Ficus Biotech produces high quality plants using modern Tissue Culture Technology

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“Our business is like an antibiotic, you have to see the impact and the results” says Anuroop Manandhar the founder of Ficus Biotech Pvt. Ltd. The company has been actively involved in commercializing the plants produced from Tissue Culture Technology that have high quality at a reasonable price.

Read on to know more about this unique venture.

1. Can you give us a brief introduction of Ficus Biotech Pvt. Ltd?
Ficus Biotech produces saplings using Plant Tissue Culture Technology. Generally, plants are grown using seeds. But at Ficus Biotech, we produce plants from various parts of a fully grown plant. Likewise, the saplings produced from tissue culture are of high quality and are also free from diseases. 

We initially started off from Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel. It was more of an incubation period for us, we worked from there for about 1 and a half years. Then after validating that this particular idea of generating saplings using tissue culture will work, we established our own laboratory in Budhanilkantha and Jhapa.

2. Can you tell us more about the tissue culture?
Tissue culture basically is used to maintain and grow plant cells, tissues or organs in a given condition. It is mainly used to produce clones of a high yielding plant. Also, using tissue culture instead of producing a completely new variety of sapling or a plant, we produce the exact same high quality plant but we can also produce new varieties too. So, the offspring of the high quality sapling is also of the highest quality. In addition, this, using this technology we can get disease free plants and also produce the desired quantity of plants in a short time period which is not possible by traditional propagation methods.

3. What motivated you to be a part of this particular sector?
I have always been interested and passionate about the agriculture sector. Likewise, this particular sector has huge market potential in Nepal. Similarly, even though this sector requires huge capital and technical manpower it has a major plus point, we can see the impact relatively faster. So, these three things motivated me which led to the establishment of Ficus Biotech at the end of 2014.

4. You talked about technical manpower being vital in this particular sector. How do you get the desired human resource?
Like I said, this is a very technical area, so we need to be careful when hiring the manpower. We make sure that they are Biotechnology/Agriculture graduates. So, the people we hire generally have the basic knowledge, we simply provide them trainings to make them more polished. And currently we have 12 people working with us out of which 8 are working in the laboratory.

5. What were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Before we started, the market had already felt the need of growing and generating plants using tissue culture but this was limited to only certain plants. Farmers still were hesitant in adopting this technology, so it was one of the challenges. And to address this we demonstrated the growth of the plant for at least one season or one harvest and seeing the quality, now the farmers have started adopting the tissue culture. Likewise, coming from a non- business background was itself a challenge as, being a founder is not an easy job, you have to look after everything from finances, to retaining and attracting customers, eventually it became easier.

6. Apart from providing plants grown using tissue culture, are there any other services or products  you offer?
We provide the customers with the facilities of logistics for the products we have developed. In addition to this we also provide after sales services. We succeed when we are able to give the customers healthy plants that provides maximum benefits; so until this we are constantly involved with our customers. We make sure that the customer who bought our saplings follow all the necessary procedures, if there is any problem we work on the solution.  So, we are constantly communicating with our customers. Likewise, sometimes the customers are new and do not have sufficient knowledge; so we assist them and provide them with valuable insights. So these are the additional services we provide. 

7. Are the products and services of Ficus Biotech available all over Nepal?
As of now, we have reached around 56 districts. Different places have demand for different plants, so overall we have been able to cover all of the Terai where we have major demand for our products and services.

8. What are the different sapling Ficus Biotech offers?
Currently we have Paulwonia Tree, Bamboo, Pre-basic Potato seeds, Banana saplings, Strawberry and Pineapples. Likewise we also offer decoration plants like Carnation flower, Spider Haworthia, Aloevera and Anthurium flower. We are also developing Coffee and Vanilla saplings.

9. How do these products enter the market?
We have different channels in different places, we have B2B and B2C depending on the need. Sometimes, we have a group of farmers visiting us to get the products, sometimes we partner with cooperatives. We don’t have a fixed way of entering the  market. Since we are dealing with plants that are mostly seasonal, we don’t have a fixed supply chain. 

10. How is Ficus Biotech creating an impact?
Using plant tissue culture technology to produce and generate plants is not a new concept in Nepal. The government of Nepal has been involved in this sector; they have been involved in intensive research but the problem is that they have not been able to commercialize plant grown using this particular technology and we, Ficus Biotech Pvt. Ltd is doing that. In addition to this, along with large scale production and disease free plants, we are creating an alternative. Around 90% of the seeds that are used to grow the plants are imported. Rather than importing, we can use this technology where seed is not required to generate the plants and we can also get new variety of plants using this technology. Moreover, we are not simply increasing the trade, we are increasing the production. Our business is like antibiotic, you need to see the impact. So, these are the impact we have created.

11. Why do you think the government has not been able to commercialize this?
Using this technology to grow plants is not a simple job, it has a different production protocol and every plant has its own protocol. Moreover, developing a protocol for one plant itself takes around 9 to 12 months only if everything goes fine. So, it’s a long process and isn’t something that can be easily scaled up which I believe is the reason for them not being able to commercialize this. 

Like you said, the production takes a lot of time. How do you manage that?

Most of the plants are grown in spring and rainy seasons. So what we do is we schedule the harvesting period and the quantity we want to get and based on that we start the production process. We start the process 9-10 months before hand. 

12. What changes have you seen in the market for the use of biotechnology?
There have been a lot of changes. The market is moving upwards; it is true that our agricultural system is still traditional and not much technologies have been explored but changes are taking place. Farmers have become more aware of the need of using biotechnology to grow the products. In addition to this, efforts have also been made by the government; they have been involved in promoting this technology, it’s just that the effort has not been up to par.

Agriculture is a continuous lifelong experiment; so effort should be taken at each step to ensure that we can effectively and efficiently use biotechnology and to reap the benefits in both short as well as long run.

13. Is Ficus Biotech associated with any organization?
Yes, we have been collaborating with Seed Quality Control Center (SQCC). They give us the authority to produce seedlings. Since, we are working in the agriculture sector, we have to work with the government too, we need to get permission for them for most of our works and they frequently visit our lab. Likewise, we also work with the municipalities. 

14. Who are your target customers?
We have three major segments. First we have landowners who want to cultivate different types of trees like bamboo, Paulwonia as a long term investment. Next we have the farmers who produce products like banana, strawberry and potato.  And finally the third segment would be the consumer products like Anthurium, Carnation, Aloe vera and so on which are used in offices for decoration purposes. 

15. What are you future plans?
We have the plan of making our services better, we want to add up more services for the farmers and we are continuously researching on this. We are also planning on producing new variety saplings. Likewise, we also want to export the products produced from this particular technology and provide career opportunities to biotechnology graduates. We are currently in the growing phase and in the coming days too we want to keep growing. That would be our plans for now.

16. Any other information you’d like to share with us?
I’d like to encourage everyone to follow their passion, I wouldn’t say that the more youths should be engaged in the agriculture sector, rather I’d say do what you want to do, do something that you are interested in. When you are interested in something, you will always find a way to make it work. 

For more information about this company, check out their website FICUS biotech.

Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya