Incofin & Fiedlin invest Rs 60cr in Kashmir-based horticulture technology enterprise

SRINAGAR — Qul Fruitwall (Qul), the Kashmir-based horticultural startup, becomes the first private sector enterprise to receive global institutional capital in Jammu and Kashmir.

Incofin, a Belgium-based impact investor — along with Fiedlin, an Indian growth capital platform for small and medium enterprise, have invested Rs 60 crore in Qul which serves 5,000 farmers and has an EBITDA run-rate of more than Rs 40 crore in four years.

The transaction not only opens the door for more foreign institutional capital in an untapped region of Jammu and Kashmir but puts the spotlight on the tremendous potential of its horticulture industry which supports the livelihood of half of its population.

Founded in 2019 as a tech-enabled integrated platform for growers, it covers the entire value chain from orchard installation, development and maintenance to controlled atmospheric storage facilities to digital supply chain integration with the national market.

Qul demonstrates a farmer-centric value system by collaborating with small and marginal farmers to strengthen their entrepreneurial capabilities. Through precision farming techniques and use of artificial intelligence/machine learning tools, it empowers farmers with orchard-specific predictive insights, market trends and pricing details. Its commitment to innovation, both biological and non-biological, is reinforced by strategic partnerships with global research institutes, nurseries and groundbreaking enterprises.

Qul leverages process and technology as transformative forces to enhance efficiency and sustainability in line with the global Sustainable Development Goals.

Khuram Mir, founder of Qul, who hails from Shopian, the apple bowl of the Kashmir Valley, said, “Our mission is to transform lives and improve livelihood by at least quadrupling in five years the apple yield from the current levels of 12 MT per hectare. Qul has plans to scale up its operations with this impact capital raise, that is socially aware and environmentally conscious, and intends to take this model to 30,000 farmers in the next few years. The company targets to cross revenues of Rs 1,000 crore in the next five years with strong return metrics.”

Qul has successfully transitioned more than 5,000 farmers to high-tech, high-density farming — a sustainable, scientific, regenerative and climate-resilient approach, leading to higher yields, better quality produce, and reduced farm inputs, boosting the farmer income by four to six times. The enabling policy environment in Jammu and Kashmir, along with the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture, serve as catalysts for the growth of the horticulture sector in the region.

Incofin and Fiedlin, see Qul as having unique strengths in operations, biotechnology and digital technologies which places it in a strong position to scale its model.

Commenting on the partnership, Rahul Rai, Partner at Incofin India, shared: “By leading this investment round, Incofin furthers its mission to back innovative agritech startups that make farming viable and sustainable. We are excited by Qul’s ambition to take Indian apples to the world stage.”

If Qul succeeds in achieving its goals, it will have enabled savings of 32 billion litre of water, direct employment of 3,500 youth in the Kashmir Valley and sustainable farming in more than 6000 hectare of land with farmers earning four to six times their current income.

Wim Wienk, Chairman of Fiedlin India, said, “Qul bundles the best of Kashmiri entrepreneurship with international expertise resulting in a resilient and sustainable orchard platform. State-of-the-art farm techniques are fully adapted to local circumstances thereby enhancing productivity, lowering farm inputs and thus increasing farmers’ incomes. Qul’s early stage profitability underscores the viability of the orchard platform. The scalability makes our investment in Qul appealing.”

Qul’s current operations are focused on apple value chain, which is the largest temperate crop in the region, with more than 1.6 lakh hectare of land dedicated to apple cultivation. Qul has already initiated research work in other fruit categories and plans to enter other fruit segments such as cherries, plums, kiwis, pears, etc.

With a strong commitment to cutting-edge technology, sustainable practices and farmer welfare, Qul is poised to lead the way in transforming horticultural farming, boosting yields and ensuring a prosperous and sustainable industry for temperate crops.

The equity infusion reflects the confidence of Incofin and Fiedlin in Qul’s vision, paving the way for a brighter and more resilient future for temperate crops not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but the entire Himalayan region.

The name ‘Qul’, a Kashmiri word for tree as also the entire universe in Arabic, is a symbolic representation of being in the business of the “universe of trees”.

Apart from the obvious operational relevance, it seeks to represent the social and spiritual connotation of a business which draws from nature only to give back more wealth and wisdom like the fabled speaking tree of the orient.

Inval acted as exclusive strategic advisor to Qul for this transaction.

Inval is an advisory outfit started by senior development banking and corporate advisory professionals to provide advisory ecosystem to small and medium enterprises in tier-II and tier-III cities of India with an aim to support and unshackle the entrepreneurship in micro-markets of India where aspirational entrepreneurs looking to transform their profitable businesses into sustainable organisations. — (IANS)