In celebration of Earth Month, PBFA looked to feature a member making tangible, innovative contributions to the field of sustainability. And by any measure, trailblazing start-up Terviva fits the bill.
Terviva was founded with a collective vision of a sustainable future and a mission built on the regenerative power of the pongamia tree. Known to many as a “miracle tree,” its immense regenerative opportunity bolsters agricultural communities around the world that are itching to heal their land, remove extractive crops from their harvests, and revitalize land that has fallen out of use. With the holistic properties of the pongamia tree in mind and a long-term, large-scale, regenerative vision, Terviva is ready to reimagine the food system in a way that benefits the people, animals, and the planet.
Q: One of the goals of this series is to help shine a light on the stories and individuals behind the companies. Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you came to work in the plant-based food space?
A: Founded in 2010 by Naveen Sikka, Maggie Kavalaris and Sudhir Rani, Terviva is a food and ag innovation company partnering with farmers to grow pongamia, a climate-resilient tree which revitalizes the land and communities where it’s grown. After more than a decade of innovation, we’ve created a regenerative food system where we harvest and transform pongamia beans into delicious food ingredients called Ponova™.
Pongamia is a climate-resilient tree crop uniquely suited to meet today’s environmental challenges because it sequesters carbon, improves soil health and water quality while growing on land where other crops can’t grow. This helps to avoid deforestation and revitalize agricultural lands and communities around the world. From tree to plate, our transparent and equitable supply chain spans wild harvesting, non-GMO beans in India to regenerative land stewardship in Hawaii, Florida and Australia.
What is your big “why” for working in the plant-based foods industry? Is there a particular cause or fact that you learned that motivated your work and passion?
Terviva is dedicated to making tangible and scalable impact on the environment and on communities. The pongamia tree is truly a super tree that is both climate resilient and restorative to the lands where it grows. The beans of the tree are rich in a high-quality oil and protein that have been used in Ayurvedic medicine and local agriculture for hundreds of years. We are able to lightly process the beans to create Ponova™ oil and protein for use in food. In addition to their strong functional use in plant-based foods, we’ve found that the unique environmental and social benefits of Ponova™ ingredients are particularly appealing to consumers interested in plant-based foods.
What do people need to know about Terviva’s mission, values, and objectives?
Our work has always been about impact. Revitalizing agricultural land and communities and exploring how we can transform our global systems to be regenerative instead of extractive.
Pongamia trees are a climate-resilient crop uniquely suited to address the challenges of climate change. It grows in subtropical climates around the world in places like India where we work with rural communities to wild harvest pongamia beans. Through our equitable and transparent supply chain we are also partnering with growers in Florida who are planting pongamia as a replacement crop for citrus, an industry that has been severely impacted over the last 15 years by climate change and disease.
Through our work with pongamia, not only are we learning a lot about this incredible tree, but we’re also developing nature-based solutions whose local impact can help drive global change.
Can you share more about the regenerative aspect of your work? What makes pongamia trees such a ripe and well-suited catalyst for your product and mission?
Terviva is focused on using regenerative agriculture to revitalize agricultural lands and communities around the world. The attributes of the pongamia tree – pest resistance, nitrogen fixation, drought and salt tolerance – make it well suited to implementing regenerative practices that allow us to produce food and regenerate agricultural lands that have fallen out of use. Through pongamia and regenerative practices we aim to make these lands productive again, sequester carbon and improve water quality, biodiversity, and soil health.
We see that you partner with farmers all over the globe to grow and harvest pongamia beans – working with growers to cultivate massive acreages of pongamia trees throughout Florida, Hawaii, Australia, and India. Can you speak to why you applied a global lens to your business model and how this allows Terviva to live its company’s values?
At Terviva, we believe we can help farmers feed billions of people by growing pongamia trees that also restore land, water and ecosystems often damaged by extractive cultivation of other crops. We offer farmers a crop and farming practices that steward natural resources and respond to a changing climate. We also connect farmers to markets that value the product and its positive impact on the planet. Farming our crops on a large scale in many new places increases diversity and resilience in our food system. This approach grows our business and our impact by enlisting many farmers and regions around the world whose land and resources won’t support more extractive practices.
Pongamia trees in the media are often referred to as “miracle trees” or “super trees.” In your ideal future, how do you hope to see the sustainable and fruitful properties of pongamia being harnessed and applied in the next decade?
We hope that large-scale pongamia production will bolster the regenerative agriculture movement, especially for commodity-scale crops, by demonstrating that considering ecology and economy in agriculture can result in outcomes that are good for both people and the planet. We want to prove that regenerative agriculture is a viable model for large-scale, global agriculture.
What has been the most rewarding moment or pivotal milestone you’ve witnessed during your time at Terviva? As an innovative and unique plant-based startup, are there any big moments of celebration you’d like to share?
In March, we launched Ponova™ oil as an ingredient in Alohaʻs special-edition Kona bar featuring other locally grown ingredients produced through regenerative farming. This was our first commercial launch so it was important to us to enter the marketplace with a partner like Aloha. As a B-corp and fair trade company they share our values – from our pongamia fields on Oʻahu and the fifth-generation Kona coffee farm on Hawaiʻi island to the local artist who designed the packaging, the Kona bar shows whatʻs possible when we work together in a way that gives back to the land and communities who produce our food. And with 10% of sales being donated directly to Kupu, Hawaiʻiʻs leading youth-focused conservation non-profit, the impact of the launch is still being felt with every bar thatʻs sold.
This launch was a labor of love for our teams in all areas of our business, from those who’ve been with us from the very beginning and helped to transform our first pongamia beans into the oil featured in the Kona bar, to our teams on-the-ground growing and harvesting the beans. The response for the Kona bar has been amazing. It quickly became Alohaʻs top-selling bar with millions of people learning about Ponova™ oil through ongoing media coverage. We’re finding that more than ever, people want to know how their food is produced and who is impacted by the products they buy. The Kona bar allows consumers to see that and participate in real, direct positive impact first-hand.
Based on your experience, what were some obstacles you had to overcome in scaling your business, and what advice would you share with other aspiring plant-based founders?
We share many of the same challenges that any founders might face including building a robust supply chain, attracting investment and of course selling products. Aspiring plant-based founders should stay focused on making sure there is true long-term benefit and product-market fit. The pongamia tree and the products produced from it have an incredibly positive impact on land and community livelihoods. This climate-resilient tree allows us to serve growing categories by offering a regenerative alternative, something other products are simply not able to do. Creating a business dedicated to trees isn’t the fastest way to grow a business, but we have stayed focused because the impact and market potential is enormous. By staying focused on what matters, we’ve built a very differentiated business model that is just at the beginning of what it can and will do.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any notable news or exciting product launches in the pipeline for 2023?
In addition to the launch of Aloha Kona barʻs featuring Ponova™ oil, we’re very excited this year about the establishment of our Terviva Karanja Sakhis (Terviva Pongamia Friend) program led by our impact team in India. The program uplifts and empowers women in collecting communities across India. Launched in March, we estimate roughly 100 TKS leaders will serve 30 districts by the end of 2023.
Where can we learn more about Terviva?