Scientist and social entrepreneur Dr Deborshi De talks about his journey so far in the realm of food security and sustainable food production and what lies ahead…
When scientist and social entrepreneur Deborshi De came across his contemporaries who were settled abroad, having the best of opportunities, he often found them dismissing any chances of equally making a mark in their homeland, saying, ‘None of these pan out back there’. Deborshi, who has always been driven by the idea of a sustainable way of living and nation building, begs to differ. He says, ‘Nothing really works anywhere. You always have to make it work. I feel the country has given me a lot. If I am to change the country, the only way to do it is by staying here and doing work on a grassroots-level.”
Deborshi, who has a PHD in Plant Molecular Medicine and Nutrigenomics from Colorado Technical University, USA, has been a facilitator in the United Nations’s flagship capacity-building programme UNCTAD-Empretec, by closely working with the government to make use of entrepreneurship as a means out of poverty. He is currently the National Level Resource Person, FOSTAC-FSSAI, Government of India. These are just a few among the long list of achievements and qualifications he has to his credit.
Having started working at the young age of 12 because of adverse financial situations, years later, maintaining the wellbeing of people around him through the maxims of food, security, safety and hygiene has always been his perennial goal in life.
“My life is a mix of food, agriculture and life science. I come from a very middle class background and I have started earning from a young age to sustain myself. Fortunately, the educational institutions I have been part of have lent their apt support to me. I realised that the only way to come out of this poverty was through the means of science,” he says.
Deborshi has had hands-on experience in marketing, business development, PR, factory setup, product development, agriculture, contract farming, finance and costing systems and allied operational aspects.
Lack of experience working in the grassroots or knowledge about it among people prompted him to start Vedantic Organic Research Foundation (VORF ) and Smart Management Consultancy (SMC). “While SMC delves on food, food safety and security solutions, VORF revolves around sustainable agriculture and applied life science activities. So, the idea is pure food for all. With that, VORF will take care of the agriculture part, SMC would come into place, in connection with retaining the food safety after processing, eventually being the bridge.”
Deborshi adds that SMC was conceptualised in 2013, and is led by the food technologists for the food technologists, with around 30 of them as staff. VORF, on the other hand, has three scientists. SMC is based out of Kolkata and has branches in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, West Bengal and in Assam, in addition to a small office in Delhi. VORF is exclusively located in Kolkata. Their primary focus has been to give access to technology, market and funds.
Apart from Jammu and Kashmir, he has had the experience of working mostly in all other parts of the country. “The journey to the hinterlands, towns, rivers, cities and villages has taught me to handle diversity and helped improve my leadership qualities.”
The COVID scenario has only reinforced what his organisation has been trying to convey about sustainable practices, food, health, safety and hygiene. “I tell them about health and hygiene. Food quality maintenance has become stark in the light of Corona now. It has also helped our clients realise how it is important to maintain a safe hygienic ecosystem.”
“In the last seven months, we have come to certain pockets in North and South India. We are pretty strong in the North East. These startups will remain only in terms of revenue. But the fact that how many lives we are able to touch, with regard to nation building, is what matters to me,” he adds.
He is also preoccupied with all things artistic, which have gotten him the name of a visual storyteller. ”I create idols, clay models and paintings. I convey complex scientific thoughts through simple drawings, images and cartoons. I have trained over 10,000 people in my career. I am also helping out artisans of Bengal. I also have around 15 artists in the studio, whose products I help find a market for.”
Deborshi says it is heartening when he is able to inspire at least 10 people. “I have mentored a lot of students and imparted training to many of them, Many of them are in prominent positions themselves, and the fact that wherever they are, they would be taking along the ideals of nation building and sustainable agriculture I have tried to foster in them is itself pure joy to me. My success lies in there.”