Broken link in the agricultural supply chain

In the season of elections animal spirits rule. India’s equity markets have been ebullient for some time now. Spurred by a robust inflow of foreign investment capital, markets have reacted favourably. A lot now depends on the ability of the next government to enact meaningful structural reforms, especially in a sector such as agriculture that requires modernization. Will things turn out as expected?
Reforms in agriculture are important for more than one reason. Apart from the huge number of people it employs, fortunes of the retail sector depends on what happens in farms. Infact, FDI in retail and modernization of agriculture are two faces of the same coin.
As far as the economic implications of retail FDI go, attention has been focused exclusively on its impact on the livelihood of local retailers, who are likely to take a hit on competition from the likes of Wal-Martand Tesco. The ability of local retailers to organize into an effective lobby voicing their concerns could perhaps explain this. The actual implications of retail FDI, however, are likely to extend well beyond the narrow confines the debate has been limited to.
Indian farmers are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of a competitive retail sector, given the imbalances in the agricultural produce market. Restrictions imposed by the Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee (APMC) Act have effectively barred them from selling their produce at remunerative prices, restricted the size of their potential market, and, most importantly, prevented competitive bidding for the produce.
Currently, the agricultural supply chain is monopolized by powerful middlemen and politically influential local groups who control mandis or wholesale markets—resulting in a huge wholesale-retail price gap. There could be little doubt that allowing FDI in retail, when complemented by scrapping the APMC Act to open up the market for wholesale procurement, will help farmers command better prices for their produce. It is likely to lead to better farming returns, increased production and lower prices for customers.
Insufficient investment in cold storage and other supply chain facilities is another major worry, but something that has been ignored for long. A study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) and Yes Bank points to the enormous shortage of warehousing capacity in India, estimated at around 35 million tonnes. The food grain wastage owing to the shortage is estimated at around 20% to 30% of the total harvest.
The reasons are not hard to find. India’s agricultural storage infrastructure was created at a time when food grains such as rice and wheat formed a disproportionate part of food consumption. It was assumed that dietary habits would remain constant for the foreseeable future. It made sense when rural incomes did not rise significantly. Even in urban areas, where food consumption was more diversified, demand for food grains remained high.
That pattern has changed dramatically in the last decade. With rising urban and rural incomes, food consumption has diversified greatly. Milk, eggs and other protein-rich diets are now a significant part of the food basket. A great part of food inflation is protein inflation, as the demand for these foodstuffs greatly outstrips supply.
Changing this requires fixing the broken supply lines with agricultural markets. For example, transporting milk to cities does not require food storage facilities but chilling plants and fleets of trucks equipped with cooling units. These investments need FDI in agricultural markets that cannot be made by governments not only due to financial constraints but also due to lack of expertise.
Given the gains that farmers and—more importantly—consumers could potentially reap, reforms aimed at strengthening the agricultural supply chain will obviously be welcome. However, reforms uprooting today’s deeply entrenched special interests will be hard to come by unless the political weight of farmers and consumers is combined for better results.
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As food processing potential increases, US imports turmeric from India

Due to its medicinal properties, turmeric is finding huge potential in the processed food industries of the United States, and importing larger quantities from India, the largest producer of the spice.

According to data by the United Nations, the import of turmeric in the US has tripled from 2008, and the majority of it is from India. The demand for turmeric has increased due to the realisation of nutritional and medicinal values of this humble spice.

According to reports India’s Spice Board (headquartered in Kochi), the worldwide export of turmeric from India has increased to 60 per cent from 2008.

The US has already started a wide range of research about nutritional and medicinal properties of turmeric. The spice is used to cure such diseases as cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, Crohn’s disease and even depression.

Though turmeric is imported from India, they also plan to cultivate this spice on their land to reach the domestic demand. “The market for turmeric-based supplements in the US has grown by almost 31 per cent to $108 million,” revealed a recent study by Nutrition Business Journal.

The spice has been termed a super-food in the US processed food market, and a number of companies are now offering products containing turmeric. These are poised to increase in future.

The demand for turmeric supplements is higher in the US beverage sector. Turmeric juice and other food supplements are being increasingly sold in the US market.

The Spice Board of India has identified a huge demand from the Middle-East as well. This would be beneficial to turmeric farmers across India.

An official from the Trade Information Service Department of the Spice Board, said, “The demand for turmeric has increased of late, and we are able to export a better quality of it to these countries.”

“As the demand is increasing in the US, they have plans to grow their own turmeric to meet the domestic demand,” he added. The official said, “Only if India can supply high-quality spices consistently, we can stay in the market. Though the market has good potential, only fair players can continue in the market.”

“Unlike other spices, it demands very less attention from the farmer and can fight its own diseases,” he added.

“Then it helps us to fight our diseases also. Thanks to its therapeutic qualities, the demand for turmeric is growing all over the world,” the official stated. “More than 90 per cent of curcumin, extracted from turmeric, is used to make nutraceuticals and dietary supplements” he added.

S Suresh, assistant director, Spices Board, said, “India is the top producer of turmeric in the world. The Spice Board conducted thorough checks for Sudan and Aflotoxin contamination.”

“This ensured the quality of our spices. The various turmeric-producing states in India were able to produce enough to supply it to the US, the Middle-East, Canada, Japan and Australia,” he added.

The medicinal and nutritional qualities of turmeric, which has been used in Indian cuisine for several years, were revealed centuries ago.

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Old Forecast of Famine May Yet Come True

Two centuries ago — only 10 years after a hungry, angry populace had ushered in the French Revolution — the dour Englishman predicted that exponential population growth would condemn humanity to the edge of subsistence.

“The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race,” he wrote with alarm.

This was, we now know, wrong. The gloomy forecast was soon buried under an avalanche of progress that spread from England around the world. Between 1820 and the year 2000 the world’s population grew sixfold. Economic output multiplied by more than 50.

Nonetheless, Malthus’s prediction was based on an eminently sensible premise: that the earth’s carrying capacity has a limit. On Monday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided a sharp-edged warning about how fast we are approaching this constraint.

“In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face,” Vicente Barros, co-chairman of the panel and professor emeritus of climatology at the University of Buenos Aires, said.


The list of present damages outlined by the United Nations panel — melting ice caps and rising sea levels, stressed water supplies, heat waves and heavy rains — underscored the risk if humanity does not figure out how to curb the use of fossil fuels that have provided the lifeblood for economic development since the time of Malthus.

But what most stood out in the report from the panel, which gathers every few years to produce a synthesis of mainstream science’s take on climate change, was that it rolled straight into Malthus’s territory, providing its starkest warning yet about the challenge imposed by global warming on the world’s food supply.

The panel’s past report in 2007 had concluded: “Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of one to three degrees Celsius.”

But the new report is much more pessimistic about the prospect of extra grain production in the globe’s temperate zones, where more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the rate of photosynthesis, raising yields, and warmer weather would lengthen the growing season.

Faster photosynthesis will help weeds more than cereal crops, while the accumulation of ozone and high temperatures would reduce yields of all the major grains, according to the report.

This would be bad enough if demand for food were to remain constant. It won’t. Studies suggest that feeding more than nine billion people in 2050 will require 70 percent more calories than the world’s population consumes today, according to Craig Hanson, director of food, forests and water programs at the World Resources Institute.

Indeed, the panel calculates that food demand is rising at a pace of 14 percent per decade. But it estimates that climate change is already reducing wheat yields by 2 percent each decade — compared with where they would be in the absence of climate change — and corn yields by 1 percent.

“This is a wake-up call for the agriculture sector,” Mr. Hanson said. “Climate change is a food security issue. It’s not just an environmental issue.”

The climate panel’s findings do not quite endorse the Malthusian idea that famine will spread practically everywhere. But a world with a more unstable food supply is likely to be a more volatile place. And those most exposed, of course, will be the world’s poor.

Recent experience suggests that the productivity of farmland won’t decline gradually as the world grows warmer. World food prices stopped their long secular decline around 2007 and have been on a roller-coaster ride since. More volatile weather patterns promise to bring sharp disruptions to agricultural production that can cause spikes in food prices.

“There is a rigorous correlation between food price spikes and urban unrest,” said Andrew Holland, who studies climate change at the American Security Project, a research group in Washington. “There was a food price spike in 2008, and you can see unrest spread throughout Africa. And there’s a relatively clear line that leads from the food price spike in 2010 to unrest in the Middle East and the Arab Spring.”

Instability spreads easily. When rice prices jumped in 2007, big producers like India and Vietnam banned exports to protect their domestic markets, while importers like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Iran went out on the market to hoard as much grain as they could. The combination wreaked havoc in commodity markets.

Since then big food importers, like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, have tried to insulate themselves from future food shortages by buying or leasing agricultural land in places like Sudan, Madagascar and Uzbekistan. The strategy is still to be tested in a situation in which Africa or Central Asia were to suffer itself shortages of grain.

“I have run some war game scenarios,” Mr. Holland said. “The tendency becomes very quickly for a country to look after its own interests.”

Still, there are good reasons to take prophesies of doom with more than a pinch of salt. Ecological Cassandras have consistently underestimated humanity’s capacity to invent ways around constraints, using resources more efficiently and switching from scarcer commodities to more abundant ones.

In “The Population Bomb,” published in 1968, the noted Stanford ecologist Paul R. Ehrlich wrote “in the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” In “The End of Affluence,” written six years later, he forecast “a genuine age of scarcity” by 1985.

Today, Professor Ehrlich is perhaps best known for his bet with the economist Julian L Simon — a committed believer in the power of human ingenuity — who in 1980 challenged Mr. Ehrlich to choose any five commodities and accurately predicted that Mr. Ehrlich’s basket would be cheaper 10 years later, not scarcer and more expensive.

Indeed, the climate panel suggests a variety of ways in which countries could adapt to a changing climate. Farmers could breed new species to better resist heat and drought. Water harvesting techniques could be used to delay evaporation. Rotation of crops could help improve yields.

The United Nations panel reported that a survey of various studies concluded that adapting crop management could raise yields of wheat, rice and maize from 15 to 18 percent compared with doing nothing.

Changes in demand and logistics could also help cope with scarcer food. Mr. Hanson pointed out that fully one-quarter of the food produced in the world today is wasted — by either poor storage and transport infrastructure in developing countries or wasteful consumers in the rich world.

But for all the evidence of humankind’s ability to adapt to its environmental constraints, it would be reckless to assume that ingenuity will arrive just in time to pull us from the brink.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that is skeptical about global warming, 13 years ago created the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award to celebrate his “vision of man as the ultimate resource.” But Mr. Simon got lucky, too. Had the bet extended for 30 years rather than 10, it would have gone to Mr. Ehrlich.

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Green tea biz poised for strong growth

Kamal Baheti, chief financial officer,  McLeod Russel is confident of the company’s entry into the green tea business and says he sees a tremendous potential in the same. “Given its health connotations, we expect this growth to increase in urban areas.” says Baheti.

McLeod Russel recently made a Rs 5 crore worth acquisition of a green tea-processing factory in Vietnam , thereby entering the green-tea business.

“Green tea market in India has a market share of only 1 percent but it is growing by 25-30 percent every year. It is basically because the base is small. But this is a market, initially it is the urban market where it is growing but we believe with the health benefits attached to green tea, this is a segment which will grow more. There is hardly any production which happens in India. We have brought this factory in Vietnam, we will also see which are the markets other than India, Middle East, Pakistan etc growing in green tea. So, it is not only India but we are looking at international markets to really export the green tea.” says Baheti.


Before this Tata Global Beverages (Tata) with Tetley and Hindustan Unilever (HUL) with Lipton were dominating the green tea business. On expectations from the black tea segment, Baheti says a 5-10 percent price hike is likely as the tea season begins.
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How Tata Global is spicing up beverage sales

While tea remains its most profitable segment, accounting for 70 per cent of its revenue, the company has also put its innovation machine into top gear-eyeing emerging segments like herbal teas and fortified water in India and the UK and coffee pods.

The American market is becoming a testing ground for a new strategy that the beverage arm of the Tata Group is putting in place: identify new consumer trends and go after them even if it means adopting new distribution and marketing models.

Consider this: the United States is the largest consumer of coffee in the world at $30 billion (Rs 1.83 lakh crore). Tata Global Beverages, the Rs 7,270-crore beverage major, which marked its presence in the US with the 2006 acquisition of Eight O’Clock Coffee, the third-largest coffee brand in that country in terms of volume, is shifting its attention to the in-home segment, making beans and pods for the coffee-making machines at home which offer a growing space in the American coffee market.

Tata Global Beverages, which derives about 25 per cent of its overall revenues from coffee and about 18 per cent from Eight O’Clock alone, has tied up with coffee-machine makers such as Green Mountain Roasters, owners of Keurig, in the US. The latter is the largest single-serve machine operator in the nearly $12-billion (or Rs 73,000 crore) in-home coffee market in the US. It has a 72 per cent share of the market. The tie up with Keurig allows the Indian beverage company to push products such as packaged Eight O’Clock branded coffee pods for Keurig machines (popularly called K-Cups). It has thus ensured that it is not altogether out of the consumption basket in this segment.

The result? In a span of a year-and-a-half since the launch of K-Cups, Tata Global Beverages has managed to garner a share of about 7 per cent of the single-serve market, according to analysts tracking the company.

This spurt has happened even as the regular Eight O’Clock packaged coffee (available in whole bean as well as grounded formats) was refurbished recently in the US to help it stand out in a cluttered beverage environment. Ajoy Mishra, executive director & deputy CEO, Tata Global Beverages – who will take over from incumbent Harish Bhat as managing director & CEO on April 1 – said while announcing the company’s third-quarter results this January that he saw the new product formats (K-Cups) helping the brand increase its share in a sluggish market.

The overall coffee market in the US is growing at a pace of just 5.6 per cent per annum. But analysts say it is the single-serve segment, growing faster than the overall coffee market, that is expected to fuel Eight O’Clock’s growth. Says Abneesh Roy, associate director, research, institutional equities, Edelweiss: “Markets such as the US are highly modern trade-led, where a number of beverage brands are competing for a share of the consumer’s wallet. Tie-ups with coffee makers such as Green Mountain, therefore, is the way forward since it gives a packaged brand direct entry into the consumer’s home.”

While single-serve is clearly the way forward for Tata Global Beverages in the US, in India the company is counting on its joint venture with Starbucks to help it expand its coffee presence. Tata Starbucks, the joint venture between the Indian and American companies, has already led to 34 stores in four cities, including in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore, over the past 18 months and is expected to keep its pace of launches as it looks to grow its business aggressively. Analysts say that the joint venture is expected to add at least 20 new stores in the next six months, crossing the 50-store mark in the process. This, say analysts, will possibly constitute the fastest expansion of retail outlets by a brand in recent years. Misra says that operations of the joint venture are going according to plan, but does not go into details. Last year, Tata Starbucks had increased its authorised share capital by Rs 150 crore in a fund-raising drive aimed at helping it expand operations.

Tata Global Beverages is looking to take revenues from coffee to 35 per cent in the next five years and infusion of capital is expected to aid this process.

Specialty teas and water

There are two other emerging areas on Tata Global Beverages’s radar. Around 70 per cent of Tata Global Beverages’s revenues comes from tea. But it is specialty teas, which make up 15 per cent of this 70 per cent pie, that the company has sets its eye on. Specialty teas include green and herbal teas. Tata Global Beverages, according to people who know of the company’s plans, is looking at increasing its contribution from specialty teas to 30 per cent over the next few years. This comes as preference for green tea grows in India and across the world. According to experts, green tea constitutes 5 per cent (or Rs 550 crore) of the overall 800 million-kg tea market in India that is worth Rs 11,000 crore. It is estimated that green tea will touch 20 per cent in the next few years.

Tata Global Beverages already has a portfolio of six variants under the Tetley brand name within its green tea portfolio in India, commanding a market share of 27 per cent. The company proposes to take this number up in the coming days by introducing new flavours to spice up its offering. Similarly, in markets such as the UK and Canada, the company has been aggressively pushing its green tea range. It has market leadership in green teas in Canada and is number two after Twinings in the same category in the UK.

In water, Tata Global Beverages wants to take its Himalayan packaged water to West Asia and parts of South-east Asia after launching it in Singapore at Starbucks outlets there. This is expected to gain momentum in the next financial year, when Tata Global Beverages’s joint venture with PepsiCo, called NourishCo, will also launch Tata Water Plus in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Currently, Tata Water Plus, a fortified water brand from NourishCo, and Tata Gluco Plus, an energy drink from the company, are available in the southern markets of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Tata Global Beverages is also expected to take the two products to more markets in the south. Water at the moment contributes 2 per cent to revenues, which the company plans to take to 10 per cent in five years.

Tata Global Beverages is expected to support growth in these categories with acquisitions. Misra had reiterated in January that the company had no plans to abandon its inorganic growth strategy despite selling its entire stake in Rising Beverages, a US beverage company, during the December 2013 quarter. Tata Global Beverages, Misra had said, was looking at joint ventures and alliances besides acquisitions in specialty teas, water and coffee.


Over the last decade, Tata Global Beverages has transitioned from being a local maker of packaged tea to the second-largest maker of tea in the world. The ball was set rolling in 2000, when the company, then called Tata Tea, acquired UK-based tea maker Tetley in a Rs 1,870-crore deal. The buy-out heralded the start of an aggressive expansive strategy.

Between 2000 and 2010, the company spent over Rs 5,000 crore on acquisitions in the US, Russia, East Europe and South Africa, snapping up players such as Good Earth, Jemca, Joekels Tea, Vitax, Grand and Eight O’Clock Coffee, among a host of others. Of these, Tata Tea, which became Tata Global Beverages in 2010, cashed out of two transactions-its 30-per cent stake in US-based Energy Brands, the maker of Glaceau vitamin water and its 43.1-per cent stake in Rising Beverages, the maker of the Activate brand of functional water, a brand popular in the US.

Despite the exits, notably in the water business, Tata Global Beverages has not given up on its ambition of expanding its presence in the segment. Tea, coffee and water are the three pillars of its business, says the company. It announced last month that it had received the mandatory approval of the local stock exchanges to merge Mount Everest with itself, a process it had set rolling in November 2013. In tea, its focus will be on green and herbal since the demand for black tea is waning in mature markets with people veering towards healthier options.

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Organic Farming Being Promoted in A Big Way; India Exporting 1.6 Lakh Tonne Organic Products

The Government is promoting organic farming through various schemes like National Project on Organic Farming (NPOF), National Horticulture Mission (NHM), Horticulture Mission for North East & Himalayan States (HMNEH), National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility (NPMSH&F), Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and also Network Project on Organic Farming of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Under NPOF scheme, assistance upto 25% and 33% of financial outlay upto a ceiling of Rs. 40 lakhs and Rs. 60 lakhs respectively is provided as back ended subsidy through NABARD for establishment of bio- pesticides/biofertilizers production units and agro waste compost production units respectively. Besides, under National Horticulture Mission (NHM) and Horticulture Mission for North East & Himalayan States (HMNEH), financial assistance is provided for setting up vermi-compost production units @ 50% of the cost subject to a maximum of Rs. 30,000/- per beneficiary, for adoption of organic farming @ Rs.10,000/- per hectare for maximum area of 4 hectare per beneficiary and for organic farming certification @ Rs.5.00 lakh for a group of farmers covering an area of 50 hectares. Assistance for promotion of organic farming on different components are also available under RKVY with the approval of State Level Sanctioning Committee. Under National Food Security Mission (NFSM) on Pulses, including Accelerated Pulses Production Program (A3P), assistance for popularizing Rhizobium culture/Phosphate Solubilising bacteria is provided to the farmers under cluster demonstrations.

Similarly, under Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP) Programme, Phosphate Solubilising Bacteria/Azotobacter culture is provided to the farmers as part of technology demonstration. Further, under National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility (NPMSH&F) financial assistance of Rs 500 per hectare is provided to promote use of organic manure. The financial assistance is provided on the basis of project proposals received from States including Maharashtra. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) under Network Project on Organic Farming, with lead centre at Project Directorate for Farming Systems Research Modipuram is developing package of practices of different crops and cropping system under organic farming in different agro-ecological regions of the country. As a result, India exported agri-organic products of total volume of 160276.95 MT and realization was around Rs.1155.81 crores in year 2012-13.

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Green tea demand growing by 17% in domestic market

Demand for green tea is growing at a rate of 17 per cent per annum against only 3 per cent for black tea in the domestic market, a Tea Board official said.

Assam produced 2 million kg of green tea of the estimated production of 11 million kg in the country during 2013, Tea Board Executive Director (Incharge) Dipankar Mukherjee said while inaugurating a workshop on Green Tea in Golaghat.

India is the largest producer and consumer of black tea in the world while China is the largest producer and consumer of green tea in the world.

“The demand for green tea is rapidly increasing in India whereas in China, the demand for black tea is on the rise,” he said emphasizing the need for scientific and sustained production of green tea.

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Tata Global Beverages, Tata group launch ‘Power of 49′ campaign

Tata Global Beverages, through their social awakening platform Jaago Re, and the Tata group today launched the second phase of the ‘Power of 49′ campaign, aiming to make it one of India’s largest women-centric awareness campaigns in recent times with an intent to reach out to 100 million women.

Power of 49, a Jaago Re initiative for women, was launched in August 2013 with an objective to awaken women, who form 49% of India’s voter base, inspiring them to cast an informed and independent vote and exercise the power they have to make or break a government in this forthcoming election. The campaign was conceptualised from the insight that women constitute 49% of the voter base in India but often do not get their due as they are not seen as a determining factor in elections.

Power Of 49

Power Of 49

The Power of 49 initiative is being supported by the Tata group because it aligns closely with the group’s social agenda. The campaign will see Tata group companies and employees coming together in the spirit of volunteering to play their part in amplifying the impact of the campaign.

As a build-up to the General Elections in 2014, the initiative will use several platforms to communicate the thought behind Power of 49. A new TV advertisement, directed by renowned ad and filmmaker Gouri Shinde was unveiled today around the concept of ‘Kaala Teeka’ (black dot). The Kaala Teeka is a clever play on the Teeka with a hard-hitting message of awakening women to realise their potential as voters. It is observed that while women vote, their family members often influence them in selecting the candidate and party to vote for.

Speaking at the occasion, Sanjiv Sarin, Regional President of South Asia, Tata Global Beverages said, “We are delighted to see Power of 49 grow from a simple thought to a larger initiative with support coming in from the Tata group. Over the years Jaago Re has become a credible platform for catalysing social change.

This time, the campaign seeks to address the underlying reason for women not getting their due from the establishment – the fact that they do not engage sufficiently with the electoral process and do not cast their votes based on an understanding of the stance of candidates on women’s issues. We believe that by inspiring 100 million women to vote based on “Women’s issues” we will be able to catalyse change in this space thus benefiting women and also the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Mukund Rajan, Member – Group Executive Council and Brand Custodian, Tata Sons said, “The Tata group is delighted to associate with Power of 49, which aims to create awareness among the 100 million women voters of India about their power to bring about change. The group is an equal opportunities employer and believes in promoting gender diversity and inclusiveness, not only in the workplace but also in the communities in which it operates. The coming General Elections represent a great opportunity for the Indian woman to have her voice heard in the political discourse of our country. We believe that women’s empowerment is an important subject for our nation’s progress, and Power of 49 is a small step in that direction, seeking to give women their rightful place in the future of our country.”

Amplifying Power of 49

To deepen its engagement with the online community, Jaago Re website ( will feature ‘Push the Pin’, an initiative that will allow users to voice relevant issues from their respective constituency. This interactive and GPS-enabled application is also available through mobile and IVRS platforms (08000780007).

Further, Power of 49 has joined hands with Haiyya, a Mumbai based not-for-profit organisation to create awareness within the Tata group through roadshows and voter registration camps to be held across Tata group companies. This will help to achieve the Group’s aim of 100% voter- readiness.

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A Call to Farms

So you thought agriculture was a poor man’s business and the high-profile financial world of Dalal Street was the only place to make big bucks, right? Wrong. Actually, many Indian lords of the field are raking it in with simple commodities such as potatoes, maize, rice and soybean, with their success attracting big private equity deals at a time when the rest of the economy is in the grip of a slowdown.

Business Today has picked four agricultural barons to look at how they hit pay dirt.

A Call to Farms

Anil Agrawal, Anil Mittal, Rahoul Jain and Jang Bahadur Singh Sangha

Take Cornell University-educated Jang Bahadur Singh Sangha, for example, who bet big on potato and maize when Punjab was growing more lucrative crops such as wheat and paddy. Today, the Sangha Group is the largest potato and maize producer in the country.

Then there’s Anil Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director of India’s top rice exporter, KRBL, who has given India one of its best-known brands, India Gate, and clocked sales of Rs 2,100 crore in basmati.

Some like Rahoul Jain, MD of Capricorn Food, have made their fortune in more unconventional crops. Jain is one of the country’s top mango processors and has just received an infusion of Rs 60 crore from private equity firm Quadria Capital.

Little-known Sanwaria Agro Oil’s Director Anil Agarwal is another agricultural baron who tapped his family’s years of expertise in the soybean business to convert it into a Rs 2,000-crore company.

How did we pick these agricultural barons? Simple, these five commodities represent areas of core need. More importantly, they are also relatively free from frequent government intervention and these entrepreneurs have used innovative technology in businesses that for years saw little or no change at all.

Today, agricultural commodities are more relevant than ever before as India Inc struggles with an economic slowdown and galloping inflation.

Food for Thought: India’s food expenditure has shifted towards high-value foods in the last decade, growing at an average of 8 per cent annually

According to a McKinsey-CII study, the agricultural processing business has the potential to grow to Rs 5.7 lakh crore in 2030 from Rs 1.1 lakh crore in 2011. Food exports are expected to rise to Rs 7.7 lakh crore in 2030 from Rs 1.4 lakh crore in 2011. Mangoes, bananas, potatoes, soybean and poultry are expected to lead the rise.

Despite the potential, Indian agriculture is beset with problems. Vast tracts of agricultural land have been lost to non-agricultural uses because of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Moreover, declining per capita land availability and shrinking farm sizes are also responsible for the slow performance of agriculture. To make things worse, Indian agriculture is dependent on the vagaries of nature, and low mechanisation and power subsidies remain big worries.

“The major issue is that governments do not recognise the farm-to-fork needs of the farmer. Most of the policies are aimed at assisting farmers at field, but major bottlenecks are there when it comes to marketing the produce,” says Rakesh Kumar, who heads Nalanda Organic Vegetable Growers’ Federation.

Still, agriculture remains the one ray of hope for the economy. According to CRISIL’s State of the Nation report, agriculture is set to bounce back because of a bountiful monsoon. As the largest sector in the country employing 52 per cent of the population, it continues to weigh in on GDP growth. “Farm GDP growth could more than double from last year … This will help check food prices and support rural consumption,” it says.

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CFTRI proposes formation of company to manufacture & market Green Milk

The Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, submitted a proposal to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Tech (CSIR-Tech) that would enable research institutes to establish a company to manufacture and market its Green Milk, a product aimed at containing malnutrition in India.

Green Milk is prepared from Moringa (a soluble protein); Portulaca (leafy oils); chicory (CH20) inulin, mushroom Vitamin D2, and Chia/Ocimum (an emulsifier). The entire composition, including proteins, fats, sugars and Vitamins A and K, is from plant sources.

The idea was to have an alternative to animal milk that is equivalent to human milk and a pure vegetarian beverage. The contents of milk are known for their characteristics and nutritional role. CSIR-CFTRI’s research team looked at  similar and better molecules in other plants and put them together to constitute the product.

Green Milk was unveiled to the public to taste during the seventh essay of the International Food Convention, which was held in Mysore in December 2013, and garnered a positive response from healthcare providers too.

“The enquiries has been mind-boggling as considerable interest was evinced not just from food processing companies, including the ice cream industry, nutraceutical and health drink manufacturers, but from organisations associated with the prevention of cruelty to animals,” Prof Ram Rajasekharan, director, CSIR-CFTRI, Mysore, stated via telephone.

“This led us to ponder over a spin-off within the institute to establish an industry to scale up from lab to land. There is a provision in the government of India that a company could be set up by a research institute like ours. So we are exploring such an option through CSIR-Tech, and it will take a year for the required clearances,” he added.

The product, currently referred to as Green Milk (Version 1.4) because it took a year and four months to get the first beverage samples. It can be used as a nutritional beverage, as an alternative to milk. During the research, the milk has been used in preparation of hot beverages like coffee and tea too, though some fine-tuning is required in terms of taste.

Now that the research and development (R&D) is complete, the next obvious step is to scale-up the  process and reformulation to provide tailor-made milk for each age group. This is because Green Milk has the big advantage that the constituents could be put together to suit different needs.

It could either be protein-rich milk for infants or low-fat, low-calorie milk for the aged, and could also be a beverage sans allergenic properties, as it does not contain lactose. In terms of nutrition, green milk comes very close to mother’s milk.

“In terms of shelf-life, Green Milk could be stored as a powder and reconstituted whenever needed. We are working on the aspect of  long-duration storage to make it more useful,” said Prof Rajasekharan.

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