposed to rural Bangladesh and meeting countless farmers and having tea with them, I realized that Bangladesh needs to get back to its basics. Agriculture is in our blood - we have been endowed with fertile land for a reason, and while I am proud of Bangladesh's growth through garments, we must infuse modern technology into agriculture so that it can drive our economy and feed itself.


1. Farzeen Ferdous Alam - Founder and Chairman, Bachelor in Social Science in Economics, University of Dhaka, Award Winning (UN and MTV) Serial Entrepreneur, Full Time 2. Dr. Ferdousi Begum - Co Founder, Managing Director and Chief Scientist, Bachelor in Science in Botany, University of Dhaka, Masters in Science, University of Dhaka, PhD in Genetic Engineering (Thesis on Tissue Culture), Bose Institute, University of Calcutta, One of the leading scientists in Bangladesh, winner of National Science Book Award, Proud Farmer, Full Time 3. Richard Catherall - Strategic Director, MBA, Founding Director of Katarsis Venture (Partner of Ferdous Biotech), Expertise on International Development with strong association with the UN, World Vision and other reputed organizations, Part Time 4. Moniruzzuman Khokhon - General Manager, BBA and MBA, National University, substantial experience in administration with prior experience in working with farmers in the local level, Full Time 5. Obaydul Islam - Deputy General Manager, BBA and MBA, National University, born and raised in a potato growing region, understands the market and works directly with our farmers, Full TIme This is the core team, while Richard joined us recently, the rest of us have seen this grow from the white board to the field and our strongest collective qualification is that we all have each other's back. As we expand, the most urgent matter at hand is finding a successor for Dr. Ferdousi as she is the most senior in terms of age and also because her function as Chief Scientist is at the heart of our work. This is why the International Farmers' Academy is so crucial as through it we plan to develop international standard scientists through partnership with the likes of the International Potato Center in Peru. The second aspect we need to consider as we expand is that we need to increase our field level staff as ensuring quality at every cycle of the seed production is crucial. The current average age of the core team is 33 and we plan to keep it around that range as we expand. We have to be young, we have to be crazy to be able to continue to innovate. At present, 45% of our full team (laboratory to field) is women, and we plan to expand that to at least 60%.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

From a friend

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder, Chairman

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

My first entrepreneurial initiative was to drop out of school at Grade 10 to open my NGO - OGGRO. I continued my education through the British Council as a private student and went on to university.

OGGRO began as a donor driven organization but in my pursuit of true sustainability I transformed it into a social enterprise in 2011. In line with stick to my guns, I did not give up on the donor driven projects when the funds dried up, instead, I transformed them into social enterprise.
For example, OGGRO's first project was Abling the Disabled (still continuing) through which we fund the education of visually impaired girls across the country. So far we have supported 67 visually impaired girls in 17 districts with full financial support such as tuition fees, school dress, tutors, and even employed visually impaired individuals and imported a Braille machine so that they can convert the textbooks into Braille for the girls to study. Why girls? Because being a girl in a village is difficult enough, being a visually impaired girl is even worse. With limited resource I had to focus on a target group so that there could be tangible change. The project was initially funded by a donor organization called NAASR, but eventually the funds dried up. I could not stop the project because I visited the girls at their homes and convinced them to go to school and I could not leave them in the middle of the way, so I started tutoring in Economics for well off students, and it soon turned into a viable business and the income I received from it was channeled into the project. Sacrifice is key for an entrepreneur, and I gave up on my wish to go to the US for my college education as the project was entirely depended on my income as a teacher. The risk paid off as soon the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAoC) gave OGGRO the prestigious Youth Solidarity Fund in 2009 for a project on Human Rights while the MTV Staying Alive Foundation (UK) gave as an award and funding for "Outstanding Achievement in HIV/AIDs Awareness" in the same year. These two funds kept the organization alive. Soon after I had a major car crash and for 2 months I could not teach and I decided that it would be too risky for the organization to sustain only on my income. So with a small amount that I was able to save I started OGGRO Stationery Enterprise, through which we trained our visually impaired girls to make school stationery which we then marketed to leading schools across the country. The business became a success and the profit from the business continues to go into the education of the girls while also generating employment for them. Many of the girls supported have passed through universities (first in their families) and are now employed or doing business and I continue to be in touch with them which is validation of my own life's purpose if nothing else. Realizing the need to diversify, we recently opened OGGRO Crafts, through a start up fund from the Prince Claus Fund of the Netherlands. OGGRO Crafts makes innovative handicraft products which are produced by underprivileged girls (including visually impaired girls) and while still growing, the enterprise is able to provide jobs and we hope to break even in April 2016.
My love for agriculture has also taken me towards the Dairy business. As an economist, I am keenly focused on market failures, because if we can minimize this, then the market, viz a viz social enterprises can provide sustainable solutions. The dairy industry here is inefficient, the milk is not pure and it is controlled by 3 major players. I like to break markets, and that's what I plan to do in my future, challenge the institution. So in August 2014 I opened OGGRO Dairy with my team with just 10 cows, and today we have a full pastuerization plant and a partnership with an american owned grocery company in Dhaka through which we are now providing high premium bottled milk delivery (first of its kind in entire Bangladesh) to households. The business is growing quickly and not satisfied and seeing potential at every turn of my head, my team and I are working on a new investment proposition for OGGRO DAIRY PARK, which will be based on 200 Acres of land and 1800 cows, the first organic dairy in Bangladesh with cows that can graze for the first time! The proposal will be ready in March 2016 and we plan to produce 36000 liters of milk a day and also begin Bangladesh's first processed cheese production. At the heart of it is a social enterprise because by producing high premium milk, my vision is to cross subsidize and provide low cost milk to female garments works who recently become mothers through partnership with selected garments companies. It may be mentioned that winning the Unilever Awards will help in getting investment for OGGRO DAIRY PARK as well.

Perhaps my greatest entrepreneurial initiative was the moment when I met Sir Fazle Hassan Abed, the Founder of BRAC, the largest NGO in the world and told him that one day, I plan to make OGGRO as big as BRAC so that it can compliment the over 120 million people that BRAC has already reached. His smile was acknowledgment enough that maybe I am on the right track.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Katarsis Ventures is a UK registered social enterprise and provides mentorship and advisory services on a payment by results basis.
OGGRO Dairy is a partner with us, enabling us to sweat assets, and share revenues to make our business model more robust.
Members of staff from the Commonwealth Development Corporation offer us mentoring to help build our networks for our research work and business model development.
Agri-Insight and Pro-Rustica are our chosen partners for the development of a tech-enabled supply chain and community of small hold farmers.
Yinmore (China) and Sunrise Potato are emerging key partners for import and export strategy.