News: Sugar production drops by 50 per cent due to crushing delay.. FCI expects to earn Rs 3,400 cr from wheat exports. Minimum export price of onion reduced to $800 per tonne.. Bt cotton attracting youngsters to farming in India: Survey.. Horticulture Mission leads to increase in vegetable production to 159.51 million tonnes in 2012-13.. Sugarcane growers to get incentive of Rs 150 per tonne.. Private equity firms invest about Rs 940 crore in agri-logistics and cold chain industry in past three years.. 50% subsidy to buy machineries from Tea Board..
Events: INDIA : AgriTalk India 2014 - Date: 12-15 March 2014 - Venue: Shashtri Maidan, Limda Chowk, Near Trikon Baug, Rajkot. Gujarat.. India International Seafood Show (IISS) - at Chennai Trade & Convention Centre from 10 to 12 Jan 2014.. Agrovision : 24 - 27 January 2014 - Reshim Bagh Ground - Nagpur, India.. Dairy Show : 01 - 03 February 2014 - HITEX Exhibition Centre Hyderabad, India.. The International Conference on Organic & Ecological Agriculture in Mountain Ecosystems March 5th- 8th, 2014, in Thimphu Bhutan.. India`s Largest Exhibition on Agriculture, Farm Machinery,Dairy, Poultry, Livestock Equipment & Agri Processing Technology 22-23-24 August 2014, BIEC, Bangalore INDIA.. National Agriculture fair cum exhibition Krishi Vasant 2014 - 9 - 13 February 2014, Venue: Central Institute of Cotton Research, National Highway No 7, Nagpur Wardha Road, Nagpur, Maharashtra, India.. WORLD : INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BIOLOGICAL,CHEMICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (BCES-2014) Jan. 21-22, 2013 PATONG BEACH, PHUKET (Thailand) Phuket, Thailand.. INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FOOD, BIOLOGICAL AND MEDICAL SCIENCES (FBMS-2014) Jan. 28-29, 2014 Bangkok (Thailand) Bangkok, Thailand.. 2014 International Conference on Chemical and Food Engineering (ICCFE 2014) Dubai, United Arab Emirates.. International Conference on Agriculture and Forestry 2014 (ICOAF 2014) Colombo, Sri Lanka.. Global Forum for Food and Agriculture 2014, Venue: 16 - 18 January 2014 in Berlin.. Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture - 3rd to 5th Feb 2014, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (ARE).. Global Forum for Food and Agriculture 2014 "Scaling Agriculture up for Food and Nutrition Security" - 16th to 18th Jan 2014, Berlin, Germany (DEU).. Seaveg2014: Families, Farms, Food -25th to 28th Feb 2014,Bangkok, Thailand (THA)..

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1) Rikin Gandhi – CEO, Digital Green


Banihalli, a village 80 kilometres from Bangalore, a group of farmers gather in a courtyard and discuss worm composting after watching a video of the process. Since the video features a fellow villager, who has shot it, the farmers are able to connect with the message. “This way the farmers easily identify with the specific agricultural practice. The videos are shot by them but we make sure that its quality is good,” says 29-year-old Rikin Gandhi, an NRI from New Jersey, who is the CEO of Digital Green, a non-profit organization.

Digital Green’s aim is “to raise the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the developing world through the targeted production and dissemination of agricultural information via participatory video and mediated instruction through grassroots-level partnerships.” Banihalli is one among the many villages that Rikin transverses in the four Indian states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand.

Born and brought up in the US, Rikin holds degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Masters in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering) and Carnegie Mellon (Bachelors in Computer Science).

A trained pilot, he was all set to join the US Astronaut programme. While waiting for his US Air Force application to be cleared, he joined Oracle in California. A chance visit to India during that time gave him his first exposure to rural India.

The exposure as well as the realisation that 60 percent of his native country’s population relied on agriculture for livelihood made Rikin rethink on his goals. Interacting with the rural folks, he felt that use of technology could improve their economic well being and he prepared himself to reconnect with his roots for a bigger cause.

“I have been reading autobiographies of astronauts, who see the earth from above with new perspective. They become very philosophical; think about the futility of wars and human greed. Many become farmers, teachers and go all the way to reconnect with people,” says Rikin, adding that going into space was like getting fifteen minutes of fame while working for small and marginal farmers and transforming their lives was more meaningful.

So, what could be called a case of reverse brain drain happened with Rikin joining Microsoft Research in Bangalore as a researcher in the technology for emerging markets in 2006.

Today, Digital Green is active in making videos of better farm practices using the villagers, after training them. The videos are then shown to small groups of villagers on laptops, DVD, village cable network and screens.

“These are simple videos starring local villagers that strike a chord with fellow villagers. We have taken feedback and found 70-80 percent farmers adopting new ideas as opposed to 10-15 percent earlier by traditional extension approach,” says Rikin, who has enabled production of thousands of such local videos.

Selected as an Ashoka fellow and included in the 2010 list of world’s young innovators in Technology Review 35 (published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Rikin made Digital Green an independent organisation in 2009, which is now supported by Bill Gates Foundation. Having covered some 500 villages and with a target of 1200 in two years, Digital Green is going global as Rikin starts work in Ethiopia and Uganda in a couple of months. On the reaction of his parents, who had migrated to US for better opportunities, Rikin says they were initially apprehensive but when they saw his work, they were quite excited. by By Kavita Kanan Chandra from Mumbai.

2) Shashank Kumar and Manish Kumar - Farms and Farmers Foundation


PATNA: Treading a path less travelled, two IITians have taken to agriculture after turning down lucrative job offers by MNCs and made a mark for themselves within a few months. Beginning their offbeat initiative in October 2010 in Vaishali district, their activities now span six districts in Bihar.

Meet Shashank Kumar, an IIT-Delhi graduate (2004-2008 batch), and Manish Kumar, an IIT-Kharagpur postgraduate (2005-10 batch), who have embarked on their mission to improve the lot of farmers in the backwaters of Bihar with the aim to empower them, much to the chagrin of their parents.

The two techies were old friends, having prepared together for engineering entrance tests, a couple of years back. In October 2010, they persuaded a group of 14 farmers in Vaishali district, 30km from here, to do scientific agriculture.

"We suggested to farmers to cultivate 'rajma' instead of the conventional crop of wheat. But they ignored our suggestions outright," said Manish. "We were at our wits' end," Manish recalled adding, "but we somehow persuaded 18 farmers to experiment on six acres of land. Luckily, it was a huge success."

"The farmers earned Rs 1000 per kattha with an investment of Rs 400. For wheat, they used to invest Rs 350 and reap 50kg produce per kattha, earning Rs 400 to 500," said Manish, son of a retired clerk.

In February 2011, they founded an NGO, 'Farms n Farmers (FnF)', which does everything from soil testing to providing a market to farmers. Its activities have now expanded to adjoining districts including Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Banka and Purnia.

"Our focus is on maximizing returns from land through natural farming," said Shashank.

In Purnia district, where corn and potato are predominantly grown, farmers usually leave their land unused from June to September. "We advised farmers to sow baby corn. As baby corn is reaped within 50 to 60 days, farmers had a bumper harvest just before raising another crop," said Manish, who hails from Chakdariya village in Vaishali district.

Several Purnia farmers harvested 25kg baby corn per kattha of land and sold it for an average amount of Rs 750, earning more than Rs 300, he said.

In Buxar, the farmers, facing water shortage, were advised to grow medicinal herbs, which need negligible irrigation.

"We sell directly to food processing companies. It helps farmers earn more," said Shashank. The FnF charges a nominal 10% of total sale value from farmers. The techies plan to lower this figure in future as more farmers join their initiative.

"We want to create a large network of small and marginal but happy and prosperous farmers," Shashank and Manish told TOI.

Though they are currently not using organic methods of farming, they said "organic is best." "Now that we have gained farmers' faith, we have started to work on organic farming. We are advising farmers to avoid using chemical fertilizer," they said.

FnF, which has more than 150 farmers associated with it, has an eight-member advisory team which includes Prof P K Sinha from IIM-Ahmedabad, Prof R Singh and P B S Bhadoria from IIT-Kharagpur, and Dr Bimla Rai from RAU, Pusa. Manish and Shashank hold regular training programmes in different parts of Bihar.

3) A story of a banker turned farmer in Bihar
“Farming is fascinating. The only thing is that it requires continuous hard-work and devotion without any distraction” says Mr. Barun Singh, a government bank manager-turned-farmer.

Mr. Barun Singh maintains a vermi-composting unit in a portion of his 10 acre land. A dairy unit is attached to the composting unit so that the cattle dung can be easily utilized for the process without much labour involvement.

Waste materials like dried leaves, rotten vegetables, fruits etc is spread on a polythene sheet placed on the ground and then covered with cattle dung. Tanks are made of bricks and cement with small holes to facilitate easy movement of earthworms from one tank to another and effective collection of vermi-wash.

Net profit
“The farmer made a net profit of Rs. 12 lakh from his composting unit alone which included sales of above Rs. 25 lakh in the States of Bihar and Jharkhand together with supplies to the government in 2012 and in the current year, he expects a net profit of Rs. 15 lakh since the demand for organic inputs in Bihar is quite high,” says Mr. Aditya, Assistant Professor-cum-Junior Scientist, Department of Extension Education, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, Bihar, who is working on an action research to catalyze rural leadership for better dissemination of information.

In addition to this Mr. Barun has maintained a two-acre farm exclusively for the cultivation of tissue culture banana through high density planting (HDP) technique. “Two months old plants are growing even better than the normal banana cultivars planted at the same time in other plots,” says Mr. Barun.

High Density Planting (HDP), an advance technique, is an effective method used to improve the fruit productivity. Through HDP 4,000 to 5,000 plants can be planted in a hectare and the yield improves radically.

HDP technique
According to Mr. Aditya, this technique is more useful for perennial crops because it allows efficient use of land and resources, realizing higher yield and net profit, easy canopy management suited for farm mechanization, and cultural practices, efficient spray and weed control, improvement in fruit quality easy and good harvest.

In India, HDP technology has been successfully used in banana, pineapple, papaya and mango, guava and citrus where the yield has increased two to three times.

The combination of dairying with over 30 high yielding cows of Sahiwal, Jersy and Holstein- Friesian breed along with 28 calves, goatery with Jamapari breed of goats brought from Rajasthan, fishery in 0.75 acres of land with mix-carp variety of fish and short-duration tissue culture banana plant, maize and vegetable crops like bottle gourd, potato, ladys finger are grown in his farm.

Sale of milk
From dairying alone, he is able to sale over 180 litres of milk each day fetching over Rs. 1.70 lakhs per month.

The carp fish has great demand in the local market and the state capital. The demand often exceeds the supply. It is a good source to meet current expenses incurred day to day on his farm

The best part is that the crops are grown completely by organic means with no use of chemical fertilizers.

The vegetables produced from the farm are packed and sent to different parts of the state as well as the local market. Along with it, he owns a mustard processing plant to extract oil and use mustard bran as a nutritious concentrate feed for cattle,” says Mr. Aditya.

“More than 80 per cent of Indian farmers have small farm holdings. The success of an agricultural research programme or project must be on increasing productivity and income to the small famer,” he adds.

Mr. Barun was conferred the best Innovative Farmer Award by the university last year for his sustained efforts and leadership qualities in guiding other farmers in the region.

Rural leaders
“My dream is to intensify my current activities in the coming years to give it a shape of an agro-industry and also form a club of rural-leaders who would be trained by the University for working in the area of farming they desire,” says Mr. Barun.

For visits and more information, readers can contact: Mr. Barun P. Singh, Gram: Patwaha, Block: Kehra, Dist, Saharsa, Bihar, Mobile :08809419388 and Mr. Aditya, Assistant Professor-cum-Junior Scientist, Department of Extension Education, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, Bihar., mobile: 9798649444.

4)The Potato Farming Success of Gujarat's Banaskantha District

Parthi Chaudhary is a police official with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, posted at Mehsana in Gujarat. He is in the news for busting records, not white collar scams. Three years ago, Chaudhary picked 87.188 tonnes of potatoes from every hectare of his farm in Palanpur, the headquarters of Banaskantha district. The event, he says, was witnessed by a team put together by the collector, including agriculture experts from nearby Dantiwada University. The buzz in this part of the country is that it is a world record, though a Google search throws up  another claimant, from Bihar, who is said to have harvested 108.8 tonnes of potato earlier this year. India’s best average yield, from Gujarat and Punjab, is 26 tonnes a hectare.  

Chaudhary treats his 90-acre farm as nature’s manufactory. For him agriculture is an industrial activity which can be broken up into discrete processes that play on the aspects that aid growth and tamp down those that do not to coax the best out of soil and seed. His employees are partners in the venture: They get a share of the produce under the prevalent practice of bhagidari (sharing). To win them over to his management style, Chaudhary has devised a matrix of 100 points. A score of 70 plus gets a bonus; below 50 percent earns a penalty. So far there have been only winners.

We are discussing Lady Rosetta at the Rajpath Club in Ahmedabad. It is a potato variety high in solids and low in sugar, and named after its bashful skin. Chaudhary’s cultivated lady is for Chandubhai Virani of Rajkot’s Balaji Wafers. PepsiCo is also a suitor. (For fries, the varieties are long, not round, like Innovator and Kennebec). The yield this year was 67 tonnes a hectare. Chaudhary says he has 1,400 tonnes in cold storage. At the current price of Rs 14 a kg, the stock is worth Rs 1.96 crore. That is a near 300 percent return in just 120 days on investment of Rs 52 lakh.  

Banaskantha has known potato farming from the days of the British Raj, but it is Canada’s McCain Foods, the family-owned global supplier to McDonald’s, and a seller of own-brand wedges, fries and tikkies, that has taught farmers here to grow them scientifically. McCain followed McDonald’s to India in 1998. It worked on potatoes in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh but found the cold weather inhibiting weight gain and adding sugar (which caramelises and turns fries dirty brown). West Bengal, like Gujarat, has the ideal climate, but plot sizes are too small for contract farming, so it gave up trials about three years ago.

McCain found enormous waste in Gujarat. Flood irrigation was the practice; the water flushed would add up to a 750 mm column by the end of the crop season. But potatoes need moisture, not drenching. Just as much water should be replenished as evaporates from soil and transpires through leaves. Farmers lavished nitrogenous fertiliser to make up for the nutrient leaching through the sandy soil. High humidity brought pest and fungal attacks.

McCain persuaded farmers to use sprinklers, cutting water and nitrogen use by a third. They are commonplace now, aided by government subsidies, and eight-hour rationed power supply to the farm grid. How long the sprinklers should be on is determined by data provided by the company’s two weather stations, one at a spot on the way to Mt Abu (in Rajasthan), and the other at Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district. Through phone calls and text messages, field staff convey the information to farmers. Other innovations have reduced planting time and energy use in cold storages.

McCain began contract farming in 2006 with four farmers and 16 acres in Badgam village. Today, 900 of them assure it a produce of 4,500 acres. The landholdings in this area are quite big. Half the farmers own more than 10 acres each. But everyone, small or big, is invited, says procurement officer Gopal Dass Sharma, who is known to be free with agronomic advice even to farmers not on contract. The company’s plant at Mehsana has an appetite of 50,000 tonnes a year, most of which is mopped up from within the vicinity.  

In November, at the beginning of the potato season, farmers sign a contract pledging to supply at least 10 times the quantity of seed by the third week of March, after which purchases stop. The quality parameters are specified; a detailed schedule of farming practices, written in Gujarati, is provided for each variety of potato. Agronomic advice is also available on call. Farmers get seed spuds for half the price; the rest is deducted from the sale price. If farmers default, post-dated cheques are encashed.

Farmers start with McCain and, like Parthi Chaudhary, move on within a few years, after they get a hang of the art. Often they grow for multiple buyers. Unlike McCain, PepsiCo and Balaji Wafers buy through agents, who are paid a fee for seed supplied and potato procured at a price announced at the beginning of the season. These vendors dip into the open market if procurement falls short of contracted quantity.

5)Growing different crops to script a success story

The maturity of the crop is judged by the drying of the leaves and berries turning red. The crop is ready for harvest in 150-170 days after sowing, starting from January upto march. The entire plant is uprooted and roots are separated by cutting the stem 1-2cm above the crown
Hard work, dedication and some innovative thinking to make use of available resources for getting maximum benefit are practised by few farmers. Mr. Poornaand Venkatesh Bhat from Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka is an exception.

A contractor-turned-farmer by choice, he started cultivation in 21 acres but soon had to give it up since his land was bought by the Government to set up a naval base.

He invested the money he received from the Government in 19 acres of barren wasteland.

Through sheer hard work he transformed the barren land in a few years into a big arecanut, nutmeg and pepper based intercrop plantation.

Today almost all leading agricultural scientists and students across the country are visiting his farm to learn more on areacanut, pepper and nutmeg growing techniques.

“His contributions towards plantation crops in general and spices like nutmeg in particular are noteworthy. Majority of nutmeg plants during seedling stage are males though sporadically some female seedlings are also found.

No technique
There is no other way to identify the sex of the nutmeg plant during seedling stage. It takes a minimum of five years after planting to know the gender of the plant.

But Mr. Bhat has succeeded in detecting the sex of the plant at seed stage and he intends to patent this process of sex detection,” says Dr. S.Prabhu Kumar, Zonal Project Director, ICAR, Bangalore.

For nutmeg varieties
He has also identified and developed four varieties of nutmeg and has about 2,500 nutmeg trees in his garden, which is considered to be the world’s largest nutmeg conservatory according to scientists from The Indian Institute of Spices Research, Kozhikode.

Each tree in his farm bears about 1,000 fruits a year (from sixth year of planting). One kg of nuts contains about 170 dry fruits along with the hard outer shell and one kg of mace.

The farmer is able to get an income of Rs. 1,600 per kg of mace and Rs. 500 per kg of nuts.

Not stopping with mere selling of the nuts, he has also gone into value addition of the produce. His nutmeg jams and pickles are quite popular in the market since they are rare and tasty.

Many technologies
“This innovative farmer-scientist has developed many technologies in nutmeg like harvesting and separation of fully matured nuts, washing, blanching, drying, storage, processing, grading, storing and value addition. These things are usually done by research and development institutions,” says Dr. Prabhu Kumar.

He is also an expert in arecanut and black pepper cultivation.

He gets double the average yield from both these and is also involved in black pepper processing to manufacture white pepper, which has great demand in the export market.

Till date 6,000 to 7,000 farmers from Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have visited him to learn this process.

His arecanut, pepper, nutmeg , coconut nurseries are popular among farmers. In fact many farmers who have such plantations have bought the seedlings from his nursery. “Before starting nutmeg-arecanut cultivation I grew only turmeric. I was able to a get about 20 tonnes of turmeric from an acre. In fact this was considered quite a feat in the region and I had many visitors to my place after local media reported it,” says Mr. Bhat.

Monthly expense
About 25 workers permanent workers help Mr. Bhat in his daily farm work and his monthly expense for their salaries works out to Rs. 35,000. His annual income from his farm is more than Rs. 80 lakh.

“Even CEOs in some big companies do not get such a big income. He is an example of dedication, innovation and hard work to make the best use of available resource to reap the maximum benefit,” according to Dr PrabhuKumar. Both his sons — a lawyer and a banker — have left their jobs to help him. He is a good example for those interested to take up farming.

Advice to growers
“Be it one acre or 50 acres never put your entire investment or attention on a single crop. Grow different varieties and plan it in such a way so that once harvesting of one crop is over, harvesting of the other starts. This way a farmer can get some sort of continuous income,” seems to be his advice for other growers.

The farmer has been conferred several awards both by the state and central government for his sterling work.

Mr. Poornanand Venkatesh Bhat can be reached at Shriram Siddhi Estate, At Post Aversa – 581316, Ankola, Uttara Kananda, Karnataka, Phone :08388-292199, email :, Mobile : 9448066998.

6)Young entrepreneurs changing agri-business in India

Rahul Gala loves technology. And he loves it so much that he has transformed the methods of agriculture in the arid region of Kutch. Today, he logs on to his computer in the morning, feeds in the data and that's it. The rest is taken care by the system—right from the irrigation to fertigation in his farm.

He grows export-quality dates and mangoes by installing a first-of-its-kind computer aided technology in India. "I can feed data for a week's schedule and my system does it for the farm right from the irrigation to fertigation," says the 30-year-old Gala, who's director of Jalbindu Agri Tech.

After returning from Australia to his native village Ratual (near Bhuj), Gala aimed to become an agri-entrepreneur. What helped in installing this technology was his degree in horticulture from Queensland University in Australia. He exploited an untapped opportunity and transformed the dynamics of methods of production.

Currently, he grows 'barhi' (a fresh variety of dates) over 12 acres of land and has sown more than 600 date plants. Each plant is expected to produce 50-70 kg of dates, which is set for despatch to Europe and Dubai under his brand Golden Dates. What's more surprising is that fellow farmers near his village are getting accustomed to his technology and are increasingly becoming e-producers.

"Agriculture is going to create huge opportunities in India. The need is dynamism and professionalism," says Gala. Many including Reliance, Essar and Atul Group have shown interest in his technology. "But I like to work on my own methods and a create sense of ownership among farmers," he adds. He has already tied-up with seven super-specialty stores in Mumbai to supply dates and mangoes and is set to invest close to Rs 6 crore in cold-storage facilities to keep his produce fresh for exports.

Agriculture in India is transforming its practices. As young and charged-up entrepreneurs are joining the fray, commodities are being turned into value-added products and premium prices can be demanded from various retail outlets. With the same available resources, young entrepreneurs are modifying their business-models and exploiting market opportunities to improve their lifestyles. This is not only helping the entrepreneur but also encouraging farmers to shift to a better world.

With a hope to make south Gujarat (an NRI-belt) the rose hub of the country, Kumar Patel returned to his village Kutched (25 kms from Valsad) after working with a few consulting firms in the US. Now Patel, at 34, has just roped in 15 rose producing villagers and entered into a buy-back arrangement with them to market their products under his popular brand—'Best Roses'.

His Rs 15 crore rose company has already started exporting to Japan, Holland, Europe, Dubai and the US with many more negotiations going on. Patel, who is also an MBA from San Francisco, recently established a hydroponics plant (the first in India) in his rose garden.

"Most of the farmers are illiterate and belong to our community which has been, for some time, baffled with conventional sugarcane and paddy production. Now, they are earning more than 40% profits by growing quality roses," says Patel. He adds that the strength of his business lies in having more units from the region to compete in the global market since labour is cheaper and his village is geographically well-placed to for timely cargo movement. Best Roses produces nearly 10 million roses per annum at an average market price of Rs 3.50 per stem, mostly imported from Kenya. It offers a range of roses—bugatti, aloha, aqua, avalance, Bordeaux, among others.

7)Youngsters leave cushy jobs to take up farming
AHMEDABAD/KOLKATA: Thirty-five-year-old Gaurav Sahai prefers the rhythmic, rugged beat of his recently purchased power tiller to the soft purr of the Honda Accord he was driving in the US only a few years ago. He enjoys the heat and toil on a seven-acre farm in Ladra Village in Mohali district more than the plush comforts of the America office of HP, his former employer. His only regret in his two-and-a-half-year stint as a farmer is that he is a 'landless labourer'.

He works the ground of a dear friend who gave the tract to Sahai, encouraging his unconventional pursuit of farming. Another friend has loaned him space at the Sector 8 market in Chandigarh, where Sahai sells his produce for three hours, once a week. Last month, he sold about 1,200 kg of vegetables. He is investing everything he is earning from the land back into it. "I do a lot of research and interact with farmers to learn the basics," says Sahai. "Farming is not just about land and soil. It needs study and planning." He is now considering herbs and spices as demand has picked up.

Across the face of the country, in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, Raja Adhikary, another 35-year old, shunned his family's trading business to take up agriculture—he runs a 100-acre tea plantation. "Tea fascinates me," he says. "I sell my green leaves to companies like McLeod Russel."

Tea prices have risen from Rs 95-100 per kg to Rs 125 per kg in two years. "This is attracting such young entrepreneurs into tea plantations," says a senior official in the tea industry.

The recent uptrend in commodity prices—be it vegetables, tea, cotton or crops—is attracting a new generation of agriculturists. These are not subsistence farmers, but savvy young first-generation entrepreneurs who see business potential in farming. They are using new methods and trying out new ideas, and are willing to shun conventional career options in order to plough the land.

"This new breed of entrepreneurs should get into cash crops like vanilla, coffee, strawberry, tea and also look at new markets," says Narayanan Ramaswamy, executive director of KPMG. "They should come up with better agricultural practices to improve productivity and quality."

Thirty-three-year-old Yogita Mehra, a post-graduate in environmental economics, quit her job with Teri (The Energy and Resources Institute) this February to start farming. "I will grow paddy and mango," says Mehra, who is now looking to buy a tract of land. Her husband Karan Manral, an independent marketing consultant, is assisting her. She is already helping 100 farmers belonging to the Chorao Farmers Club to market their mangoes

"It is great learning. I want to remain far away from the stress of urban life," she says. Mehra now runs an eco shop in Panjim called Green Essentials.

Jaskirat Singh, also 33, is another professional keen on farming. He ploughs a 1.5-acre tract that he has leased out for Rs 30,000, and also pays Rs 50,000 for labour to help him. His family members, most of whom are professionals, disapprove. But he finds the urge to step out of the condo and touch the earth too hard to resist. He shares his crop of fresh vegetables from his farm with family and employees in his software firm. "I have no plans to take to commercial farming, but I can't rule out the possibility," says Singh

Farming isn't an easy business to crack in India, especially for young entrepreneurs. "Globally farming is profitable because it is easier to access huge tracts of land," says Rajesh Srivastava, chairman and managing director of Rabo Equity Advisors. Rabo is a large agri-financier globally. "But in India, getting huge tracts of land is a real problem." Market linkages are another challenge. His advice to aspiring young farmers: look out for market access for the farm produce.

At 58, Mohali-based Ashok K Gupta is not exactly young. But he would still qualify among the new generation of farmers. He is the managing director of Diplast's Plastics, but is now discovering a new business in agriculture. He uses new hydrotech farming, growing veggies like dhaniya, pudina and lettuce in water without soil.

Gupta drives down 30 km from his factory to the farm once a week. He sells his produce under the brand name Veggie Fresh and is now looking to make a fresh start after a six-month break. Next stop: a new six-acre commercial scale hydrotech farm. You could call him a serial `farmepreneur'.

8)Young entrepreneurs changing agri-business in India
A few hundred miles away, Makrand and Anjali Churi are busy providing exotic value to their unique plan. Nisarg Nirman Agro Products, a Mumbai-based firm headed by the Churis grows and sells exotic fruits and vegetables to five-star hotels in India.

The company has a business model similar to ITC's e-choupal, but for the fact that the former only deals in exotic vegetables and fruits. So you have vegetables such as asparagus, artichoke, fennel, curled parsley and zucchini green (and yellow) being supplied to five-star hotels of the likes of Holiday Inn, The Leela, the Taj Group and also to luxury passenger liners like Libra and Star Cruises.

"We first approach the farmers and check their soil in a laboratory to explore which fruits and vegetables can be best grown. We then give a schedule and also the seeds that we want to source," says Makrand Churi, managing director, Nisarg Nirman Agro Products. The company sources these from the farmers with a 100% buy back guarantee and markets it to its five-star customers.

Presently around 300 farmers based in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and other states supply to Nisarg Nirman, alongside some sourcing from farmers in Thailand. The company grows around 80 varieties of exotic vegetables in India. Churi says they will soon setup a factory in Mumbai for manufacturing root drip irrigation systems in collaboration with Easy Irrigation, an Israeli company.

The Rs 2-crore project that is to be started in January would be a pilot project. The firm currently imports saplings and seeds from countries like the UK and Thailand. There are plans to enter the Pune market and even supply exotic vegetables to retail buyers in Mumbai.

For Hemant Desai, agriculture is not just about growing fruits and vegetables, but going beyond. Desai is the president of Pawas Canning that exports canned mango pulp to Japan. Desai not only

grows and cans the best quality mango pulp but also markets it. This season, Desai claims, many mango sellers are planning to sell their mangoes and pulp—canned and uncanned— under a single brand name.

So you may have Ratnagiri mangoes being sold as Pawas or Ratpaw. The final branding is being discussed by the farmers at the moment. "Many farmers have come forward to market their products under one brand name, and if everything goes as we have planned, we would be exporting branded mango pulp and mangoes by next year," says Desai.

Girish Minocha says cheers to that. Seated inside his wine-making unit in Shogi (near Shimla), Minocha is cheering thousands of consumers by serving his Minchy brand of wine, which has become a household name in north India. Today his unit produces one lakh litres of wine and has a consolidated license for 250 tonnes for processed food products like jams and pickles.

"Most of our production is consumed in HP, Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand," says Minocha. After few years of working with Havells India, he quit in 1992 at the age of 27 to start his own food-processing venture. And his instincts were proven right. "There were initial struggles, but I have no regrets. I see the wine industry growing at a fast pace and small players like us have a bigger role to play," he says.

As you move further towards Jallandhar, the potato belt of India, chances are high that the french fries, potato flakes or frozen green peas that you have been eating might have come from Mandip Singh's firm Satnam Agri Products.

His brand Mandy has become popular in many parts of India. Singh says he has invested close to Rs 100 crore to produce specialised varieties of potatoes for such value-added products which earn premium prices. His daily production has reached 500 tonnes and he claims his brand is set to reach the US, UK and Dubai markets very soon.