Mr. S. Nagarajan is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Rallis India Ltd overseeing the operations of Seeds and Crop Care businesses. Previously, he was the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Metahelix Life Sciences Limited, the seeds business subsidiary of Rallis India which merged with the parent in February 2020.He has over 29 years of experience working in several Tata Companies including CXO level business leadership.  With deep experience in Automobile, Telecom, Media & Entertainment and Technology oriented sectors he has been associated with running both large-scale operations and smaller, relatively more entrepreneurial entities of challenging scope.  He is actively involved in Business Excellence efforts of the Tata Group having led a number of TBEM (Tata Business Excellence Model) assessments across industries.  He received the Long Serving Team Leader Award in 2015. He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (B.Tech) and a Gold Medallist MBA (PGDM) from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

1. What are your thoughts on the recent reforms announced by the Hon’ble Finance Minister especially on EC Act, APMC act? Given the agro-climatic and crop diversity, are all states going to benefit the same way from these reforms? 

a. EC act: We believe removal of stock limits for specified commodities is important. Private sector may be encouraged to invest in warehouses as earlier these stock limits were applicable to them which resulted in business risk in case government invokes ECA and limits storage.If warehouse investment increases, farmers can store the same and defer sales if they are unable to fetch a better price.Food processing industry also had to face restrictions on stock limits, and hence investments were lower as this created supply chain risk. With removal of stock limits, these industries can plan their supply chain more efficiently. So, we think it’s a good development.

b. APMC act: Currently farmers do not benefit from demand from other states. For e.g., farmers in Punjab, who are unable to sell to the Government, sell wheat below MSP. They are forced to sell at lower prices in Mandis as there is oversupply of wheat in the Punjab market. Now anyone from any other part of the country (e.g., Karnataka) can procure as there is a deficit in that state. Price discovery will improve, and consumers also could benefit. This is also a very good development, if executed well.

c.We think all states will benefit from these reforms, though depending on the pace at which they move the benefits will accrue.

2. Would the above mentioned reforms impact our Food security due to higher food prices?

a. No. It will lead to both improved realisation for farmers and better prices for customers. The benefits will accrue due to improved intermediation. We don’t believe that it will impact food security due to higher prices.

3. What should be the focus area of the government to improve post-harvest management? How can private industry contribute?

a. As per a Study, All India Cold-chain Infrastructure Capacity (Assessment of Status and Gap),there has been infrastructural gaps ranging from 10% in the case of cold storages (bulk & hub) to 99.6% in the case of pack houses as compared to the requirement for perishable produce like fruits and vegetables. Insufficient private investment in such infrastructure and logistics is one of the principal reasons for such gaps.

b. Small and marginal farmers’ are unable to individually invest in primary processing technologies at the farm gate. Processing includes activities after harvesting through “pack houses” such as drying, grading, sorting, ripening, waxing, packaging, quality control assessment and the need for crop specific cold storage/ warehousing with pre-cooling facilities, cold chains, reefer trucks etc. Small and marginal farmers are also sometimes unaware of the crop quality specifications required by different types of buyers, affordability, including availability of technology, and intelligent information about near farm markets. Intermediaries are currently bridging the gap between farmers and the market and earning margins at every stage of the distribution chain.

c. Given the right motivation, the private sector could deploy strategies to benefit small and marginal farmers in post-harvest management of fruits and vegetables. These range from mechanization leasing models, farmer training/capacity building, solar technologies, contractual agreements, digital platforms, enlisting agricultural students/rural youth and FPO mobilization.

4. What role can the seed industry play in enabling/ strengthening farmer-market linkages?

a. Seed industry can provide quality seed and educate the farmer on better agricultural practices so that farmer can realise better yield. Beyond this, it’s difficult for the seed industry to play a role in price discovery.

5. What changes you see will happen in the seed and crop protection industry post COVID 19 crisis?

a. Agriculture is less affected (vs other sectors) from the perspective of farmer level consumption of agri inputs

b. Crop Shift: Possible shifting of Paddy to Maize in PB/HR. Maize shifting to Cotton in TS

c. Shrinkage in Brand loyalty: Lack of cash and unavailability of brands leading to shifts in brand loyalty

d. Home delivery: Increase in emphasis

e. Digital Connect: Channel communication on WhatsApp and Zoom with company for offers, order placements from farmers through WhatsApp

f. Agri input companies directly reaching farmers through agri e-commerce companies

g. Collections remain challenged

6. What impact do you see in agriculture regionally due to covid? Do you see farmers shifting to a different crop than what they have been growing in the past?

a. As the Agriculture sector is exempted under essential commodities much of the preparatory operations were done during the lockdown. So, we expect an impact, but still much lesser than other sectors. Crop Shift: Possible shifting of Paddy to Maize in PB/HR. Maize shifting to Cotton in TS

7. Which crops do you think will be most affected because of the lockdown imposed in India? Do you see prices of agricultural produce sharply fluctuating in the coming months?

a. Fruits & Vegetables which are perishable are much affected during the lockdown,Exports of Grapes and Mango affected due to restrictions in importing countries.Farmers undertook distress sales as the produce is perishable and transportation is dislocated.In some places Veg are destroyed by farmers as they are not able to move to mandis due to lack of transportation and unavailability of labor.Depending on how the pandemic pans out and whether there are repeated waves and consequent lockdowns, price may turn volatile for select crops. Our stock-to-use ratio for most cereals are good, though there are reports of destruction of stored grains due to rains, storage pests etc. Hence, we have to be watchful on the prices front.

8. Food security and nutritional security are two sides of the same coin, if a country needs to ensure both, what should be the strategy?

a. Stabilize food supplies through adequate stockholding in the form of strategic food security reserves,improve post-harvest handling, packaging, storage, preservation, transport and distribution of food to reduce losses at all stages to enhance the health of people.

9. Do you think India is in a better position to address domestic needs of food security and become a reliable exporter?

a. With the record production of food grains over PY (296MT Vs 284MT) and good current storage levels of food grains indicate better position in food security.India has remained consistently a net exporter of agri-products, touching Rs 2.7 lakh crore exports, the Economic Survey 2018-19 said.However, its total agricultural export basket accounts for a little over 2.15 percent of the world agricultural trade. The major export destinations are USA, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nepal and Bangladesh.The potential for India to do better remains. The government has recently initiated a comprehensive “Agriculture Export Policy” aimed at doubling the agricultural exports and integrating Indian farmers and agricultural products with the global value chains. It has created agri cells in many Indian embassies abroad to take care of agricultural trade related issues. Some of these initiatives will help India become a reliable exporter while assuring food security domestically.

10. According to you what kind of crops should be exported to get a better value for the produce?

a. Floriculture in India is being viewed as a high growth Industry. Commercial floriculture is becoming important from the export angle.The important floricultural crops in the international cut flower trade are rose, carnation, chrysanthemum, gerbera, gladiolus, gypsophila, liastris, nerine, orchids.Apart from this Fruits and Vegetable Seed in India is being viewed as a high growth Industry

11. Given the demand it has seen during COVID 19, do you think the government should encourage farmers to grow immunity booster herbal and medicinal crops?

a. There are several challenges in growing them like shortage of suitable cultivation technology,production of small quantities,unscientific way of harvesting,paucity of research on high yielding varieties,inefficient processing techniques,fluctuation in demand and supply and poor marketing infrastructure. It is very difficult to address them in quickly & it will take time to get enough demand for their cultivation.

12. Government has been pushing farmers to adopt technology for more farm efficiencies, given how tech is important for farms post covid, how do you think farmers can finally be convinced to adopt technology?

a. Mechanisation is expected to increase in the Indian farms. Cost effective solutions that address the Indian context e.g. small farm holdings will enable farmers to adopt these solutions.

b. There are other challenges faced by the farmers. Lack of practical knowledge, difficulty in handling machines properly, high cost of maintenance, environmental impacts due to overuse etc. These have to be addressed through strong and missionary extension work.

13. What role do you see for farm mechanization and digitization of agriculture in the social distancing scenario?

a. India’s agricultural sector depends on migrant labourers for several operations. Now, an estimated 50 million migrant labourers (of India’s 140 million) are expected to have returned to their native places from cities following the nationwide lockdown from March 24. Unavailability of labour may force the farmers to switch to purchase suitably machinery. However, this will work only for those who can afford the same.

b. Nascent trends of precision agriculture are at work with many private sector players trialingdigital solutions providing weather,pest and yield forecasting engines. These solutions have to stabilise.

c. Individual farmer contacts by private players are now happening digitally through Whatsapp calls. Some farmers have started purchasing their inputs by placing orders on whatsapp, ecommerce platforms etc.

14. Due to COVID-19 many agricultural activities have taken a back seat. What do you think is the future of technologies like biotech and gene-editing given the current agricultural landscape?

a. Covid 19 has starkly brought home how a major crisis can come about unannounced and how great an impact it can have. Several commentators have called this a “1991 moment” and urged great regulatory reform. In this regard, biotech, gene editing etc are good options which the Government should consider permitting. So far, it was peace time. However now in war time, it has become clear that absent these technologies we may face severe problems of climate induced impacts in future. We have a reference to how our experience in Covid 19 has been. So far, we had no such experience and climate change was only a conceptual problem. Not any longer. It is hoped that this crisis will generate strong action on the regulatory front.

15. Can you share with us some good practices adopted by your company during covid? How did you reach out to farmers during these tough times?

a. Under the current Covid 19 situation, foremost, we are focusing on the safety of our employees and operations. All our office staff are WFH and in factories, we are following the norms of attendance, social distancing, use of masks, sanitisers etc.

b. To the extent possible, we have coincided our maintenance related shutdown with the lockdown period.

c. We are reaching farmers through Distance Marketing by telemarketing, Voice SMS, text SMS, Whatsapp etc.

d. We are engaging with our channel partners through video calls e.g google hangouts.

e. We are undertaking e-training programs for our staff and encouraging skill building at this time.

f. We have commenced using social media like Facebook, Youtubeetc