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Dindial Sikumar, Master Agricultural Innovator

DindialSikumar.JPGDindial Sikumar is an unusual farmer who moved from traditional agriculture to agro-processing and modern ways of growing produce. His company, D’Farmer’s, today sells pepper sauce to KFC. While his counterparts struggle in the sector to make a decent living, Sikumar has developed a unique model that delivers superior performance.

How did he do it?

Sikumar was born to a poor family of eleven in Bejucal, Cunupia in central Trinidad. His father like his grandfather was a farmer. They all lived in a grass roofed house that leaked during downpours. At the age of five he would accompany his father often at 1.00am in the morning to the market to sell produce and would assist in cashing. At age 11 he started his own enterprise buying and selling of produce. He would easily earn $30 per week, quite a nice sum back in 1972. He explained, “I now could buy my books and clothes and help contribute to my family.” This however, did not take away from his studies at Chaguanas Junior Secondary school.  He would later pass for St. Augustine Senior Comprehensive.

At age 17 he purchased two acres of land in Macoya while still going to school from his marketing of produce. He would buy a station wagon and use this to build his business. “I would use the vehicle to transport workers to the farm and then go to school and I would pick them up after school” he says. He did all this while studying for advanced levels and would graduate with passes in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

He chose not to go to university even though he had saved enough. Sikumar decided to make the leap from part time to full time entrepreneur at age 19. He expanded his wholesale business by selling to Hilo at its central warehouse. Hilo at the time would purchase at this location for all of its stores. He easily earned $600 per week. Sikumar describes his strategy as, “I would take the earnings from wholesaling and use it to buy inputs for my farm.” This marketing and production model worked well and at age 23 he got married to his high school sweet heart and built his home at age 25.

Always looking for a better way, Sikumar was introduced to the grow box method in 1990. This uses an elevated trough type system. He recalls, “I did a lot of research and took a course and read a lot of books.” His work paid of and converted his farm to this more scientific method. He says the benefits are higher yields, use less land space and fertilizer. He claims that he was the first commercial grow box farmer in Trinidad.

His innovative ways did not stop there. His production of seasonings and pepper had increased but he was asked by some farmers to go into processing. He formed D’Farmer’s Ltd and introduced fresh seasonings and pepper sauce in bottles. In 1998 he got a big break and supplied KFC with his pepper sauce in bulk containers and expanded to other fast food outlets. Not contended with that, in 2005 he purchased two machines that would fill pepper sauce into sachets and further increased his penetration and brand name recognition.

Today, D’Farmer’s still produce vegetables and sell to fast food outlets, operate as an agro-processor and gives contracts to farmers to supply hot peppers and seasonings for the factory.

All this has come with some recognition. In national agricultural competition in 2008 he won second prize in agro-processing and first prize in grow box production. In 2009 he topped it of with first prize in grow box production. He is also presidents of Bejucal Farmers and the Grow Box Associations.

Sikumar has plans for further expansion. He has decided to enter the plant nursery business. This new venture is located near his home like his factory. He germinates seedlings and sells to farmers. The Bejucal area is virtually the capital of the nursery business with some large players. This new strategy will further integrate his operations as he now grow seedlings, produce vegetables and seasonings and process these (seasonings and peppers) into finished products.

Unlike other entrepreneurs, Sikumar believes his business will have continuity as his children and wife have the competences to carry on. Two of his children have degrees in management and is employed by the company. It is typical in agriculture that children of farmers not to stay on when they get a higher education.

Despite the recession, Sikumar is not a worried man. He started his business during a recession and expanded it in the uncertain time of 1990. He feels that some of the lessons he has learnt over the years has equipped him to deal with any adversity that the world can throw at him.

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