Purnima Khandelwal’s INI Farms has connected over 5,000 small-scale Indian farms with food retailers around the world through an innovative “farm to fork” model.
Purnima Khandelwal is the co-founder and CEO of InI Farms, which has a strong focus on efficient operations, equal pay and treatment for women, and farming practices that are environmentally safe and sustainable. Photograph courtesy Purnima Khandelwal
This is the second in a four-part series showcasing successful female CEOs in India.
With operations across eight states and 35 countries, InI Farms is one of the most creative, successful and progressive fruit suppliers in India. The company specializes in bringing fresh food to consumers as directly as possible via an innovative “farm to fork” model and has connected over 5,000 small-scale farms with food retailers around the world.
Purnima Khandelwal is the co-founder, CEO and visionary behind InI Farms. After studying economics and business at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and T A Pai Management Institute, Manipal, Khandelwal built a successful consulting firm that focused on areas including technology, engineering and agriculture. Through her work, she was surprised to discover that India’s fruit industry was fragmented and ripe for innovation. Khandelwal co-founded InI Farms in 2009 with a strong focus on efficient operations, equal pay and treatment for women, and farming practices that are environmentally safe and sustainable.
Today, Khandelwal has grown InI Farms into a worldwide success. The company has exported over 40,000 tons of fresh bananas, pomegranates and other foods to the global market, including Malaysia, countries in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. InI Farms’ expansion shows no signs of slowing.
“I am happy to see that our hard work and determination have paid off,” Khandelwal says. “When I began my journey with InI Farms, India had almost no presence in the international market due to limited post-harvest mechanisms and export channels, and lack of expertise. The opportunity for growth was humongous.”
Seizing such a tremendous opportunity wasn’t easy though. Among other challenges, Khandelwal had to work hard to overcome preconceptions and prejudice among farmers and businessmen who had never worked with a female executive before. “When I started my career in agriculture, it was mostly a male-dominated sector,” says Khandelwal. “That did not deter me from being an entrepreneur. I had complete trust in the vision of the company and had the drive to create a valuable global brand.”
Khandelwal has been encouraged by how attitudes have changed within her industry over the years. “Women have played a crucial role in agricultural and allied fields since the very beginning,” she says. “Today, it is inspiring to see women progress from just being farm labor to positions of leadership in the agricultural ecosystem and elsewhere.”
InI Farms’ success captured the attention of financiers seeking to provide support for the business and contribute to its growth. In October 2019, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a U.S. government agency that transformed into the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) later that year, the Ford Foundation and Citi Inclusive Finance introduced Scaling Enterprise, a $100 million loan guarantee facility. This facility enabled Citi to provide early-stage financing in local currency to companies that expand access to products and services for low-income communities in emerging markets. One of the first two transactions under this facility was with InI Farms, where the partners committed $5 million in financing to help smallholder farmers in India access export markets and increase incomes by as much as 20 percent.
Khandelwal is proud to have paved the way for new generations of women entrepreneurs. “I would advise all the young women to always believe in themselves and the value addition that they bring to a brand,” she says, “and not be afraid to pursue unexpected paths.”
To read about more ventures by successful women CEOs supported by DFC, see Opening Doors to Financial Services and Lending a Hand to Small Businesses.
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.