OPPORTUNITIES FOR AGRI-BUSINESS IN INDIA
Dr. N.G. Hegde
UNEMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY
Indian economy is dependent on agro-based activities as about 65% of the population living in rural areas is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. A majority of them spend over 90% of their earnings on basic needs such as food, fuel and health care. More than 50% of the rural families with an annual income below Rs.11,000, are unable to meet even these essential needs. Thus, in a developing country like India, economic development should ensure prosperity among the rural people.
Industrial enterprises and modern technologies no doubt can generate additional employment in urban areas and pay a rich dividend to elite and rich investors. However, this may widen the economic gap between the urban and rural population as well as between the rich and poor, resulting in greater hardship to the poor. Rural development and improvement in agricultural production are essential not only to ensure social justice but also to maintain self sufficiency in food supply. With our population expected to exceed 1.35 billion, the annual demand for food is anticipated to rise from the present level of 195 m tons to 250 m tons by 2025 A.D. As food security is a pre requisite for economic progress, agro based development programmes deserve priority.
OUR NATIONAL RESOURCES
Although the food scarcity is a serious threat there is good scope to convert this crisis into a business opportunity. At present, most of our natural resources are under gross neglect. Out of the total geographical area of 329 million hectares (M ha), over 175 M ha are classified as degraded wastelands. These wastelands are not only lying idle but are also posing a serious threat to our agriculture and eco-system. Our forests are fast diminishing. As against the recommended 33% geographical area under forests, only 12% of the area is under tree cover. Deforestation continues unabated, as wood is used by over 80% of the rural families for cooking food and about 65% of it is collected free from forests and community lands. These large stretches of hilly terrain and neglected agricultural fields which are devoid of vegetal cover, cannot retain water. As a result about 75% of the rain water runs off from the field resulting in floods, soil erosion, silting of reservoirs and river beds.
Out of 147 M ha cultivable land in the country, only 44 M ha are under irrigation and the rest of the area is dependent on erratic rainfall for crop production. As agriculture in low rainfall regions is risky, farmers are hesitant to invest in external inputs to optimise their crop production and thereby incur low yields. Although water is a critical input for agriculture, most of the farmers are ignorant about its judicious use and flood their fields. As a result of excessive use of water, over 9 M ha fertile lands have turned into saline wastelands. Thus in spite of significant progress in agricultural research, the average yield of food crops in India is only 1.5 tons/ha as compared to the World average of 3 tons/ha and 4 tons/ha in China. Selection of appropriate technologies and timely investment in essential inputs and infrastructure such as improved seeds, nutrients, plant protection, post production and marketing outlets can increase the food production by 2 3 folds, while helping the farmers to obtain a better price for their produce.
Livestock is another critical natural resource with a tremendous potential to provide employment and income to rural people. India has the world’s largest livestock population. Out of 500 M heads, 204 M are cattle, representing about 17% of the global total. There are 84 million buffaloes representing 56% of the world population and about 200 M sheep and goats. Among the livestock, development of cattle for milk production can be a sustainable economic activity in rural areas. Cattle is maintained by all the sections of the society irrespective of their castes and income level and the demand for milk and dairy products will continue to increase during the next 20 years, till the annual production rises from the present level of 76 M tons to 150 M tons. The task is not difficult as the bulk of it is presently contributed by 5 M crossbred cows and about 10 M buffaloes, which represent only 15 20% of the milch animals. While the crossbred cows yield an average of 6.5 7.0 kg per day and buffaloes yield 4.0 kg/day, the remaining 85% indigenous cows yield an average of only 1 kg per day. The average milk yield of cattle in India is only 987 kg as compared to the world’s average of 2380 kg/lactation. With breed improvement, better feeding and health care, it is possible to improve the production of the existing cattle and substitute with high yielding stocks. Cattle development is an extremely attractive occupation as with only three crossbred cows, a poor family can earn an annual profit of Rs. 15,000 18000 and improve their quality of life.
It is unfortunate that with all the natural resources lying idle, the custodians of these assets are also unemployed. As agriculture alone in non irrigated areas cannot provide year round employment, most of the farmers including the large land holders are under-employed for over 6 8 months during the year.
In such a situation, there is good scope for introduction of appropriate technologies to conserve these natural resources which in turn can provide sustainable livelihood to the local communities.
The developmental problems in rural areas are multi dimensional. The major areas affecting agricultural production and rural prosperity are lack of resources, appropriate technologies, inadequate infrastructure, skilled personnel and lack of confidence among farmers. Being poor, most of the farmers are not able to procure critical inputs on time and thereby end up with low yields. Even after successful cultivation, farmers often face marketing problems arising of surplus production, lack of storage and marketing facilities. Thus the development programme should be promoted as an enterprise and the farmers should manage their farms as a business and not as a family tradition.
Introduction of management principles to operate agri-business on a pilot scale has paid rich dividends in the recent past. With such an approach, India can be the leader of the South countries. With plenty of labour, land and water resources alongwith tropical weather conditions, India can compete with other developed countries and capture the global market. With improved agricultural practices and water resources management, India can achieve food sufficiency by cultivating only 100 M ha and alloting the remaining 45 M ha for growing crops of commercial importance. These crops can be fruits, vegetables, flowers and medicinal plants having good export market. The surplus land can also be utilised to cultivate crops like maize and sugarcane and the produce can be diverted to industrial production of alcohol, a substitute for imported petroleum. Such industrial products having good demand can provide assured market and remunerative price to the growers. There is good scope to expand our agriculture in this direction.
The agricultural development programme requires the following management support for enhancing its profitability:
Finance : Land development, irrigation systems and arrangements for marketing require huge investments. The present financial resources for agricultural development are neither adequate nor timely. Some of the activities such as water resource development and land shaping need soft loan. Additional finance with village level distribution network are needed for developing this industry.
Information Services : Information on new crops, technologies, systems and demand for the produce would help to optimise profits. The information services can also provide the latest know how and experiences with new varieties, new technologies, pest and disease outbreaks and their control.
Transfer of Technology : As a large section of the farmers are not adequately educated to make effective use of the technologies and information services, special efforts are needed to motivate and educate the backward farmers. This is expected to be carried out by the Agricultural Extension Officers. These field officers need to study the cost benefit analysis of various crops and help the farmers to select suitable crops. For effective transfer of technology, these officers and field workers should be oriented from time to time. To enhance profits through cost reduction and better price recovery, human resource development should be an important component of the agri-business. This should start with confidence building in small farmers.
Marketing Services : Inadequate marketing network is a major bottleneck in agriculture. The farmers should be oriented to make a swift forecast of the demand for various commodities and exploit the opportunities. There is good scope for setting up market outlets to reach the customers without involving too many middlemen. Business houses can establish a direct link with farmers’ organisations for procuring raw materials. Such agencies can support farmers with seeds of improved varieties, finance and other critical inputs for optimising their crop yield.
Management Personnel : A critical input for successful agri business is dedicated personnel with managerial skills. The managers should be familiar with the local agricultural laws and socio-economic conditions of the region. The real challenge is to bring small farmers into the network of efficient producers, for ensuring their share in the success.
India has no doubt provided opportunities for multinationals to participate in industrial development with new technologies and resources. However, we cannot neglect agriculture and expect economic progress sans rural development. The opportunities in agri business are enormous and can be easily encashed with locally available technologies. Now is the time for young managers to accept this challenge for mutual benefits.