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Naveen Sikka, Founder & CEO, Terviva

Terviva: Helping Farmers Feed the World’s Rising Population While Taking Care of the Planet

Modern agriculture systems contribute to deforestation and a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Today, every person involved in the food system should be considering how they can contribute to building a sustainable food and agriculture ecosystem.
Responsible sourcing of global food supplies is a huge challenge that needs to be addressed immediately. Terviva, a food and agriculture technology company, is addressing these pressing issues with a novel approach.
Based in Alameda, California, Terviva delivers delicious, nourishing, and sustainable plant-based food ingredients from the pongamia tree. It provides patented high-yielding trees and offers proprietary bean processing to create highly sustainable oil and protein food ingredients. Pongamia trees restore farmland to productive use, helping farmers feed people while taking care of the planet.
Utilizing experience in management consulting, technology, natural resources, and agriculture, Naveen Sikka established Terviva to understand and extend the benefits of the ancient pongamia tree’s resilience and protein and oil-packed beans. Since then, Terviva has introduced pongamia as a new commercial crop that converts distressed farmland into sustainable, productive acreage.
Under Naveen’s leadership, Terviva has unlocked pongamia’s potential as a climate-friendly, nutritional powerhouse for feeding the world’s rising population.
Introducing Nutritious Food Ingredients from Abundant Yields
Ten years ago, Terviva was set out to grow an environmentally-friendly source of vegetable oil and plant protein. It planted acres of pongamia for the first time, developed a patented library of high-yield cultivars, learned how to commercially grow and harvest the tree crop with equitable farming practices, and introduced nutritious food ingredients from its abundant yields. Today, it is readying the world’s first-ever healthy and sustainable pongamia food ingredients to enter the market.
Being Patient and Committed to Success of Farmers
Initially, it was challenging for Terviva to introduce pongamia to growers as a new tree crop that can be farmed commercially for essential food ingredients since it needed four years to mature before harvest. For a crop farmer, who is not familiar with the nutritional and environmental benefits of pongamia, this is a hard sell. By collaborating closely with growers who had underutilized land in geographies, Terviva knew pongamia would flourish; it was able to get enough trees in the ground to prove its abundant yields and value as a source of delicious and nutritious foods. The success of the farmers Terviva works with has been core to its mission since the beginning of its journey.
Using Customized Digital Technology Solutions
Talking about the impact of the pandemic, Naveen mentions that trust and traceability in food supply chains are paramount in the wake of the pandemic. As demand for ethical products becomes mainstream, there’s been an increase in brands that want to be perceived as socially and environmentally sustainable. How foods are grown, and their impact on the people who cultivate them matters greatly, says Terviva.
Using customized digital technology solutions, Terviva commits to 100 percent supply chain traceability throughout its network of smallholder farmers in India and commercial growers in the U.S. This helps consumers trust the origin of its food ingredients and that their purchasing power benefits all the stakeholders who help deliver these foods to their table.
Restoring Productivity of Farmland and Helping Avoid Deforestation
Terviva’s IP platform and innovations enable it to be the primary maker of pongamia-based foods. It is readying the launch of golden-colored, buttery-tasting vegetable oil that will be available next year, followed by protein isolates and a highly soluble protein flour.
Its golden pongamia oil is mid-oleic, which means it has a high percentage of omega 9 fatty acids and has a high smoke point. Chefs rave that pongamia culinary oil tastes like ghee with the finish of extra virgin olive oil. It can be used to improve the texture and mouthfeel of buttery spreads, mayonnaise, sauces, plant-based milk, and creamers, or dressings, among various applications. Pongamia culinary oil’s balanced nutritional profile and regenerative cultivation make it better for people and the planet than vegetable oils such as soy, palm, coconut, canola, sunflower, avocado, or olive oil.
Farmers grow and harvest pongamia trees to restore the productivity of farmland and help avoid deforestation. Pongamia trees are resilient, nitrogen-fixing, require low inputs, and yield up to five times the beans per acre as U.S. soy. Their abundant yields and ability to capture 115 metric tons of carbon per acre over its 30-year lifetime are used to unlock new sources of revenue for Terviva’s grower partners.
Being Transparent, Efficient, and Innovative
Terviva’s culture is at the heart of everything it does. It values operational transparency, rigorous execution, and innovative thinking. As a diverse team with a broad range of backgrounds and professional expertise, it actively commits to ensuring that its members’ voices are heard, and the best ideas win.
Leveraging Technology to Ensure Excellence
According to Naveen, technology allows food and beverage brands to be radically transparent and share information in a way that is credible, comparable, and easily accessible to consumers, which is valuable for consumers and food companies alike.
Terviva leverages customized technology solutions to ensure excellence across its supply chain, from tracking which cultivars provide the highest yields for its grower partners, to identifying and supporting individual smallholder farmers in India who help to wild-harvest pongamia beans for a greater profit than was previously available to them.
Giving Back to the Community
Terviva is committed to creating long-term social value and benefits for all its stakeholders and its communities. It ensures its growers get fair compensation for their work beyond the payment for the crop harvested from their fields.
Cultivating pongamia has net positive effects, including carbon sequestration, cleaner water, and more biodiverse and resilient habitats. Terviva’s commitment extends to developing markets for growers to receive compensation for these ecosystem services too.
The company’s supply chain of wild-harvested pongamia beans also creates long-term benefits for smallholder farmers in India, who receive at least a 10 percent premium over the minimum support price set by the government, which ensures shared and equitable incomes for rural tribal communities.
Developing New and Innovative Products
The next phase of Terviva’s work will see the launch of the world’s most sustainable vegetable oil and protein food ingredients at scale. It will continue to build its traceable supply chains of pongamia beans and collaborate with leading sustainability-focused CPG companies to develop new and innovative products that outperform existing plant-based foods in taste, nutrition, and sustainability.
Ensuring Ethical Treatment of People and Planet
In his advice to emerging AgTech leaders, Naveen says,“As an agtech entrepreneur, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to shape how your company practices social as well as environmental sustainability. Addressing these areas is also important if you want to achieve lasting success.”