From Farmer To Entrepreneur: The Agripreneur

Shreesha Jagadeesh

With a record 272 million tons of produce,the total crop output today is higher than at any point in India’s history.  The methods adopted over the years, starting with the Green Revolution, to increase the productivity of the land have yielded various levels of success resulting in food security for the nation. Yet, the state of the farmers is not noticeably better than it was in the previous decades. Can there be an approach that will fundamentally change the status quo and make the farmers better off?

Yes, by making the farmer to think of himself as an entrepreneur responsible for his success. When a farmer thinks and acts as a businessman, he will dare to take risks. Farmers so far have thought of ways to increase the productivity of their land. When they see themselves as an entrepreneur, their focus will shift towards profitability and building a sustainable enterprise. Currently two-thirds of the farmers have tiny land holdings (less than 2 hectares) and are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Making them aware of a profitable means of utilizing their land would trigger an agricultural revolution that will affect all spheres of the society.

The pertinent question: How  to trigger the change?

Can there be an unconventional approach that changes the farmers’ perspective of himself? Yes, we believe so – by inducing the entrepreneurship mindset in them.

Entrepreneurs look at market opportunities to achieve the highest Return on Investment (ROI). Many parts of the farming cycle can be viewed using the entrepreneur lens. The farmer looks at the current market conditions and decides what to plant for the season. Then he invests either his own capital or borrows money to buy the necessary inputs for planting the crops. This is followed by hiring labourers who help him sow, maintain, and harvest. He carefully monitors what the state of his crops (business) is and makes appropriate adjustments to the dosage of fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Finally he sells his crop at a profit and clears his debt and keeps some money for the next investment cycle. The whole production and selling cycle holds a lot of uncertainty. The vibrant growth and harvest is reward for the risk taken.

The new breed of farmers, the agripreneur, would view the whole farming cycle in terms of ROI using their land, labor, and time as the inputs. Instead of focussing on how to increase the productivity of a single crop like rice or wheat, the agripreneur looks into ways of increasing his ROI. Agripreneurs with the innovative streak in them are open to experimentation despite constraints in the resources.

Here are some inspirational narratives of farmers who took the leap. Mr. Sadananda is a farmer from Karnataka with a small land-holding (2 acres). Conventional monocropping would have put him at the same income level as a subsistence farmer. Yet, through multi-cropping and other methods, he increased the yearly income to 22 lakhs. He rotates between 30 crops based on the market conditions aiming for the highest ROI. He even raises dogs, poultry and fish to supplement the income. Like a true agripreneur, he experiments scientifically with ways to reduce the input costs by trying out methods such as recycling the previous year’s waste products, drip irrigation, etc. Additionally, he realizes the importance of marketing his products and is savvy enough to find ways to sell both crops and animals.

The other aspect of thinking like an entrepreneur involves sustainable practices: What techniques can be adopted now to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term profits? Let us look at another agripreneurial effort that illustrates this approach.

Mr. Narayana Reddy lives around Bengaluru’s outskirts. Despite getting high yields through chemical fertilizers, he knew that this practice was ecologically and economically unsustainable. Mr. Reddy made a strategic move to give up fertilizers and instead followed organic methods.

He persevered through a few years of mediocre outputs because the fertilizers in the previous years had inadvertently killed off the natural organisms in the soil. Soon, the land rejuvenated itself and he produced consistent bumper profits from crops. Due to his sustainable practices, the fertility of the land is preserved for future generations.

To promote the sustainable and profitable ideology,  a fundamental shift in the farming community practices would be required on a large scale. To replicate these successes nation-wide, what measures are being taken and by whom?

This pursuit of social change is being taken up by many non-profit organizations and some corporates.The World Bank has recently sponsored the Vrutti scheme aimed at changing the livelihoods of the marginalized small tribal farmers in Chattisgarh. Vrutti aims to impact at all stages of the farming cycle including building a business plan, reducing inputs, federating many farmers to increase selling power, training them on management, governance processes, and marketing the produce. They have an ambitious target of increasing the farming income 10-fold over a 5-year period.

Mahindra has launched schemes to train the farmers to be self-reliant and think like an entrepreneur. They plan to reach 2 million farmers by 2020 and positively impact their lifestyle through collaborations with the Department of Agriculture, NGO’s and Academic institutions. The entry of the corporate sector provides the much-needed guidance and best-practices from the industry.

If more large corporations were to adopt similar socially-responsible missions, this would give a high-enough visibility to this cause and encourage the Government to contribute their might in reaching all 140 million Indian farmers. The agripreunership attitude is crucial to helping the farmer to unleash his true potential and propel India’s farming community to be among the most advanced in the world.

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