Zizira – shouldering the responsibility in a farmer’s journey

Zizira, an e-commerce business initiative that was started in 2015 is receiving due recognition and acknowledgement in the region. Its primary vision was to help farmers, hence right from its formative years, they decided to work directly with farmers, going through the painstaking process of finding and connecting with farmers on their own. Their approach was unique. They wanted the business to develop the people working in it, so, instead of hiring professionals, they decided to recruit individuals with the right values and the ability to learn the skills needed on the job.

Zizira was founded by Ralph Budelman and it deals with spices and herbs, as he visioned to pioneer the development of natural products, proving the underutilized potential of North East India in a way that sparks a movement. As fascinating as the name may sound, this company runs on a “Profit with a Purpose” motive, wherein it aims to achieve certain social, environmental, and community benefits through the business and channel a portion of the profits garnered towards these goals. The word ‘Zizira’ does not have any meaning behind it. However, the intention is to define the meaning of Zizira through its actions, and that is to stand for purity.

Interestingly, the founder, Ralph Budelman, started Chillibreeze, a successful PowerPoint formatting service company for consulting Firms and Companies. This happened in 2004. The founder was influenced by the potential he saw in the youth of the North East. He wanted to ensure that this potential did not go to waste, so he started Chillibreeze to generate employment and offer better opportunities for deserving individuals. Along the way, Ralph Budelman also got to notice the agricultural resources that North East India had to offer that were being severely underutilized, especially in Meghalaya. So, ten years after Chillibreeze’s inception, Ralph Budelman took another leap of faith and launched a pioneering initiative called Zizira. The venture started with Lakadong Turmeric which stood significantly superior to its regular counterparts and the irony was that it was mostly unknown to the rest of the world. The intention was to market this high-value turmeric and establish a name for itself and Meghalaya as a whole and that was when it was decided that Lakadong Turmeric would be the flagship product for this company.

Its processing is done here in the city itself, whereby the turmeric is procured from the farmer partners who bring the raw product to the warehouse. Once the company procure the turmeric, it is processed in the small-scale in-house processing units. The team then carefully processes it using manual labour to make sure there is no contamination. The first step involves washing the turmeric and ensuring that it is free of dirt and debris. Next, the turmeric goes into the slicer machine where it is thinly sliced and dried up. The drying process involves using a solar dryer and a batch dryer for a duration of two to three weeks. After it is dried up, it goes into the pulveriser, where they are grinded into a fine powder and then sieved to make sure they are free of lumps. Finally, the powdered turmeric is stored in GrainPro bags before it is securely packed and shipped. The finished product consists of two variants of turmeric, one is the 10-12 per cent curcumin Lakadong Turmeric which is priced at Rs. 699 for 150 gms and the second is the 7-9 per cent curcumin Lakadong Turmeric which is priced at Rs. 699 for 300 gms. In 2019, Zizira sourced 13 tons of turmeric, which later was increased to 115 tons in 2020 due to its high demand. Post-Covid, people started understanding the value of good quality spices and appreciated its benefits. However, the process is not that simple as can be imagined. The raw products are bought at Rs. 40 per kg and to be able to convert it into powder form, it takes at least 6 kgs to get 1 kg of powdered turmeric. It may be mentioned here that the sourcing of turmeric is done from farmer partners who use only traditional methods of farming i.e., farms that do not use any form of chemicals or pesticides. The check is done often by sending out batches of the product to various FSSAI labs in the country to confirm its authenticity. The farmer partners are all from within the State of Meghalaya. They mostly consist of farmers settling on the outskirts of Shillong from various districts such as the Ri-Bhoi District of Meghalaya and West Jaintia Hills District. Organic farms are difficult to come by here in the North East as many farmers do not have the certification. Hence, Zizira focus on the farming practices of the farmers. They inspect everything – from the soil quality, the type of fertilizers used and if any pesticides are used. In the process, the team has been able to build a good relationship with the farmers whose relationship goes beyond being merely transactional. Zizira sources the produce from the farmers whom they have established close connections with and hold very dearly. There is also a member of the sourcing team who seeks out farmers who are in need of a market for their products and builds a network with them. This in turn has been proved beneficial for the farmers as they also get reliable people or market to earn a decent amount for their produce.

Besides showcasing the high curcumin Lakadong Turmeric powder, another standout product of Zizira is honey. Zizira sources honey from traditional beekeepers which is in the purest and the rawest form. Its honey has also passed the NMR test. Another top product is Ginger powder (Ing Makhir) which is a rare variety of ginger that is valued for its potency and has been used in traditional folk medicine in Meghalaya for centuries. Other products include honey variants and honey infusions, herbal teas such as Roselle tea and Valerian tea, turmeric blends such as our Turmeric Latte and Lakadong Mirch, dried herbs such as Long Pepper, Lemongrass, among others. Zizira ship its products all over India and its customer’s base mostly consists of conscious consumers who reside in the mainland cities who do not have access to the unique and authentic herbs and spices from the North East.

While there is a lot of reluctance to operate businesses and companies in the city, the founders of Chillibreeze and Zizira (Ralph and Joanna) were told many foreboding tales about how no business venture thrives in the North East. They, however, did not give in to hearsay and decided to pursue their vision of starting Chillibreeze anyway. Soon enough, as Chillibreeze grew and eventually became a successful company, it stood as a living testament against the sceptical cautionary tales. Zizira was born, and it is on its way to following Chillibreeze’s footsteps. A lot of Chillibreeze’s and Zizira’s success accounts for the culture behind the companies and the sheer determination of the team to succeed and thrive. Chillibreeze believes that the principle “swimming upstream” is the right way to go. This only means to suggest that they are doing what nobody is willing or capable of doing and yes, they have done so in a meaningful and impactful manner.

farmer in a farm

In a gist, Zizira believes that the North East has a lot of potentials, but as tribals, the upbringing has been as such that pioneering and thinking out of the box is not a normal norm. Youth should be courageous enough to challenge these misconceived notions and work towards achieving their vision. Potential shouldn’t be hindered by fear or uncertainty as grit and determination can prove wonders. While thriving towards expanding itself, Zizira has now grown to include two new locations: two in-house processing units, one in Saphai in Laskein, Jaintia Hills District and one in Umshing- Mawkynroh in Shillong, East Khasi Hills District.

Zizira desires to provide the best to its customers, which is why the entire processing is done in-house, to ensure total accountability on purity and quality. Its motto “Making Farmers Famous” is humble yet a far fetch approach to not only bring sustainability but deserving acknowledgement and appreciation to our hardworking farmers. At 70, Ralph Budelman remains the CEO of Zizira while his wife Joanna works with Chillibreeze. In a larger picture, even as the CEO, he has given a young team consisting of 16 employees, led by Kimbretta Khongwir, to have full liberty to operate Zizira using their own direction and discretion while upholding his vision.

This post was taken from Meghalaya Times.

(The writer could be reached at maxwell.lyngdoh@gmail.com

- Maxwell Lyngdoh

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published