Climate change is bringing multi-fold challenges in the agriculture sector to the fore with the primary ones being changing weather conditions and the land availability in the future, says Gurmukh Roopra, CEO, Namdhari’s Group. “As climate changes, weather patterns keep changing. We are predominantly an open-field, rain-dependent country. So a lot of our agriculture is dependent on rain patterns and climate change. So the rains get delayed, sowing patterns change and that will affect the time at which the crop will be going to the soil. This will affect the whole ecosystem,” he told businessline in an online interaction.
The country experienced “significant heat” in this part of the year in 2022 and it affected wheat harvest, which resulted in 15-20 per cent lower yield. Rains were delayed later that year and due to rainfall during harvest, farmers’ cost on pesticides increased and crop management costs increased.
Despite that, the yield was less. “Now, you know these are real-life challenges that climate change is bringing towards agriculture in the agriculture community,” Roopra said.
The changing weather conditions affect not only the harvest patterns but also the whole biodiversity of the ecosystem. “If suddenly it’s so hot in certain parts, how does your bee activity work? How do your viruses work? How does insect pressure work? All that changes,” he said.
The CEO of the Namdhari’s Group said the number of people that India needs to feed “is going to increase” by 20 per cent-30 per cent. “Are we talking about that much plus more consumption and being able to feed that many people, that’s another challenge. So, our view as an organisation from an agriculture point of view is that a few things are very important,” he said.
These important things are a policy or an ecosystem that encourages significant investment in modern research and science. “Without these solutions of leapfrogging and being able to address the challenges of the future are going to be very tough,” Roopra said.
For biotechnology advancements, it is important for companies in the sector to get incentives to deploy more of their turnover and use their resources to develop better technology. This will help them to provide advanced products to the farmer and tackle the multi-fold challenges. “These are multi-dimensional challenges and they need multi-dimensional support and augmentation and all of this is only possible through science-based research, funding encouragement, incentivisation and policies,” he said.
Stating that climate change is an “ongoing challenge”, Roopra said, “We are seeing water scarcity as being one issue, we are seeing rapid depletion of water tables, we are also seeing that farmers are in some cases adopting more protected cultivation.”
Namdhari’s, in particular, is working on developing varieties which can be grown under protected cultivation. The company is also working on developing new varieties and conducting research on a number of challenges that farmers face at the ground level. Some of these include the black thrips menace and leaf curl virus. The company has upcoming tomato varieties which are virus-resistant.
S-E Asia expansion
On the challenges in coming up with climate-resilient products, the Namdhari Group’s CEO said there are a lot of variables which go into releasing a product. “There are a number of viruses, the horticultural traits, post-harvest needs of the market and those of the farmers. All need to be encompassed into a single product,” he said.
This is why companies such as this spend a significant amount of their energy, resources and funds into the best technology solution. “By understanding all the ecosystems and having all tools allow us to be able to give better products and more resilient products for the farmers into the field,” he said.
The Namdhari group, which by design is in the area of research and development of hybrid seeds, has expanded its activities to South-East Asia as its objective is to provide solutions where they are needed the most. “We believe the majority of the population in the next 30 to 50 years is going to come around the tropics. This is also the place where farmers need the most, is also where technology needs to be deployed the most,” he said.
The Namdhari Group, which started in the late 1970s as a contract producer of vegetable seeds for international customers, is looking at things such as hot peppers, gourds or cucumbers.
Dwelling on the production and trading parts of the group’s business, he said Namdhari works with farmers and tries to connect products from the farmers to the market. The company works in multiple parts of the country, depending on cropping needs.
“Apples, oranges, pomegranates, mangoes and litchis are some of the crops we work on. We also have a very significant portion of our work where we empower and work with thousands of farmers, where we contract, grow and produce from them. Some of these products we export as well,” Roopra said.
Produce such as baby corn, hot peppers and okra (lady’s finger) are some of the products on which the company works with farmers and also exports. “We work with farmers as a principal to agent and on a contractual basis. The ultimate objective is to be able to connect some of these products with multiple interfaces, whether it’s through the quick service industry, the hotel industry, the export industry, or the mandi industry,” Roopra said.
The company has developed an in-house app to monitor things that it does with farmers. It also works with AI developed tools. It helps to automate grade material coming from farmers. The company works with between 3,000 and 5,000 farmers, across Karnataka, including its own plantation, the company’s CEO said.
Namdhari’s has three verticals. One is the seeds business, which works on developing resilient varieties and solutions for the farmers. Then it has a production business which produces and works with farmers on a trading basis with fresh produce linking into the market and for export and other channels. The third is retail business.
On its retail business, Roopra said the company offers “a very differentiated product”. Most of it is the outcome for a lot of the work which it does within the farming ecosystem. “We typically offer 50-60 per cent more assortment of fruits and vegetables than most of the competitors and the idea is around freshness”, he said.
Namdhari’s also has an on-site cafe, where a lot of the fresh ingredients and products are cooked up in recipes for customers to be able to enjoy some of the products. Currently, it is present in Bengaluru and has just made a foray into Hyderabad. “We are looking at raising private investment or external investment within our retail business and we believe that partnership is something which we’re looking at to build our capabilities as an omni channel player, both offline and also augment our online capabilities,” Roopra said.