Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.shillpi a singh
LOVE IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Farmers and Agripreneurs
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: Love. They must do it for love. Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide,” said Wendell Berry.
Retracing actor extraordinaire Manoj Bajpayee’s brand endorsements in 2021 makes one marvel at the ingenuity of his choices. He endorsed products and services that matter to an ordinary person, be it home, finance, farm, food, and rightly so. “I was born and brought up in a village, and I have always flaunted being a farmer’s son with immense pride. It is the core of my being, my work and how I choose to do what I do,” he says. A proud farmer’s son, he endorsed Krish-e App by Mahindra because the product reflects his identity, and he could relate to it. “Moreso, because I find technology a great enabler, and Krish-e has leveraged it to its advantage to help farmers reduce costs, increase productivity, and ultimately farmers’ income,” says the actor, who won the National Award for his searing performance in Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle this year. With his endorsement, Bajpayee set the tone for the changing narrative in the agriculture sector that’s gravitating towards tech and seeing the active participation of young agripreneurs.
IT professional Muhaimin Sheik decoded the perfect work-from-home balance during the lockdown, much to his delight. A native of Ramanathapuram, Pottagavayal village in Tamil Nadu, Sheik returned home to be with his family during the pandemic last year and has stayed in the village ever since then. Hailing from a family of farmers, he wasn’t as deeply involved in the process as he is now, and the WFH, in a way, helped him reconnect with his roots. “I spend five days coding and two days farming. I start my weekdays with a stroll down the farm before logging in for work. One day someone asked me, ‘You are educated and working with a software firm, so why do you want to do this? The company pays you well, right?’ I replied, ‘Yes, it does, but I can’t eat the money. I can eat rice only’,” says Sheik.
CEO of Athvas Horti Fed Producer Company Ltd Asiya Nazir from Kupwara in Kashmir runs a farmer producer organisation and sells to wholesale and retail buyers on a tech-enabled Harvesting Farmers Network (HFN) platform. “I sell walnut, almonds, apple jam, honey and saffron on HFN mobile app directly to buyers across India. The tech-enabled market linkage is a massive relief for farmers like me,” says Nazir.
On the other hand, Raghu Dharanipathi of Kapila Agrofarms in Siddipet, Telangana, has benefitted tremendously by feeding corn silage (Cornvita by SAGO) to his cattle for the last three years. “Sago has been one of the best both in terms of quality of the product and customer service. Milk production of our dairy cattle consistently improved by 10-15% in the last three years,” says Dharanipathi.
The story of Ajit Sorate,a large farmland owner from Baramati, Maharashtra, who faced challenges due to a lack of knowledge about the advanced implements available in the market, is no different. Thanks to Krish-e advisory, his plantation costs have been drastically reduced. Earlier, Sorate used to utilise 16 acres for sugarcane and 12 acres for maize cultivation. This year, after registering on the Krish-e app, he has planted sugarcane, from which he expects over 35% more output. “Krish-e app comes with Mahindra’s promise and has a smooth functioning where I can avail proper advice on soil testing, primary tillage and intercropping to help in scientific mapping of the crop,” he says.
Krish-e is a new business vertical from Mahindra Group that provides technology-driven services that are progressive, affordable, and accessible to farmers. “We launched Krish-e and Nidaan apps in October 2021, keeping in mind the ever-evolving needs of the modern farmers. These apps leverage a combination of agronomy, data and farming expertise to improve farmer’s income per acre,” says Hemant Sikka, President, Farm Equipment Sector, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.
HFN founder Ruchit Garg, who launched a mobile app in November 2021, had been actively helping smallholders’ farmers from across the country market and sell their harvest through a dedicated Twitter page during the first wave of COVID19. Farmers used to message crop details to him, and he used to broadcast those details on Twitter, and the farmers’ produce used to find buyers in no time. Buoyed by the consumer response, he decided to have a dedicated mobile app for farmers. “HFN Kisan mobile app is world’s only mobile app which provides full-stack services to not only farmers in horticulture, but also to farmers involved in fishery, poultry and livestock,” says Garg.
Hyderabad-based agri-tech startup SAGO Speciality Feeds was started by three passionate agripreneurs — former NABARD employee Chandrasekhar Singh, his nephew Saikiran and son Anurag — in 2019. At SAGO, they have deployed fermentation biology to develop and manufacture silage from corn crops and use microbial inoculants for making silage. The technology helps produce high-quality feed for cattle and enables efficient year-long storage of green fodder. “Silage is a highly nutritious and balanced feed for cattle, sheep and other ruminants, and it can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals. Silage also helps reduce the volume of feed as it is highly compressed, thereby decreasing the overall cost and meeting the nutritional requirement,” says Singh.
Growth in numbers
The numbers are promising, and best elucidate the success story. Garg recounts how the app helped a Bangalore farmer sell 20,000 kg of grapes in just three days and how a farmer from Bihar got a weekly brinjal subscription from a nearby hotel by using the app. “We have at least one farmer from each Indian state/UT on our platform,” he adds with pride.
The high-quality corn silage is produced at SAGO’s plant in Banswara, Rajasthan. “More than 1,200 farmers produce corn crop for us annually. Over 230 dairy farms, involving over 12,000 dairy cattle, are fed with our corn silage annually. Sago has created an efficient and sustainable agricultural production ecosystem covering Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Telangana and significantly improved the livelihood of the farming community involved,” elucidates Singh.
The Krish-e and Nidaan apps have received more than six lakh downloads. With an omnichannel approach, Krish-e is has been able to make a considerable difference to farming outcomes. “Through Krish-e, Mahindra is creating a nation of ‘Champion Farmers’. To date, Krish-e has increased the yield of farmers by up to Rs 15,000, brought down the cost of farming by about 8-12% and increased profit by up to Rs 6000 per acre. It reflects the passion of those progressive farmers who have adopted new practices to improve their outcomes,” adds Sikka.
Plans in the offing
SAGO plans to expand into other speciality feeds for animals such as Aflatoxin free corn for pet feed and Quality Protein Maize for poultry feed. “These are a couple of products in the pipeline to be launched in the next two years. We are preparing to foray into the value-added food sector, focused on Functional Foods,” says Singh.
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Mahindra Group’s biannual event – Krish-e Champion Awards – is aligned with the Kharif and Rabi seasons. These Awards recognise and felicitate farmers and institutions, who have risen above the ordinary, by thinking innovatively and driving a positive change in agriculture. “Through the Krish-e Champion Awards, we aim to inspire millions of farmers and agripreneurs to build a promising future for the country. These Awards celebrate the progress of these farmers who took this first and very important step with us,” emphasises Sikka.
Like most other fields, technology in agriculture is a must, believes Garg, adding that it impacts every aspect of agriculture, from seed to market. “Agriculture requires a mix of digital and physical approaches for building a scalable and sustainable business model,” says Garg, who is planning to launch a network of brick-and-mortar HFN Kisan Centers. “These will be farmer-owned and operated. We plan to open 17,000 such centres across India,” he adds.
Young farmer Sheik sums up the tenacious spirit of others of his ilk and states, “There are many ways to earn money, but there is only one way to earn food, and that’s through agriculture.” True that! We owe a lot to the farmers. It is about time we realise it too.