03 3 / 2013

(As a break from my goofy posts, I am sharing a few blog entries I wrote for a social enterprise forum in November. You can see the full Khemka Forum report which includes the work of other IDEX bloggers here)

For millions of farmers throughout India, agricultural inputs are an essential part of their day-to-day existence. But what happens when these expensive inputs – from seeds to fertilizers to farming equipment – are ineffective? This discussion led by Siddharth Tata, a portfolio manager for the Acumen Fund, examined the potential for extension services throughout the Indian agricultural sector.

According to Tata, “low productivity means low income” in a country that sees agricultural productivity which is sixty times lower than that of higher-income nations. India’s productivity puts it behind the productivity levels of Pakistan and slightly ahead of Kenya in the global effort to feed a growing world population. For many farmers the farming process progresses from inputs to farm production to collections/processing to distribution to retailing. Putting Indian farmers ahead from the start of their planting season is not only a national imperative, but also a huge entrepreneurial opportunity.

(a view of farmland in the valleys around the Ellora Caves)

“The Potato Man” of India – Hemant Gaur of Siddhivinayak Agri – has started working with farmers to improve a potato crop, which has been less than successful in recent years. As an extension service provider, Gaur has found a way to bundle services thereby improving extension service offerings as well as the profitability of this work. Currently, extension service providers offer limited follow-up service due to a very small margin of profit. Gaur as well as his fellow panelists Arijit Dutta of Basix Krish and Gokul Patnaik of Katra Group, sees the potential of an effective extension service tied to improved agricultural outputs. 

“My definition of extension work is relationship,” says Patnaik. Farmers must being willing to try new technologies and techniques that may contradict years of farming experience in order to see increased productivity. Patnaik has seen an increase from forty-nine tons per hectare to ninety-six tons per hectare for farmers that were willing to do “the right things at the right time.” 

In order to provide these timely services to a larger number of farmers, customers need to be close together in order to share basic information. In rural India farmers can be disconnected from other members of their extension service by a few fields or many kilometers. Building communication and collaboration between farmers is a focus of the Acumen Fund as extension services see an increase in clients in various locations.

The agricultural sector is still open to any number of possibilities as technology, botany, and management skills are continually tested in a changing climate and fluctuating international market. Risk-takers exist in every sector, but farmers redefine this adrenaline pumping character trait. It is risky to race to develop the latest GPS software, but what about the risk in waiting for rain? We need to see farmers as risk taking entrepreneurs if we are going to encourage the next generation to succeed in the agriculture business.