Agri Business

We want to be an ‘effective advisory’ for farmers

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on September 23, 2014

Shilpa Divekar Nirula, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Monsanto India

Monsanto India head: Will continue to focus on corn, cotton, vegetables and herbicides

Shilpa Divekar Nirula has taken over as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of farm input company Monsanto’s India operations at a time when the Government is debating on whether or not to allow controlled field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops. While, on the one hand, senior government functionaries have hinted that trials may be permitted, on the other, opposition from individuals and NGOs to GM crops have gone shriller. In an interview with BusinessLine, Nirula explains how she plans to take the company forward in this environment and how Monsanto is planning to scale up its advisory services beyond India. Edited excerpts:

What will be your focus areas as the CEO?

We will continue to focus on four broad segments – corn, cotton, vegetables and herbicides. Monsanto has been in India for over 40 years and our efforts have been to understand the needs of the farmer and how best we can address those needs. India is all set to emerge as largest producer of cotton this year and we would have played a part in that. Going forward, we are looking at how we can evolve into taking a more solutions-oriented approach to a farmer and how can we become an advisory more effectively with more capabilities.

What kind of solutions will you offer?

In the Indian context, there is an opportunity for farmers to know how to crop in a particular condition so that they can derive the most in each season. Farmers know how to farm but there’s a gap in getting timely and relevant input. There are eight million corn farmers and about seven million cotton growers so there is an opportunity for us to fill that gap.

About 4-5 years back, we started a programme through which we gave inputs to farmers on mobile devices. Once a farmer registers for this service we track factors such as humidity, temperature in his area and give related information. We also send voice messages and have developed language capabilities. We have a call centre where the farmers can call and ask specific questions. Now we have a million farmers registered on this platform. While we will focus on our core crops and pursue biotechnology, such solutions bring tremendous benefits to farmers.

How does this solution approach lead to more business for Monsanto?

Every time a query comes in we learn a lot of more of the problems being faced by the farmers. We also get feedback to see how our products. This is a good way to stay in touch with the farmers through the year.

At this point in time we have not looked at monetising this platform but considering that the platform can go larger we have seen interest from other players to partner us. The learning we have had in India can also be useful for taking this solution to other markets such as Africa or the Philippines where the farmer profile is similar to India.

What is the status of trials in India?

We are given to understand that the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee has started meeting again. It is important to continue trailing process because otherwise we won’t know if any of these products meet the requirements of our farmers in our conditions. In agriculture, every season is so unique and it is important to have variety of data in all types of conditions.

But we also understand that every Government needs to follow a process. So it’s important to be patient. We remain hopeful that the trailing process should go on.

Are you launching any new products in India?

We are working on next stage of insect-tolerant and herbicide-tolerant technology. India has strong regulatory systems and we are in different stages of regulatory process with next generation cotton and corn technology. So we will go commercial as and when we get the approvals.

How do you deal with all controversies and opposition to GM crops?

I think there is opportunity for those involved in experiencing the benefits of technology to share their experience. Every

technology goes through rigorous testing and there are enough studies from around the world.

When it comes to specific voices (who oppose) there is an opportunity to clarify even more by people like us. Of the eight million cotton farmers in India, 90 per cent use these technologies. But there is no unified voice that comes out.

There are outstanding stories out there on the success of these technologies. There is no way to channelise these voices as opposed to a few opposing voices that perpetuate a view point.

What targets have you set for yourself?

We reported ₹525 crore revenues last year. This year, because of delayed and truant monsoon, we still have to see how it plays out. We should be targeting a 10 per cent growth if you have a reasonable growth year ahead. But this will come on the back of staying close to the farmers and understanding what they need. That’s where we are focussing right now.

Published on September 23, 2014

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