Interview with Mr. S. Suresh and Mr. M. Govarthanan, founders of Auxin Crop Consultants (ACC).
ACC is a start-up consulting firm providing viable solutions for agri startups & poly houses. They offer school gardening demos & kitchen gardening kits, along with various other services.
A very warm welcome from IdeasMakeMarket.com team. We thank you for sparing some time for this interview.
1. Though ACC is a relatively young company, it possess the richness of more than 10 years of combined experience in diverse fields of agriculture. How does this help in the Agri-Horti consulting offerings by the firm?
The richness of the experience is our biggest strength. Agriculture is a wide field with enormous potential but it lives in the mercy of mother nature. Experienced farmers are achieving much better results than the corporates. From seed to table so many individuals and corporates are entering into Agriculture with enthusiasm but because of their lack of experience and misunderstanding the ground reality of farming systems most of them fail within a year or two. In Agriculture Success does not lie in solution but in implementation because solutions need to be designed on case to case basis. This is where our experience of working with more than 3000 farmers in TamilNadu, Karnataka and Andhra for the past 10 years guides us to make decisions at farmer level.
2. Agriculture consulting is a relatively new concept in the Indian industry, especially when you provide services from the field to the table of the entire agricultural spectrum. What drove you to start ACC?
Agri consulting is one of the very integral parts of extension activities and it has been in India for a long time carried out solely by Government and NGO’s. These agencies are working in providing subsidies and services but not approaching this in a business perspective. Besides unlike other industries, professionalism remains unknown in Indian Agriculture. The missing link in the current system is the HOLISTIC APPROACH throughout the supply chain specific to crop and location. We have a lot of people from non-agricultural background venturing into agriculture with a lot of investments. But they are misguided and end up in losing their interest over agriculture. We have several such issues prevailing. We are determined to REDEFINE the scenario of Indian Agriculture. We feel professional, ethical and transparent approaches can only help us bridge these gaps and overcome these hurdles. This was the main driving force which made us start ACC.
3. Please shed some light on the type of clients you are associated with, and the kinds of services you offer to them.
We are currently working with a couple of poly house clients, a precision farming project, an exotic vegetable producing & marketing company, a school, kitchen garden projects. We have completed a state level for Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and TamilNadu Banana Producer Company (TBPC). We supported 3 producer companies in forming their technical team which going to begin by February 2015.
For the poly house, precision farming and the exotic vegetable producing company, we give them the complete technical support. We recruit a technical person on behalf of them to work at the site under our guidance. We guide them right from sowing, crop cultivation, harvesting & marketing. We provide them with exclusive resources such as Package of practices, Standard operating procedures and conduct training programmes for the labors and the staff.
For the school, We run THE SKOOL FARM project based on the UN FAO curriculum. We conduct weekly classes and involve the children in hands on farming activities.
The kitchen gardening project goes by the name 5 CENT FARMS and we developed a kitchen gardening kit with work instruction manual to promote the GROW OWN FOOD at urban level concept which would ensure sustainable nutrition.
4. The Skool Farm is an innovative and first of its kind initiative taken up in the agriculture consulting business, serving the dual objective of educating younger minds as well as establishing farming projects. Request you to share details of this very interesting vertical.
We foresee a huge threat to agriculture in future generations because no farmer is willing to make his son/daughter as a farmer. 15-20 years from now India may not be having even 10% of the current farmer population. So our food security is under threat. ACC as an agricultural consulting firm feels that we have huge responsibility in building young farmers for future Indian Agriculture. With this aim we decided to sow agriculture in young minds.
THE SKOOL FARM is an activity based learning program, first of its kind in our country which is happening across the world. In this program, farming is taught as a regular curriculum to the school children. We have adopted the UN FAO syllabus for this program and refined it so that it suits our educational system. It is a complete practical session. The students sow their crops, take care of them by watering, feeding them regularly and they take home their harvest.
ACC runs this program as a socio-service venture where we transfer our experience to children. This in long run will become core of our CSR activity.
5. How can schools get associated with you for this project? Do they contact you directly, or it works the other way around?
We started school farm and running it on trial basis in 1 school currently. We approached the school to establish the program and they readily accepted. After four months of this program the results are so positive that children started their own garden in their home which is our objective of this program. Now we can proudly say that we have opened a new business model and after looking at our works, we have schools approaching us to implement our program in their schools. So we are planning to take it to the attention of few other schools in Coimbatore so as to start it in a minimum of 5 new schools from the coming academic year.
6. In your view, how has the agriculture industry changed? How does ACC address the changing needs of the ‘New Generation’ farmers?
You have given a part of the answer in the question itself. Agriculture which was considered as a means of livelihood or a low profile work has now got transformed into an industry. The people have got to know the real potential of agriculture and you can see an enormous investment from Govt. sector, MNC’s, private sector getting into the development of agriculture and the allied infrastructures. A large number of people from varied backgrounds get into agriculture fulltime. It’s this set of people we are eager to work with. The people from other industries, who get into agriculture, expect the same kind of outputs from the plants and they fail to understand them. So we train them in such a way that they understand the uniqueness of agriculture and are able to tackle / manage situations in a very scientific manner.
7. Do you provide online services too? Personally, I believe that potential clients exist all over India. How do you plan to provide your services at various sites?
We can sell quality agricultural inputs through online like what snapdeal is started now. But the problem is the need of field level assessment, advisory and implementation which can only be addressed through offline via field visits.
We are planning to setup offline service centers in all the districts in TamilNadu, to provide technical services and to promote THE SKOOL FARM. We also have plans to expand it to the nearby states in the future.
Since smartphones are reaching the farmers we are planning to build an application where farmers can feed their field photos to get right advisory.
8. ACC has also been involved in Grass Root Level Survey, done for the CII Tamil Nadu Banana Festival 2014. May we know a few highlights of the survey?
The survey was based on the topic Pre – harvest interventions that affect the post-harvest quality, Branding & Marketing and value addition & processing. Though there have been a lot of literatures explaining them, the survey was to know the exact bottle necks at the field level. Though Tamil Nadu has the richest varietal wealth in Banana in the whole of India and has the highest production, Grand Nain an exotic variety from South Africa is only exported majorly. So we also examined the opportunities available to promote the native varieties to the global market. We interviewed around 350 farmers across 10 districts of the state between Oct to Dec of 2014. The survey report was released at the Tamil Nadu Banana Festival 2014 in Trichy and has been forwarded to the state government as a recommendation.
9. You have had many successful innovations and experiences with your clients. Please share a few examples.
Solution to the complex problem lies with simple innovations which we can witness in every village. Farmers are doing innovations to overcome adverse climate & season, reducing water table, raising input prices, increasing labour wages and excess post-harvest wastages. They were changing seasons, changing crops, designing own tools, identifying better post-harvest practices to store their produce. ACC feels innovations at farmer level are happening with the two objectives i.e. reducing the cost of cultivation and increasing market price.
We have two very important experiences that we had in our fields.
1 – Off season production of Brinjal – In one of our precision farming farms, we planted Brinjal during the SW monsoon of the last year. The farmer in the village where the particular farm lies does not sow the crop during that season and they believed that the crop will not bloom and will end up as a disaster. But off season production is very profitable, provided the crop management is carried out in a proper scientific way. Because, the plant experiences more stress during the off season and the production is hindered but still the crop fetches a premium in the market due to low production in the season. The crop was a success and the farmer made a considerable profit out of it. The farmers who used to get `8 – 10/kg were surprise to see our farm produce fetching an average price of `23/kg. So now the farmers’ in that village have got to know about off season production and have started to implement it in other vegetables also.
2 – High density planting in Banana – In case of banana the plant population is 900 plants/acre. But according to this method of planting invented by the particular farmer, 1350 plants can be accommodated in an acre without affecting the yield and quality of the produce. This method of planting was not known to a lot of farmers until we discussed about it in our survey report at The Banana Festival. Now more farmers are going to follow High density planting in banana.
10. Going forward, how do you envision the future of ACC? What new additions can we expect in short and long term?
ACC in three years wish to become a one stop solution provider for the entire agricultural system where a farmer can get access to all his needs.
With this in mind we wish to develop district wise team for ACC to provide field level advisory. At the end of 2015 ACC is planned to operate in 7 agricultural zones of TamilNadu. We are in process of expanding our team to meet this objective.
In long run these offline service centers will become a regional specific stores where we will be able to provide superior quality products at affordable price and cut down the middle men intervention so that farmer will get right input at low price and achieve better price for his produce. Our network can become an integral part of supply chain activities in agriculture.
11. ACC has been growing very fast since its incorporation. Leading by this example, as the co-founder, what is your advice to the young entrepreneurial minds of India?
It is simple to become an entrepreneur but being a successful entrepreneur is what it matters. Studies say that 90% of startups get closed before the end of the 1st year of its incorporation. So it is the self -motivation that continuously drives us. Do not worry if somebody copies our idea. They can only copy the concept but not your work. And if you feel someone has come up as your competitor, do not worry because it is competition that brings out the best in us. Being transparent, ethical and professional will definitely take us a long way in winning the trust of our clients which in turn will become a very big tool that will take your brand places.
(Interviewed by Shubhangi Garg)[/sociallocker]