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Biotech is the only solution to tackling agri shortage: Santosh Nair

Interview with CEO, Camson Biotechnologies

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Bangalore-based is cultivating organic horticulture products in idle farmland by targeting non-resident Indians and professionals from leading companies. At a time when agricultural land is shrinking due to rapid urbanisation, cultivation in idle land would not only increase farm output, but also with zero chemical residue, for which there is huge demand in foreign markets, says chief executive Santosh Nair, in an interview with Dilip Kumar Jha. Edited excerpts:

What is farm management all about?
Farm management is a first-of-its-kind concept in India. It focuses on organic cultivation of horticulture products, with a potential of expanding this to other agricultural sectors. We are primarily targeting professionals from large companies and non-resident Indians who have more than 50 acres of cultivable land in any part of the country. We will sign contracts with land owners for a certain period and take full control of the land. During this period, we would ensure minimum annual returns to land owners. Under our agricultural scientists' supervision, we would grow organic crops and also be responsible for all matters---from soil testing to selling the products.

How would this system work?
In addition to spending on fencing and drip irrigation, landowners have to bear 50 per cent of working capital expenses. Camson would bear the remaining 50 per cent. It would also provide advisory services, seeds, biocides and other inputs. Our scientists would assess the land for suitability of growing a particular crop. We plan to grow commodities for local consumption. However, the potential for exports would also be considered, for which we would analyse the consumption market and foreign book orders and, accordingly, produce the goods. We would not grow anything that would lead to oversupply in the market. This would ensure healthy realisation.

Which commodities are you working on?
Primarily, we are working on cultivating organic sweet maize, pomegranate and watermelon. This would later be extended to chillies and tomatoes. All these products would have zero residue, with good consumer demand.

How would Camson's tie-up with benefit farmers?
Camson's tie-up with HDFC Bank would make the company's 3,000 dealers eligible to act as business correspondents for the bank, and help them cover 3,00,000 marginal farmers across the country. Business correspondents appointed in rural areas would carry out all transactions that a customer avails of at bank branches. Every dealer is associated closely with about 200 farmers---from arranging finances to providing seeds and fertilisers. The tie-up would benefit all. While farmers would get secure access to finance at 9-12 per cent interest, against the rates of up to 36 per cent from local moneylenders, this would also help the bank achieve its priority sector lending target. For Camson, dealers would advise farmers to grow organic farm products for better realisation. Through this, dealers' business would also increase substantially.

Is the only solution to tackling the global shortage in agricultural products?
Yes. Biotechnology is the only solution to meeting the growing food requirement. At one end of the problem is a growing population, with high disposable incomes. This requires more food, as well as a higher quality of food. On the other hand, it is increasingly difficult to meet these requirements, owing to a varied set of reasons such as a fall in agricultural yields due to abuse of soil by fertilisers and chemical pesticides. Unprofitable farming results in lower acreage, as farmers shift to alternative modes of employment. Higher urbanisation also reduces the acreage under agriculture. Soil erosion alone is estimated to take away 24 billion tonnes of soil every year.

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