At the event in Chandigarh on advanced digital technologies reshaping Indian agriculture, the debate seemed far removed from the situation of small and marginal farmers who were not even adopting existing technologies. But speakers were not unaware of the gap. Their businesses were also groping and trying out new things so they could be relevant to a different kind of customer and their changing expectations. The event was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.
While creating prosperity for farmers though productivity, companies have to be mindful of farmers’ need for respect and dignity, Rajesh Jejurikar, President and Chief Executive of Mahindra & Mahindra’s farm equipment division said. In a rural setting, those with even lowly government jobs had more respect than better-off farmers, so it was necessary to be sensitive. The renting of farm equipment from neighbours was for some farmers a demeaning experience as considerations of caste and economic status came into play. The recent launch of the company’s farm rental business addressed those resentments, Jejurikar said. The point he was making: technology could not ignore social contexts.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Vivian Fernandes
At the CII event you spoke of creating prosperity for farmers by raising farm productivity and the use of imaging and analytics to do so. How relevant is this for farmers who are not even applying current technologies?
Indian farmers are at different stages of evolution. Some are far from technology adaptation. There are those who have started adopting technology. There are different types of analytics. DiGiSense (launched in August) is our telematics solution which will go in a certain model of tractors and not the entire range. It will give farmers information about tractor usage: where rpms (revolutions per minute) have dropped, clutch usage, geo-fencing and so on. If a driver goes beyond a certain range, the owner will know (so he can check misuse). Over a period of time DiGisense will show the quality of land preparation, the coverage per unit of fuel consumed and so on. These are early days but are pointers to how analytics can be used.
This facility will be useful for those who rent out farm machinery.
This will have highest application for those who are hiring out tractors. Also for those who employ drivers, where the owner is not present on the farm. It will help in precision farming, where nutrients are applied on the basis of soil tests.
Punjab has high ownership of tractors. The farms are over-capitalized. The tractors are not fully sweated, so they do not earn their keep. This is good for companies like M&M but it is not for farmers as it raises their cost of production. Should you not move to an usage model?
That is why we launched Trringo a few months ago. It is a farm equipment rental company. As market leaders we need to have different plays. But tractor penetration is still very low in India. If you are getting more people to rent out tractors, they will see the benefit and that will lead to higher purchases. That is one argument. The penetration of non-tractor farm equipment is even lower. How many farmers have harvesters? Or rice transplanters? It does not make economic sense. These fit very well into a rental model. There is no need to own equipment which is high value but not multi use.
There is a new kind of agriculture that is being recommended for the Indo-Gangetic Plains and for states like Punjab so that intensive cultivation is sustainable. It is called conservation agriculture where paddy straw and stubble are not burnt but spread on fields, and wheat is sown by parting straw with Happy Seeders. Tilling is also not required. This does not fit in with your business which requires more are more tractors to be sold. Do you see M&M becoming a solutions provider rather than being a mere equipment seller?
That is the direction in which we are headed. We are moving from being a tractor company to a farm solutions company.
We are strengthening our presence in the farm machinery market. We have acquired Mitsubishi’s agri-machinery business in Japan. We have acquired Sampo Rosenlew in Finland which is a harvester company. So we are looking at acquiring technology capability outside of India where the field has moved ahead of where we are today and looking at how some of those technologies can be made affordable and relevant to India. The plan is to be solutions led. We have Samriddi centres which are advisories to farmers. They employ agronomists who analyse and advise on the basis of soil data. We have more than 170 centres across the country. We also have digital plays like Myagriguru.com. These are various moves in preparing ourselves for a different consumer and different consumer expectations.
Are you helping to connect farmers with markets?
We have a separate company, Mahindra Agri Solutions Limited. We are breaking our business into equipment and non-equipment. The latter includes seeds, crop care, and so on. We are piloting processed food branding. We have a brand called NuPro for pulses and Sabaro for fresh fruits. We have piloted the first Sabaro lounge, which is a fruit juice and salad ambience lounge in South Mumbai. This is a time to pilot and try out. Now not everything we try will work. We want to see how do we build an end-to-end value chain which touches farmers at different points.
(Top photo of Rajesh Jejurikar in Chandigarh on 19 November 2016 by Vivian Fernandes)