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Sustainable agriculture should be national mission: MD Coromandel International

Dec 09, 2012

Coromandel International Limited, a Rs 9800 crore organisation, which works at improving the lives of farmers, has decided to extend farm mechanisation services to farmers in rural Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The business portfolio of the company includes fertilisers, specialty nutrients, crop protection and retail. How this is being implemented and is adopted as a model is what Managing Director of the company Kapil Mehan, shares with Rakesh Sood of One World South Asia.

Coromandel Group

OneWorld South Asia: Can you explain how farm mechanisation has been helpful in bringing in improvement in productivity and benefited farmers in Andhra and Karnataka?

Mehan: As a part of the company’s mission of sustainable agriculture, we want to take technology to the farmers and guide them. In turn, taking the farm industry towards maximum value creation and enhancing livelihoods. The initiative was started as a pilot project in 2010 because of the high cost of labour and scarcity of farm labourers especially in peak season of farm operations. Within two years’ time, productivity has increased from 15 to 20 per cent. Besides, saving time and money in various farm operations from sowing to harvesting, mechanisation is also helps move towards precision agriculture such as land-levelling results, which results in higher yields with same inputs of fertilisers and water. However, the present pace of growth in the farm mechanization is inadequate to meet the growing need of Indian agriculture. The concept of sustainable agriculture should be taken up as a national mission.

OWSA: What are the challenges before sustainable agriculture and how can it be popularised in India?

Mehan: Presently, more than 50 per cent of India’s population is engaged in agriculture, and it generates less than 14 per cent of the national income. If we are to achieve inclusive growth, the output in agriculture has to grow for this. Sustainable agriculture is very important to achieve food security and nutrition security for the country. To achieve double digit growth, demand from rural India is expected to play an important role in driving the growth of national economy, manufacturing and service sectors which stand at 7 per cent, 8 per cent and 10 per cent respectively whereas growth in agriculture is a mere 3.5 per cent. To enhance agricultural growth, we need an integrated approach including plant nutrition, soil health correction, debt and water management.

The Planning Commission has set the target of 4 per cent for agriculture and related sectors in 12th Five Year Plan. Clearly, the task is challenging as various farm operations such as land levelling, irrigation, sowing and planting involve high degree of precision to increase productivity. Moreover, inherent problems, especially, small and scattered landholdings are a major impediment in the way of mechanisation. Conducive policies such as liberalisation of land lease market, encouraging cooperative farming and hiring of machinery are needed to be introduced. The new regime should be economically viable for the farmers and socially acceptable.

OWSA: Since agriculture is the largest consumer of water, growing water scarcity is also impacting the sector, what do you suggest to improve the water management system?

Mehan: Water is one of the most essential and precious input but is also one of the most mismanaged. Agriculture sector accounts for 80 per cent of total water consumption in India, however, its use efficiency is very low and ranges between 35 to 40 per cent for crop utilisation which is applied through flood method of irrigation. In my opinion, micro and drip irrigation use should be propagated and standardisation of equipment should be brought in. There is also a need to develop conservation, recycling and efficient harvesting of scarce water resources. The Indian famer can learn a lot from innovative practices adopted in countries like Israel on moisture conservation and usage.

OWSA: What is Coromandel International doing as a responsible corporate citizen?

Mehan: At Coromandel International Limited, Corporate Social Responsibility is not an afterthought. It has been part of the company’s guiding principles for over fifty years and a fundamental part of its approach to business. It is one of the important motivating themes behind all its entrepreneurial ventures.

Coromandel strongly believes that business interest is not limited to commercial profit alone but also in contributing to inclusive growth. Coromandel has always been at the fore front of CSR initiatives in the communities around its manufacturing facilities as well as in the markets in which it operates. Its CSR thrust areas are Community Development, Education, Environment and Health besides helping people during the times of natural calamities. While doing so, Coromandel ensures it measures the various societal, environmental, and compliance to government regulations. Coromandel contributes approximately 1 per cent of its PAT every year to AMM Foundation, the corporate social arm of the Murugappa Group.

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