Seed-to-plate agri-business value chain group Namdhari’s will soon come out with chilli varieties that have tolerance to the black thrips, an invasive pest that has harmed the country’s chilli crop over the past two years. 

“It’s a very exciting product that we are about to release. We are also working on tomato varieties which are tolerant to leaf curl across the country. And we continue to improve yield and variety or resistance level of other products as well,” said the Namdhari’s Group CEO Gurmukh Roopra. 

The group, which started in the late 1970s as a contract producer of vegetable seeds for international customers, is continuing to improve yield and variety or resistance level of other crops through hybridisation. “We are working on a variety of things. We are working on finding the best resistance strains for chilli crops. We are working with public institutions to see if they have any germplasm exchange where we can access resistant material that they may have developed but are not part of commercial varieties,” said the CEO of the company based in Bidadi, Karnataka. 

Namdhari’s, which by design is in the area of research and development of hybrid seeds, is working with different universities on chilli, bitter gourd and rice. “We are exploring these with public institutes. We work with different state universities and agriculture universities in promoting specific crop research and biotech research. We also licence out varieties that public institutes have developed, whether rice or other crops, and use that as part of our research as well,” he said. 

Namdhari’s sells seeds across the country through 15,000-20,000 touch points engaging dealers and distributors in most of the States. It has its research and development main centre at Bidadi near Bengaluru, while it houses its biotech facilities in the Karnataka capital. However, Namdhari’s has trial locations for R&D across 7-8 locations in the country with 25-30 breeders taking care of it. 

Namdhari’s core vegetables in terms of research are tomato, chilli, watermelon, okra and a few Indian gourds. It has programmes in India and works on development for South-East Asia, particularly Indonesia, Thailand and countries around them. 


Roopara said the company has a production business with a significant portion of it exporting fresh produce to the western markets. “We also do trading activity in different regions of the country in apples, oranges, and pomegranates. We develop specialty grown products through an understanding of the microclimate for Indian consumers which typically may be imported such as strawberries and blue-berries,” he said. 

Namdhari’s does research on fresh and specialty produce such as leafy vegetables with e-commerce players and others to give products throughout the year. The company is present in the retail segment in Bangalore, with one store in Hyderabad. The company, which entered the research and development segment in early 1990s, is  a regional player and offers a range of products that are value-chain controlled (60-70 per cent) such as staples, fruits, vegetables and dairy

It launched its first variety in early 1990s and its seed business is the oldest one, while Namdhari’s launched retail and fresh business in early 2000s. 

Research investment

Roopara said from the research and development point of view, agri-business companies face problems in hybridisation. “For a vegetable company like us, it typically takes us between five and seven years to introduce a product, about 8-12 per cent of our turnover is invested in doing research,” he said. 

Though a  lot of time, say 7-8 eight years, is spent on research on a product, the company, which is among the top five vegetable seed companies in the country, is not able to commercialise it quickly. This is either because it doesn’t work in the Indian climate or for other reasons. 

A good amount of investment goes into research and development and the government should encourage more research activity by incentivising companies to deploy a lot more funds in research. “I think good, attractive economic policies for companies like us would be very good. Today, sequencing simple things such as Indian gourds, okra (lady’s finger), a lot of vegetables, even a full DNA sequence is not available. 

“Now, to have that information available for individual companies like us it could be pretty costly, because the cost of doing sequencing is also very high,” the company’s CEO said. 

Huge deficit

At the level of production, connectivity with the market remains a big challenge. “We have about 7,000 APMCs (agricultural produce marketing committees) which are regulated. If the ambition is to have an APMC every 5 km radius of a growing area, then we need 42,000 APMCs. There is a huge deficit,” Roopara said.

Pointing to China, he said it is one of the biggest exporters of horticulture products such as garlic, ginger, citruses, and apples. “We can improve the varieties or increase productivity through investment or through research. We can help farmers get access to grow new or the latest genetics or varieties, so that they can deliver competitively at a global level,” he said. 

Indian farmers are growing citrus fruits with seeds while the whole world has moved to seedless ones. The world has also moved to fruits that can be easily peeled off. This can be done with not only oranges but also peaches and nectarines, Roopara said. 

Products such as Nagpur oranges, apples and pomegranates could be improved to match the world quality.  “Indian research in developing new varieties for farmers in home conditions is almost non-existent. If we want to compete with China, we also need to look at the investment that they have made in research in terms of developing better planting material, in terms of better varieties, and better agronomic practices,” the company’s CEO said.

Stating that even smaller countries such as Thailand are large exporters of a lot of products, he said it was because they have a trading arm in almost every country promoting their products. “We don’t have that kind of push from the Indian side, which does the same thing. If we really want to compete with China, then we really need to have that appetite of investing into better material at a grassroots level,” he said.

Need of the hour

On the role of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), he said while rural connectivity is taking place through penetration of mobile phones, they will continue to lead to new innovation.  Solutions will likely emerge over the next few years. 

Roopara said focused research in biotech and agriculture is the need of the hour and there is no way another 400-500 million people in the country can be fed in the next 20-25 years without investment in agriculture at a biotech level. 

Improved agriculture practices have helped raise yields of tomatoes and chillies by 50-60 per cent over the last 20-30 years. Hybridisation has been the core contributor to higher productivity, he said, calling for public-private partnership (PPP) in the agriculture sector.