"Agripreneur" success stories suggest ways forward that could help revive our economy?

Tie Kerala energizes “Agripreneurs” with insights that could help revive India’s economy

Kottayam. August 31, 2019
Kerala has developed a reputation for pioneering development activity in India. One of the State’s key drivers of innovation, TiE Kerala (The Indus Entrepreneurial Network) prescribed a variety of suggestions and collected useful feedback at their event AGRIPRENEUR 2019 in August at Kottayam.

AGRIPRENEUR 2019 was developed as one-day conference that reflected the recent influx of professionals into farming, thereby recasting India’s farms as enterprises. The event sought suggestions on the way forward for agriculture in Kerala and attempted to provide solutions for the sector’s continued viability.

TiE was launched in 1992 by a group of far thinking businesspeople. Former business leader and prolific philanthropist C. Balagopal was the organization’s Founding President.

TiE trotted out a roster of prominent speakers at Agripreneur 2019 that included Dr. R Chandra Babu - VC, Kerala Agricultural University and Mr. Devendra Kumar Singh IAS - Agricultural Production Commissioner. Given the farmers recent preoccupation with natural disasters, the organizers also featured Dr. Venu IAS – Principal Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management and Jatin Singh, the MD of SkyMet Weather.

 Panel Discussion on Current Scenario, Challenges & the Way Forward, led by (from left) Shivdas B Menon (former Pres., TiE Kerala), with Devendra Kumar, IAS, (Agricultural Production Commissioner), Venkitraman Anand, (CEO, Harrisons Malayalam), Stanley Pothen (Representative of Small Farmers in the Highlands), J. Chacko (Representatives of Rice Farmers in the Kuttanad and Manoj George (Representative of Midlands Agriculture),

Dr KK Narayanan, speaking on the Future of Farming, reminded listeners that “agriculture is the largest private enterprise in the country employing 55 percent of India’s 1.35 billion people. Dr Narayanan also proposed that the farming business in India and worldwide was rapidly changing. A renewed emphasis on technology that was able to change the “nature and nurture” of agricultural production was already underway. Indeed, the speaker warned that world population (that needs to be fed) would continue to rise from the current 7.5 billion people. Experts estimate the population stabilizing at around 9 billion while more conservative planners fear that we would need to feed as many as 12 or 13 billion people with far higher per capita consumption needs than today, before population growth on earth levels off.

Dr. Chandra Babu, Vice Chancellor of Kerala Agricultural University in his inaugural address at Agripreneur 2019 was bullish about the industry’s prospects. He reminded those present that $248 million had been spent on Agricultural start ups in 2018 and that with renewed global interest, 2019 would account for more than three times that amount. He also reminded the gathering that Kerala Agricultural University itself provided sector stage funding as well as incubator programs for would be ‘Agripreneurs’ (http://www.kau.in/announcement/raftaar-agri-business-incubator-applications-invited-agripreneurship-orientation )

Land use trends: In Kerala (according to the "Envis Center" cash crops dominate constituting 62.8 percent of the total cultivated area. In 2016, plantation crops like rubber, coffee, tea and cardamom accounted for 26.8 percent of the total cultivated area. Coconut has the largest area under crop cover (30 per cent) followed by rubber (20.9 percent) and paddy (7.4 percent). The presentations at the Agripreneur event seem to suggest that the dominance of single crop estates and cash crops are likely to be reduced as new technologies and market demand make conventional agriculture and horticulture more viable. The growing popularity of zero-budget and organic farming was also helping farmers charge higher prices which are vital to high wage state economies like Kerala.

Agriculture's potential to boost the Indian Economy: Devinder Sharma, an agriculture, food and trade policy expert, writing for the National Herald maintains that only Agriculture can reboot the economy, sustain millions of livelihoods and reduce global warming. Former UN General Secretary Ban-Ki-Moon once acknowledged that the accumulation of wealth in the West is mostly built on Greenhouse Gas emissions and is tantamount to environmental suicide. Warns Sharma, “look at the environmental fallout of industrial agriculture. Soil fertility has declined to almost zero in intensively farmed regions; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated”.

Economically and environmentally viable Agripreneurs will support the rural economy, reducing rural-urban migration. If villages grow, our cities will be saved from the migratory influx, thereby protecting them from collapse. Agriculture therefore is not just another economic sector. Tie-Kerala’s innovative event recognizes the pivotal role of Agriculture and more importantly does something concrete to help!

TiE Kerala should be commended for this event that drew farmers from around the state. Building agriculture not only energizes the segment of the economy that employs the most Indians, it also provides for environmental renewal and offers hope for rural populations that have hitherto been fleeing into India’s over congested cities.

Useful links for Agripreneurs:

The website for The Indus Entrepreneurial Network:  https://kerala.tie.org/

Kerala Agricultural University’s Incubator Program for “Agripreneurs”; http://www.kau.in/institution/raftaar-agri-business-incubator

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