What ails Agriculture Market


According to Department of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, Private Final expenditure of India on Food and non-alcoholic drinks was Rs, 18,21,510 Crore in 2014-15. If we factor in the population growth and rate of inflation, we get the estimated expenditure in 2017-18. If we add to this Rs.18,000 Crore spent on alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics, which finds its origin in Agri sector, then this expenditure will be close to Rs. 20 Lakh Crore. So, it is safe to say that the total Indian market size of agricultural produce is around Rs. 20 Lakh Crore. If we add the size of agriculture input, then it will be even bigger. 


A market of this size is bound to have complexities and that too in a country as diverse and complex as India, where a large section of the population is dependent on it for employment. There are many questions regarding agriculture in India and each one can have different perspective. We also had many questions for Mr. Amit Mishra, Founder- Director of Agrius India Private Limited and Founder of Ambrocia Seeds Producer Company Limited. Mr. Mishra is an Agriculture Graduate from Jawahar Lal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Jabalpur and PGDM-Marketing from VAMNICOM. Prior to taking up the challenging route of entrepreneurship, he has worked with GCMMF, Perfetti Van Melle, Pepsico India-Tropicana, Commodity Futures Exchange MCX and News Distribution Company Thomson Reuters. So let’s start: 


Review Board: You are an Agriculture graduate and a M.B.A and have worked with some of India’s top companies as well as a Commodity Exchange and news Distribution Company. You started your entrepreneurial journey two years back and are pretty well settled. What difference do you find in the business process of both the sectors? What can Agricultural Input Marketing learn from FMCG Food marketing of the big players?


Amit Mishra: In my opinion, the first difference is in the product itself. If we look at the flow of taking a product to the market, it looks like         Product > Targeted consumer> Marketing & Communication> Distribution network 


….the agricultural items are distributor or channel driven product while FMCG are consumer driven products. Consumer demands the brand or the kind of product he/she wants if it is FMCG product but distributor normally takes the demand in the case of agriculture product.


Review Board: Is it so? Tell us more? 


Amit Mishra: Yes, the education level of users and involved technical details of the agricultural product make it more of a channel driven product. It is very difficult for most of the farmers to understand the product detail, so, they depend on the advice of distributors. Whereas consumers are well aware of the FMCG products they want to buy. Marketing communication of FMCG products have been done so since the very beginning. 


For FMCG products, people are the primary as well as ultimate consumers as against agriculture inputs whose primary consumers are trees and plants. FMCG products, whether food or non-food, are procured on only two premises: need and aspiration. A product has either to fulfill its consumer’s need or provide aspirational value. There is not much innovation and experimentation in these products, because they are directly consumed and there are many checks and balances which need to be adhered to. Innovations are mostly focused to help make the product natural and safe for human consumption. 


As against that, Agricultural input procurement goes through four stages…  


First types of buyers are innovators; they are always on the lookout for new technology, new variety of seeds etc. to boost their produce. They enthusiastically support and participate in any kind of technological advancements. Around 0.5% of farmers in India will fall into the category. Second types of buyers are early adopters. These buyers are at the footsteps of innovators and adopt any new technology or variety immediately after confirmation of its success. They normally adopts a new technology within 1 to 3 years. They constitute roughly 4-5% of total farmers in India. Third types of buyers are late adopters. These buyers are good 3-5 years behind the innovators and early adopters. So, to them the technology is no more a new technology as it is already there for long. They constitute 50 to 55% of total farming population of India. Fourth and the last type of buyers are laggards. These buyers look for anything which has been around for long or may be there for a good 5-10 years. Surprisingly a good 40-45% of farming population of our country falls into this category. So, you can very well imagine how difficult it is for a company producing agricultural input to directly reach out to the end consumers, i.e., buyers or design a common marketing communication for them. That’s the reason why they target distribution channels and work closely with their channel partners to not only sell their products but disseminate product information. 


Though marketing efforts may be same for both the categories, but marketing communication channels and their target groups are different. Dissemination of information of agricultural input is like medicine. You don’t start consuming a medicine just because you have seen its advertisement; you get it prescribed by a Doctor. Similarly, on the basis soil type, crop etc., Agrochemicals are suggested by Distributors, backed by information provided by Agricultural Scientists as well as by the government. If anything goes wrong, then all the effort of the last six months will go waste and so will the expected income. This however is not the case with FMCG products. You see an advertisement of a chocolate; you go and buy it from a nearby store. Since there are checks and balances in place for making the product safe for human consumption, you may not like the chocolate or find it not as you assumed it to be after seeing the advertisement. But in the case of an Agricultural Input, a farmer runs a lot of risk on his investment and his future income depends on it too. That’s why he prefers to be sure before buying it and the retailer or distributor from whom he buys, works as an expert, guide and an assurance. 


One more factor that plays an important role in his buying decision is “personal acquaintance”. Since a number of farmers fall in the category of laggards and late adopters, personal acquaintance with the retailer or distributor works as a guarantee for them.


So, all of this boils down to two things: 1) Level of education; and 2) Personal touch


….. And these two things have been mastered by FMCG companies and the Agriculture Input companies can learn from them. Though it is very difficult and time consuming, but a step a day can move mountains.


What we have started doing with our business despite the fact that our resources are limited is that we have started educating our end consumers about different aspects of farming along with the products we are selling. It is addressing both the above mentioned challenges of agricultural input business. However, we know that this is a tedious task and requires lots of resources and effort. But we as a team believe that if we focus on education and training, then the late adopters can become early adopters and laggards can become late adopters thereby increasing our sales and boosting our productivity with our research work. We are planning to adopt a village pretty soon to experiment with our idea and make farmers of that village educated and aware about every aspect of farming and its business. In my opinion if business houses along with entrepreneurs like us backed by government take up this challenge, then a decade is enough to change everything, especially in a time when smartphone penetration is very high, data price is at its cheapest in the world and both of them put together is rapidly changing the human behavior. 


Review Board: So far, we have talked about Agriculture Input category vis-à-vis FMCG products. Could you please expand this discussion to include Final Produce Segment like rice, pulses, wheat as well?


Amit Mishra: Final Produce segment also carries a different behavior pattern from FMCG products. Other than Atta (Grinded wheat) and grinded spices known as C(Chili) T(Turmeric) C (Coriander), mix grinded spices known as ATC spices, other produces have not seen much success as far as branding is concerned. I have travelled extensively in urban as well as rural areas and have seen the change in pattern of packed Atta consumption. Demand of packed Atta is growing in rural areas as well; even in normal packing. But same is not reflected in pulses or rice, because packing material only adds price and not the value. Basmati rice is considered a luxury and is not consumed daily. People are consuming more of Pusa Basmati rice rather than original basmati rice. Organic foods are also in the luxury product segment, because health benefits, as promised depends on other aspects of lifestyle like complete food habit, nutrition intake, exercise routine etc. So, paying double the price than what is to be paid for normal agriculture produce is something Indian customers have not been able to make peace with.


Brand helps you to command premium, but how much and for what? You will have to show value…And in the case of commodities, it is purely transactional value. If you are changing the shape and form of the produce, then branding seems possible as you can see in the case of packed Atta or grinded mix spices and consumers are willing to pay little bit extra……. But if you are packing the whole produce, then there is no value addition.. 


So, the message is loud and clear; as the life of Indians are rapidly moving towards urban centers and rural life is following the urban life, agriculture produce marketing needs to change; it needs to change the shape of produce. If we go for processing and bringing in innovation in that, then not only will it increase the life and value of the product, but will give more money in the pocket of the farmers.


Review Board: I always felt that the biggest challenge Indian agriculture sector is facing is integration of produce and products with the market. While consumers are paying but farmers are not getting the right price. What should be done to address this problem? 


Amit Mishra: This is a very difficult question and the answer is very unpleasant for many. On the effort part, there are many steps which have been taken by the government. Many farmer-producer companies were formed in places like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc., Rytu Bazaars were opened to facilitate farmers to sell their produce directly to the consumers and their are thousands of cooperative marketing societies……Despite all of this, problems are still there and their has been no change in the last seventy years. Some of it has done well, but overall if we look at the collective magnitude of challenges, they remain the same as they were after independence. Now why it has remained same…….because individual interest has always taken precedence over collective interest. If you look at the structure of these cooperative marketing societies or farmer producer companies………….you will find that these are normally led by big farmers or local politicians, who serve their interest first and member’s interest later or may be never!! 


It seems to me that the government doesn’t look interested in addressing this issue because wherever there is a poor person, there is politics involved. If things becomes better, then what will you change? If despite so many programmes, projects and billions of dollars spent on agriculture, why post harvest losses are still huge? Why are farmers still battling for loan waiver, better seeds and better price? Along with asking for these issues to be addressed, farmers also need to ask questions to politicians that if these issues have been vital in every budget and election, then why there is no improvement? Why, even after seventy years of independence, farmers are committing suicide? Self sufficiency in crucial items like pulses and edible oils are still missing by a huge margin????


There are many such questions….. Am I disillusioned??? May be yes….may be no……but the way opportunities are getting wasted for personal and political gains, problems will take such a huge proportion that solutions will be impossible!! 


But you have asked me for solutions….. And they are: 1) Educating farmers and innovation in food processing needs to be very urgently done. What is dragging farmers behind is their knowledge of different aspects of farming which includes food processing and marketing. 2)While there are rapid advances in technology supporting farming, but its real users are somewhat still disconnected with that. We as entrepreneurs will have to take lead and make farmers understand the use of technology and its integration in every aspect of farming business. 3) Hold the policy makers and politicians, who have spent the nation’s wealth in the name farmers and agriculture, accountable. They must answer us about the money spent and give us the productivity report. 4) Forget personal interest for some time and work for collective interest. 5) Along with seeking money, seek answers regularly from policy makers and policy implementers.  


These are the main solutions to problems in agriculture sector in India. On paper, there is nothing which has not been tried……but there is no account of what has been achieved vis-à-vis money spent on it. 


Review Board: Can technology help in solving the problem of integration of agricultural produce to its market? And what role entrepreneurs, private business houses and farmers themselves can play in it?


Amit Mishra: This question is connected to your previous question, so, a large part of it is already covered. Technology as required to assist the agriculture production and agriculture produce marketing is already available……And innovator entrepreneurs are playing their role…..But the size of complexity and the challenges are so huge and efforts required are of such gigantic magnitude that solo efforts of entrepreneurs will be lost. Government will have to stop thinking of it as a milch cow and work towards solving all the challenges once and for all. Otherwise solutions will be there, but in bits and pieces, as provided by entrepreneurs at a local level. 


Review Board: True. Neither have we done our bit nor have asked the right questions to our policy makers and policy implementers. Thanks a lot for taking your precious time out and talking to us….

Leave your comment
 
Dileep Kumar Shrivastava
Dear Mr. Amit, You replied so accurate with through knowledge.It shows your mastery in market intelligency in rural as well as urban markets .
Sanjeev Jha
Nice one Amit and Kudos to Mukul, to get gem out of him. I personally feel we need to start from where you both ended the interaction, take a cue from global scenario of agri output marketing initiatives can be very much replicated although with huge indigenisation.
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