Even as the Shroff brothers â€� Champraj, Govindji and Kantisen â€� were building their business empire and establishing their irrevocable stamp on the chemical industrial world, their dream was to return to or at least be of service to their homeland â€� the district of Kachchh in Gujarat. When Chamraj Shroff passed away in 1968, the younger brothers were even more determined to commit themselves to Kachchh.
Kachchh occupies the northernmost part of the state of Gujarat. To the north and east, are two salt deserts, the larger and more inaccessible being the Greater Rann. Beyond that is the Indo-Pakistan border. The climate is extreme; the rainfall scarce and unreliable. In the mid-60â€™s, Kachchh was ravaged by famine. Kantisen along with his wife Chanda joined relief activities. Both realized the urgent need for long-term, livelihood related intervention programmes to combat poverty and curb migration.
Chanda Shroff asked 30 women of Dhaneti village to put their faith and trust in her vision that their unique skill of hand embroidery could provide them with a regular and steady income. That was the beginning of Shrujan. Over the past 40 years, this charitable trust has spearheaded a movement that has empowered over 30,000 craftswomen living in over a hundred villages to earn a sustainable livelihood.
With his passionate interest in nature and agriculture, Kantisen set his sights on turning the desert-like region of Kachchh into a green and agri-productive oasis. In 1975, he and his colleagues founded the Vivekananda Research and Training Institute (VRTI). This non-governmental organization (NGO) innovated and introduced many soil and water related technologies including rain water harvesting.
VRTI made a significant contribution by demonstrating that crops can be grown even where the soil is saline and the water scarce. However, the Shroff brothers realized that providing technical knowledge was not enough. A total farmer-support system had to be put in place. They turned to a team of youngsters who looked upon them as their gurus and teachers and issued the first of two challenges. Could they start a centre that would be of genuine service to the farmer and run it not as an NGO but as a commercial enterprise? Could they also convince the farmers of Kachchh that it is possible and profitable to cultivate this arid land? The answer to the challenge was the setting up of the Agri-Service Division. The first Agrocel Service Centre was established in Koday-Mandvi in 1988 and a loyal and trusted friend of the farmer became institutionalized.
The Shroff family was aware that while they had set up two developmental organizations, they had not established any industry in Kachchh. Govindji and Kantisenâ€™s second challenge therefore was that the young team dream up an industrial enterprise for their homeland. But not any industry would do. It had to be one that would use only those raw materials that were indigenous to Kachchh. Moreover, the industry had to be set up close to the Indo-Pakistan border so that the people living in these remote areas, could for the first time ever, benefit from meaningful employment. This is how the bold and daring venture of producing marine chemicals from sea bittern trapped in the Greater Rann was conceived and in 1994, after four years of heroic struggle, the dream became a reality with the establishment of Agrocelâ€™s Marine Chemicals Division right in the heart of the salt desert.