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‘Indian farmer’s unaware of business potential’

Tell us about the village adoption programme you have started.

The Village Adoption Programme has been conceived with the aim of bringing food processing technologies to Indian villages which have an abundant knowledge on the subject, but areunable to convert that knowledge into financial gains. The main aim of the programme is to understand village life at the grassroot level, innovate by integration of classroom education and traditional practices and reaching the farmers and uplifting them to mainstream levels with the help of Food Processing. The first phase of the Village Adoption Programme took place between 29 October to 3 November, 2012 where villages in 13 states were adopted and placed under the care of 202 students from NIFTEM.


How has the Village Adoption Programme helped the farmers so far?

During the first phase of the programme, one group of students chose a small village in Karnal, Haryana. When the students asked the farmer theres about their crops, they were told that they grew dhania or coriander, which they sold at the Azadpur Mandi. On a good day the farmers would fetch Rs 19-20 per kg and on average their produce would fetch them Rs 13-14 per kg. One of the students asked the farmers why they didn’t didn’t take up making dhania powder instead of selling raw dhaniya. You would be surprised to know that the farmers did not even know what
dhania
powder is. So the students explained to them that by simply setting up small machines that could process raw dhania into dhania powder which sells sells for Rs 20 for 100 gms. The farmers recognised the potential of the suggestion and wanted to know more about the manufacturing process. Today the students are guiding them in setting up the machines and helping them with the process of making dhania powder and selling them in the market. So what I am trying to say is, unfortunately, in our country the concept of food processing is non-existent, especially in the rural areas and if we spread the awareness then agriculture can become a viable business model. The Indian farmer is unaware of the business potential in farming, and through the village adoption programme, we intend to equip farmers with the knowledge needed to better their produce and reap profits from the same.


Are you collaborating with any gram-udyog?

One of our major parts of our mandate is to develop entrepreneurship. Giving village people technical knowledge, financial help, access to packing technologies, access to development of new products and technologies and access to the market is all part of our mandate and we are doing everything to meet it. Our main focus is on micro industries and we are going to launch a huge out-reach programme all-over the country where we propose to run around 200-250 programmes in a year, and each programme will last for a day and will help sensitise the farmers and young entrepreneurs about the value addition to food and food products. These programmes will be followed by entrepreneurship development programmes. We feel there is a tremendous need for such programmes.


How have the villages responded to this Adoption programmes?

We have got a tremendous response from both the villagers and our students. It is great to see the students when they come back and write their reports. They come up with such knowledge and innovative ideas to improve the village’s socio-economic situations, as if they are a part of something very big. Both the families from the village and our students are committed to their work.


What brought about the conception of this programme?


About 96 per cent of our students have an urban background and have never seen a village or have ever been exposed to the rural way of life, plus they do not know how farming is done which is the backbone of their food processing sector and the studies related to it. So we thought that unless they are familiar with the nitty-gritties of farming, we will not be able to churn out robust and well-rounded students with sound knowledge.


Do you think that once the FDI trade comes in India, the benefits will pass on to the farmers or will this organised trade take over the business?

No it will not. The Indian rural agricultural set up along with the supply chain is so complicated, that foreign traders will probably not venture into that. They will have to employ some sort of middleman to procure the produce. Secondly, they can’t afford to take up farming on their own so they will have to depend on the Indian farmers to supply fresh produce to them. Hence the farmers will get a good deal.


So are you saying that agriculture will also go through modernisation?


It will, simply because the pressure of a purchaser like Walmart will be tremendous. Farmers will be pushed  to supply a minimum quality of raw materials. At present, vegetables of all quality will find buyers. But bigger chains will not buy that, so the farmers will have to produce top quality products to meet their standards and supply it to them in good conditions.


What are the career options open for students who graduate from NIFTEM and what kind of roles will they play in the industry?

Our students will have the technical know-how of the food processing industry and will also have required the managerial skills. As I told you earlier, the degree says B.Tech Food Technology and Management which makes it a composite degree and I feel proud to tell you that such a degree which has a mix of technical and managerial knowledge does not exist anywhere in the country and we are doing it at the behest of the industry.


When does the first batch of students from NIFTEM graduate?


The batch of M.Tech students will be out in 2014 and B.Tech students will be graduating in 2016.


Why are so many youngsters moving to entrepreneurship these days?


Firstly, times have changed; unlike the youth of yesteryears who weretaught to be content with what they have and to play it safe, today’s young generations have redefined many age-old beliefs. Today’s generation wants much more from life and don’t mind working towards reaping greater benefits of their hard work. Secondly, in the past there might not have been a need for entrepreneurship as students would complete graduation and get jobs in the government sector, so the supply and demand was met. However, with the growing population there is now the push factor, which is making the younger generation find different avenues. But one needs a conducive environment to become entrepreneurs such as financial back-up, knowledge, market links etc and nowadays these factors are available to help young entrepreneurs.


Does NIFTEM help its students in becoming entrepreneurs?


Most of the institutes who hold entrepreneurship training do not handhold the trainee up to the point where he/she actually establishes the business. But the ministry has now revised its EDP programme in the 11 Year Plan and we said that the institution only gets the payment after the institute handholds the person up till 18 months after the completion of their studies. At NIFTEM, we have created an ‘Innovation Fund’ for our students. We encourage our students to let their imagination run wild in terms of a business plan and then they can submit their ideas in a two-page business model form, which will be looked at by a high-level technical committee and viable ideas which make the cut are then completely funded by NIFTEM. This gives the students the required confidence to take up challenges which otherwise might not have been possible.
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