Indian Farming Remembered

Food security is going to be more serious threat and so agenda to the nations than even the terrorism. As reported, India too is talking to countries like Myanmar and Paraguay to grow pulses and oilseeds. I remember once telling Anand while driving through California that Man Mohan should request Bush to lease out land in US for farming to India farmers.

Based on the International Assessment on Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), sponsored by the UN, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) involving about 400 global experts over three years, India needs to synthesize the old and the new, and focus on the economics of the small farm. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), headed by Ashok Gulati in India suggests the directional shift with the focus to high-value agriculture, followed by commercial crops, based on consumption patterns that suggest that the typical Indian is eating less of cereals and more of fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and poultry, across “all income classes.” A 10% decline in cereals and pulses expenditure as a proportion to the total food expenditure has been recorded in “both urban and rural areas.” Food grains will no longer drive Indian agriculture. An accelerated and more pronounced shift towards high-value agriculture can only help yank a bulk of India’s farming population out of poverty.

Many farmers in India, small and big, illiterate and educated, with NGOs are pushing for newer crops and techniques, better yields and fresher, more remunerative methods of selling. Here are some stories from the latest ‘Outlook Business’ that is a special issue on farming.

1.Urban Farming
Kolkata’s wetlands and garbage farms near around Dhapa produce fish and vegetables estimated at Rs 86 crore. The Dhapa has ribbons of wastewater canals for irrigation, and on the plots of garbage-enriched land between these water bodies, over 10,000 urban farmers grow vegetables. 279 fisheries that operate in these waters produce enough fish, around 13,000 tonnes a year, to meet 15% of the fish requirement of Kolkata. The yields from these garbage farms are around 370 tonnes per hectare a year. Aquaculture and vegetable farming secure the livelihoods of over 26,000 people in the city. Each family farming on these wetlands earns around Rs 3,875 a month. The government doesn’t charge any lease rent.

2. Crop intensification technique in Uttarakhand
Intensification is popular with paddy cultivation. Adapted to wheat, this method promises to at once triple output despite using just one-third of the seeds needed in the conventional method. It’s practiced in cultivating other crops such as sugarcane, and finger millet too.

3. Biotechnology, or Bt cotton in Gujarat
The farmers of Gujarat have adopted Bt cotton farming and so spend less on insecticides and pesticides-a reduction in input costs. Bt cotton does not adversely affect the fertility of the soil. The productivity is higher, rising by 74% between 2002 and 2007. The prices of Bt cottonseeds have also gone down. A recent study by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, or Mahyco, has shown that India could benefit to the tune of Rs 22,000 crore by using Bt cotton.

4.Hybrid maize or corn
Today 42% of the country’s maize production comes from hybrid seeds. Conventionally, an acre of land requires over 20 kg of desi seeds, costing Rs 40 per kg. On the other hand, the same area requires only 10 kg of hybrid seeds. Though its cost is Rs 100 per kg-or 25% more, the returns justify the higher outgo. Beyond the quantity of output, the quality too is distinctly visible. The hybrid crop is highly responsive to inputs and is disease-resistant.

India is the world’s largest producer of mango, banana, litchi, papaya and pomegranate, but the farmers continue to lead a life of penury with little or no ability to tap the lucrative export market. A 2007 World Bank study shows that the farmer receives only 12-15% of the price at which produce is sold to the consumer at a retail outlet. Nearly 30-35% of the fruits and vegetables produced in the country are destroyed or damaged in transit owing to the woeful absence of proper transportation, warehousing and cold chain facilities, as well as processing units and organized retail.

5. The story of Makhana
Makhana, a ready-to-eat snack grows in the ponds and lakes of northern Bihar. Satyajit Kumar Singh and his Patna-based company Shakti Sudha Industries have done pioneer work for getting a successful business model out of it. Singh made the government agree to a nine-year lease period instead of usual 11 months. He persuaded a public sector bank to get involved too. Makhana payments are now credited directly to the farmers’ accounts and the bank has promised Kisan Credit Cards. Singh has set up office-collection centre-godown in each of the panchayats. This functioned like a one-stop window for all issues on makhana. CFTRI, Mysore is developing Makhana popping machines. Shakti Sudha’s turnover is nudging Rs 50 crore. Singh hopes to expand to 126 blocks, reach 40,000 farmers and touch a turnover of Rs 100 crore by 2012.

6. Tamil Nadu government’s Uzhavar Sandhai
Uzhavar Sandhai is Tamil for ‘farmer market’. The market cuts out the middleman in the trade of vegetables, bringing the seller face to face with the consumer. Interestingly, the registered farmers can transport their produce free of cost on government buses. Also, they don’t have to pay rent or money for the scales. A small farmer with even one kilo of vegetable can come there and sell. And he gets paid instantly-something that’s not guaranteed in wholesale markets. 68% of the sellers at farmer markets were small and marginal farmers (those holding between 2 and 5 acres of land). The Agricultural Marketing Officer at Hosur has to be up early to find out the prevailing wholesale and retail prices of all fruits and vegetables. Prices are fixed at 20% above the wholesale rate and 15% below the retail market rate. That is a conscious strategy to lure farmers away from wholesalers. By 9 am, the rates are up on its website,

7. Safal- India’s oldest food and vegetable supply chain
Safal with 400-odd exclusive retail outlets across India is a unit of Mother Dairy Foods Processing, a wholly owned company of Mother Diary Fruit & Vegetables. Safal’s turnover has grown from Rs 2.7 crore to over Rs 300 crore at present. Almost 85% of its revenues come from the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables, while the rest is from processed foodstuff. Safal is also expanding its portfolio of frozen, packed and cut vegetables. Its entire supply chain that has been online since inception is now being upgraded with a new enterprise resource planning software. It will connect Safal’s various units; and the village collection centres. Safal claims to offer the best prices-lower than market rates for customers and higher than mandi rates for farmers. Safal sells over 125 fruit and vegetable varieties with 735 direct procurement sources, 12,000 associate growers and more than 100,000 footfalls at its outlets everyday,

8. Outsourced contract farming
A growing tribe of 4,000-odd farmers across Punjab and Rajasthan sell their produce directly to buyers, at competitive market rates. It means prompt payments and the absence of middlemen for the farmers. For instance, UB Group is offering them a 75-80% premium (over the government-mandated minimum support price) for growing barley for the brewing industry. Pepsi has 23,000 acres under paddy cultivation in Punjab and Rajasthan, and plans to add another 4,000 acres, with a major thrust on the direct-seeding method (Read Experimental grain). Bharti Del Monte is working with over 200 farmers in Punjab, Rajasthan, UP and Maharashtra for baby corn and sweet corn cultivation. Mahindra Subhlabh Services is playing a key role in offering extension support and marketing services that help grape growers tap the European markets.

9. Empowering Adivasis
The Dhruva programme, implemented by the BAIF Foundation, has helped adivasis in Valsad, Navsari and Dang districts to transform their wadis (backyards) into a steady source of income. Among other things, the Dhruva project has been providing land-owners with mango and cashew saplings, and assisting them with advice on sowing patterns, use of fertilisers, intercropping and so on. Each family cultivates these fruits on the wadis, which ranges in size from 0.4 to 1.4 acres. Wadis produce cashews and mangoes, as well as the vegetables and paddy grown between the trees. It takes four to five years for the trees to bear fruit, and in the interim, the wadi owners derive their income from vegetable intercrops. Across many states, tribals numbering in excess of 100,000 have the means to earn Rs 25,000-30,000 a year.

Many individuals and groups are putting their entrepreneuring skills to uplift the rural India. India Inc. is also participating in their endeavours. But many more must emulate the ways following which the other succeeds to contribute in the growth story of the country and to make India great. India Inc and IIMs must use the rural villages to experiment their ideas and innovate ways to make it prosperous and look beautiful too.

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