GST BOON FOR AGRI-BIZ

BRIGHT FUTURE: Agriculture could see bright days ahead of the government makes the right decisions at this point of time. Small and big farmers can learn from experts to maximise their output

GST is getting a lot of bad press because of it’s dampening impact on local businesses. However, with the right moves, the government could turn the tables around and make a difference globally, at least in the field of agriculture, says Dominick Rodrigues

 India, with its 91 million hectares of irrigated land (the highest in the world), can become a global agricultural hub for other countries, which have harsh weather, scarce labour and lands, and are seeking to outsourcing their agriculture, according to Rajju Shroff, Chairman, Center for Environment and Agriculture (CENTEGRO) and Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI).

“India — with year-round sunlight — has several Agro-climatic zones and labour with multi-tasking skills to produce and supply globally various crops. It is second globally in agricultural production (US$ 367 billion in 2014) and fruits, vegetables and fish, third largest in egg production, and top in milk production,” he said while pointing out that alongside GST presently smoothening movement of agricultural commodities in inter-state trade, the Union Government should launch ‘Grow In India’ campaign on the lines of ‘Make in India’ targeting substantial gains in agri-exports with a single authority to monitor India’s agricultural trade in both exports and imports.ndia, with its 91 million hectares of irrigated land (the highest in the world), can become a global agricultural hub for other countries, which have harsh weather, scarce labour and lands, and are seeking to outsourcing their agriculture, according to Rajju Shroff, Chairman, Center for Environment and Agriculture (CENTEGRO) and Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI).

India’s multi-product, multi-seasonal, mixed farming (crops and livestock) witnessed negligible impact of deficit rainfall in agriculture now, and 2010-11 — with 20 per cent deficit in rainfall — witnessed agri-output at $203 billion, registering nil decline across most segments,” Shroff said while displaying a CENTEGRO report debunking myths about farmer’s suicides, increased rate of cancers linked to agriculture and so on.

Quoting U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order on agriculture highlighting ‘national interest in promoting American agriculture alongside ensuring that regulatory burdens did not encumber agricultural production, constrain economic growth, hamper job creation or increase cost of food for Americans and world customers’, he said India needed to take a similar view.

Noting that GST would eradicate bottlenecks by doing away with multiple windows for Agri-biz,  he said “With agri-related infrastructure hi-technology, agricultural costs will decrease. It is more important to increase life of perishable goods — which suffer loss of moisture and weight — through climate-controlled transport systems.”

“India needs to increase agricultural exports globally through agricultural trade ambassadors in its embassies and greater emphasis on marketing. Countries like USA are using prominent people as their nation’s “fruit ambassadors.” Also, Pakistan exports more mangoes than India in the world market, and India’s agricultural commodities are price-competitive, not trade competitive, for which aggressive marketing efforts are needed,” Shroff said.

S Ganesan, Advisor (CCFI), said that, to double farmers income, the focus should shift from production to increasing consumption within and outside the country — specially through exports for increasing India’s market share to $100 billion from the present $35 billion.

Meanwhile, India is in the forefront of gaining an agricultural surplus — thanks to the “Agrarian Revolution” brewing in this around-125-acre farm at Vapi on the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, owned by agro-entrepreneur Rajju Shroff and overlooked by his wife, UPL Vice-Chairperson Sandra Shroff since the mid-90s for training farmers to grow super, bumper crops of fruits, vegetables and grains. Farmers are provided free training, stay and meals at the UPL Centre for Agricultural Excellence, which is part of UPL’s CSR activity.

A visit to the farm showed astonishing results. Crops like paddy, sugarcane and others are being produced at such a unique multiplication rate that farmers from different parts of India are making a beeline for learning the techniques behind this green revolution. Four farmers came recently from Tarmaliya and Dumlar villages in Gujarat to employ these techniques on their paddy, mango, sugarcane farms and expressed enthusiasm at what they saw.

Scientist Sanjay Tripathi, who trains the farmers, said farmers grew barely 1.5 tonnes per acre crop on their farms, compared to the Vapi farm’s production of four tonnes per acre of the same crop. “So these farmers come for training for a day or two since they are already familiar with basic farming methods. We change their thinking and attitude to improve their economy through increased crop yield from reduced costs, resource management including selecting seeds and planting. Our technique witnesses less use of fertilizer and other inputs for greater crop output.”

“We urge doing seed germination in one week as it gets full nutrition, rather than two weeks where even the weeds get the nutrition.  Also, instead of farming the whole farmland, we urge for farming just half the area for a super crop, and the other half later. Punjab farmers used to get 10 to 15 tonnes sugarcane per acre, but after this training, their yield rose to 100 tonnes per acre. Uttar Pradesh  farmers saw their sugarcane produce rise to 60 tonnes per acre. Today even Ministers come here to see our techniques and production. Sugarcane baron and former Union Minister Sharad Pawar, after seeing the Vapi farm’s training success, asked the accompanying Vasantdada Sugarcane Institute officials why they could not duplicate this success.”

“The Vapi farm’s success witnessed one sugarcane farmer — Pravin Kumar of Rahuri (Maharashtra) — growing 115 tonnes crop. In Madhya Pradesh, a professor of sociology named Tiwari also took our training and grew 80 tonnes crop on his farm before turning consultant for 20 Maharashtra farmers — charging `3,000 per acre — and eventually running an MLA’s huge farm. “Thus farmers grow richer and people get better quality food at lower prices,” Tripathi said.

Tripathi, who studied farming also in Israel, recalled water usage for farming there from the Sea of Galilee up to a depth of four metres below which the water is salty. “The interesting thing is that not a drop of water is wasted in Israel, and they use drip irrigation which ensures lack of pests that come from over-watering. India also had problems of wheat with good and bad heads — a result of visiting Indian farmers illegally bringing some of these seeds from Australia.,” he said.

The farm threw up lots of interesting things. Some normal-growing crops and plants develop a secondary head called “Ratoon” including banana plants (12 months growth)  that sprout a multitude of less tasty bananas (in 10 months.).”Even other plants spring “Ratoons” and we witnessed one such sugarcane crop getting 135 ‘tillers’ (stalks) from a single stem. We grew okra in 10 months – instead of the normal six months – for a crop that witnessed between 8 to 10 “tillers” per plant. But what caught the farmer’s minds was the farm’s “Systematic Rice Intensification” (SRI)  — where one seed produces not just one, but even up to 40 “tillers”, thus increasing the farmers’ crop by 40 times more.  Other plants like cucumber and coriander grow side by side, while our “legumes” recharge the ground nitrogen through their numerous nodules.”

“Horticulture today is witnessing small and marginal farmers having higher market shares due to faster cash-generating as the produce can be sold daily in the market — not possible with foodgrains. Besides, declining farm sizes and smaller farms mean they can leverage horticulture as against foodgrains which need large farms to achieve scale,” said Shroff, while adding that “our success is such that some NGOs try to defame us and, in one case we even dragged Greenpeace to court in Chicago (USA) where they paid us around $2,00,000 in damages,” Shroff added.

 

India’s diverse climate ensures production of all fruits and vegetables, making it an important global market player especially for rice, jute, cotton and sugar. Uttar Pradesh leads in fruits and vegetable production; Tamil Nadu in flowers; Madhya Pradesh in aromatics and medicinal crops; and Rajasthan in spices. India is also a sizeable exporter of rice, vegetable sap (guar gum), soyabean, maize and wheat, besides being globally top in milk production and 3rd in egg production.

In a report by Centre for Environment & Agriculture, and Tata Strategic Management Group, Rajju Shroff, Chairman, Crop Care Federation of India and CMD of UPL Limited, rubbished several myths surrounding Indian agriculture. Pooh-poohing the myth that Indian agriculture is on the decline, he said “Indian agriculture has been outperforming the much-discussed services and manufacturing sectors and is now the world’s second-largest agriculture producer. It is more holistic with farmers growing multiple crops in the same farm in one season, while also managing livestock (cattle and poultry), using agri-waste as manure and agri-leftovers s feed for animals.

Dispelling a myth about Indian agriculture being heavily dependent on rainfall, he said that despite certain drought-prone areas in the countries, overall precipitation in India is higher than many countries and channelling rain water into irrigation systems was needed as some developed countries did to conserve their water requirements for agricultural produce.

“Crop protection chemicals being used excessively in India is another myth as India’s spend on crop protection chemicals is less than 1 per cent of total agricultural production in value terms: which is a fraction of global counterparts. A myth about these chemicals affecting the aquatic ecosystem was dispelled with the fact of India being the second largest fish producer in the world. About pesticides being carcinogenic, there is no known such crop protection chemical being used in Indian agriculture. To suspicions of fruits and vegetables being injected with colouring chemicals and animal hormones, this is not possible as it will lead to altering their internal equilibrium. However, India’s reputation as second-largest fruit/vegetables producer attracts vested interests seeking to tarnish the image of Indian horticulture,” he added.

 

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