Monday, February 5, 2018
“We Have to Earn the Trust of Indian Farmers”
In late 2015, Bayer launched a global agricultural initiative to support smallholder farmers in emerging and developing countries. We talked to Harmanpreet Singh, Smallholder Farming Manager for India, about the particular opportunities and challenges there.
Harmanpreet Singh (l.) talking with chili farmer Pappu Singh at a local market in Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Mr. Singh, what kind of smallholder projects is Bayer currently running in India and why?
We started our smallholder farming pilot with green chili growers from Uttar Pradesh, and now it’s about to go into its second season. What’s new is a project with tomato farmers in Jharkhand, where our first training workshop took place in September. It’s exciting because this season will be very different for those involved than the ones before. As these farmers have a very limited amount of land, no major company has shown interest in working with them. To date, no one has invested in training or setting up a distribution network since working with a lot of smallholders instead of one large agricultural business requires more effort and resources. As a result, there are many valuable practices that these farmers have never heard about, such as mulching, good fertilizers, and proper irrigation. Bayer, however, sees this as a long-term investment. In this case, we teamed up with a fertilizer company, an irrigation partner, and off-takers to help the farmers increase yield, quality, and prices.
India is huge and known for its crop diversity.
How did you come to choose these regions and crops?
The questions to ask here are who needs the most help and where is the highest potential for improvement. We mapped all of the important crops in India and carried out a study on local, crop-specific yields compared to the average national yield. Then we chose the regions and crops for our projects where the gap was largest. With nine to ten tons of yield per acre, our tomato farmers in Jharkhand, for instance, achieve only one-third of the average yield for tomatoes, which comes in at 30 to 35 tons per acre. Obviously, these farmers are really at the bottom of the pyramid, and on the other hand they offer the highest potential for improvement. We will only scale up to other regions and crops once these pilots have achieved a critical mass.
“The success of the pilot was vital to convince potential partners and farmers of the benefits of our approach,” says Harmanpreet Singh.
And the results so far?
The outcome of our green chili project last year was amazing. Our farmers were able to double their yield and triple their income. Even though the base was low and we only worked with a pilot group of 20 farmers, we were able to prove that access to high-quality seed, better crop protection products, and the right fertilizers can trigger such a boost. In addition, we introduced drip irrigation in areas where previously the flood irrigation the farmers used had caused a lot of biotic stress on the plants. A Bayer field officer visited the farmers every week to help with the implementation of these new practices.
How does this huge success influence the future of the project?
First of all, 250 farmers enrolled for this season. And we were able to attract an additional partner and buyer who wasn’t on board before. The success of the pilot was vital to convince potential partners and farmers in India of the benefits of our approach. Many are skeptical about investing in new input or equipment. They’ve heard so many promises from other players who pulled out again after one season that they are not convinced of our long-term commitment. Often, the information they’ve received was unreliable. So in a slow and arduous process, we have to earn their trust. We’ve had some difficult discussions, but the result of our first chili pilot shows the potential of the project. That we actually increased yield and income is also an important signal for our partners. They, and Bayer as a company, want these farmers to be able to invest in their products and technologies – which is only possible if we help them raise their means to do so. For these projects to work in the long run, we have to create value on all sides. In addition, we are testing digital solutions that will be fundamental for scaling up the initiative.
Want to know more?
To learn more about Bayer’s Smallholder Farming initiative, visit the Bayer booth at Fruit Logistica 2018
(Hall 1.2, B-20) in Berlin – or click » here