Three entrepreneurs including a former Canadian pilot say they see a major opportunity to supply and market vegetables grown entirely without pesticides to Indian consumers, retailers and other customers – something they claim is a first in the country.

What’s more, the trio are also planning to invest US$20m over the next five to seven years in order to establish more than 600ha of pesticide-free farms in 16 locations across north, west and south India, with similar projects in Japan and Malaysia also understood to be in the pipeline for the end of 2015.

Founded four years ago, First Agro produces more than 50 different varieties of Indian vegetables, herbs, lettuce and exotics on an 18ha plot near Bangalore using an integrated pest and disease management system.

The group, which says it aims to revolutionise horticultural production across India and reduce its reliance on agro-chemicals, has already built up a sizeable customer base for its Zero Pesticide-branded produce in the city and surrounding area, catering to middle and upper-class consumers, supermarkets and high-end hotels.

Crucially, First Agro says it can command a premium of up to 25 per cent on the market average price for Indian vegetables.

“We wanted to create a category one step above organic,” explains First Agro’s Japan-based CEO Naveen Modekurti. “When we subject First Agro produce to pesticide residue tests, the test will always show no residue.”

Instead of pesticides, First Agro uses natural products including neem oil, garlic-chilli spray, pheromone traps, beneficial predator insects, microbes and even other plants to protect the vegetables themselves from harm.