sábado, 4 de julho de 2015

#08 Increadible India

The contradictory country
Third stop: India. How difficult it is to describe this country… 
Indicators are easy: 1.3 billion inhabitants, 10th economy in GDP (US$ 1.87 trillion), 22.5% of the population illiterate, significant agricultural production (approximately 50% of the country's workforce) and a prime minister who took over in 2014 with ambitious proposals for infrastructure development and corruption eradication. 
Quite frankly, the great Indian issue is the feeling that this experience brought us. India is marked by contradictions: miserable population, and yet so cheerful and welcoming, great gender discrimination, but with strong women, leaders in their communities, largest cattle herd in the world and no beef consumption, five star hotels bordered by large slums, one of the largest players in global agribusiness, and numerous rural enterprises without any hint of mechanization. 
In short, the country has a very distinct and unusual personality, where beauty and poverty are complementary.
India’s "digestion" takes place gradually. For ten days we traveled the cities of Madurai, Thekkady, Amritsar, Ludhiana and Delhi, from south to north. I won’t describe the daily activities, but divide them in two steps: to the south, under the assistance of the also scholar Ramesh Thiruppathi, and to more central cities, followed by Malwinder Malhi, project manager at Syngenta. 
First visit in Chennai was the Aavin cooperative, a great start in which we discovered, for the first time, the true proportions of a 1.3-billion people country. 
Aavin is the hallmark of milk produced by the cooperative Tamil Nadu, and includes the collection process (producers), processing and sale, as well as dairy products. The company provides more than 1.5 million liters every day (only in Chennai), and also takes care of delivery to the consumer, door to door. 
The population of the Tamil Nadu state is of approximately 75.0 million, a herd of 100.0 million cows and 2.2 million farmers associated with the cooperative. It is hard to imagine how such a large organization remains coordinated and accessible in the defense of interests of all members, even considering that technical assistance and rural inputs are provided (under harsh criticism of inefficiency) by the State. 
We also visited the LS Mills Limited, spinning mill in Madurai. With modern and differentiated structure, the company counts with over 2.5 thousand employees, who receive average US$ 0.18 per hour worked, and is responsible from the preparation of cotton lint to the manufacture of tissues (200, 500, 1.2 thousand lines…). This is just one of the factors that make me think that perhaps the textile industry in Brazil has actually lost its golden opportunity.
LS Mills Limited
With a consecutive contraction in year-over-year income and loss of domestic market for imported products, we are at a disadvantage compared to India both in quality products and production costs. I have no statistical basis to discuss the Brazilian cotton farmer payroll, but it’s certainly not as low as the Indian range. The sector deterioration also takes into account the macroeconomic environment we are facing. If it’s not a good situation in general, we can imagine for an industry that was already facing troubles before it all happened. 
To know a country and the functioning of its agricultural sector also means knowing the small enterprises, the small-scale production, partially dedicated to subsistence, with low technological factor. So I am glad we met the producers of Wadala Khurd village in Amritsar, in the second part of the Indian trip. 
30 families growing on average 5.0 ha (each) of rice, wheat and others. Apparently, less capitalized producers are practically invisible to the government subsidies radar. The resources exist, but the rules and corruption (such as tangent as in Brazil) make it practically inaccessible to the poor: high interest rates, theoretically public agronomical assistance, lack of support for developing the agricultural chain in the region, which could add value to local products, among many other problems... 
Special thanks to this community that welcomed us so warmly and was so willing to talk about their problems and aspirations. That success is a result of its own merit, overcoming all the adverse circumstances. 
On a more academic approach, we visited the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), and spent the day with researchers in aquaculture, livestock, grains and cereals research centers, having also talked to the rectory body. 
To deal with a reality in which more than 50% of the country’s hand labor is embedded in agriculture, university extension staff has done an amazing job searching for solutions in inputs and management for small-scale producers, or with low technological insertion. 
I was impressed by the commitment of these professionals with the development of Indian agriculture. On a general way, India is represented by producers little capitalized, dependent on government subsidies and not familiar with the newest agricultural practices. In the academic understanding, the disparity in productivity and growth opportunity in the agricultural sector between the simple farmer and large producer will only be overcome (or at least mitigated) if these small receive some form of public assistance, targeted to their working conditions. Subsidizing them with infrastructure is not enough to thrive. There has to be management knowledge and access to better seeds, suitable to each environmental condition, and these farmers must be inserted in some kind of marketing. Only then, they will be able to become competitive and survive the agricultural expansion that India has experienced. 
We also met the farm enterprise Namdhari Seeds, seed company of flowers, vegetables and fruits, leader in India and 6th largest in the world. The company exports to Europe, Asia and America, has more than 2.0 thousand employees and contract with 10.0 thousand farmers in more than 4.0 thousand hectares.
Delicious fruits at Namdhari Seeds
Successful and well established, the company now seeks expansion via foreign investment, aiming greater international projection. The opening of markets as strict in relation to the processing of foods as Europe has taken new proportions with the development of cold chain, which in the past five years has grown to an average of 20% per year in the country. It has also enabled significant reduction in wastage of Indian fruits and vegetables (40% wastage, enough to supply the Brazilian consumption). 
On the same day we visited one of the companies that I enjoyed the most: the Quality Fruit & Veg Co .. We had a very interesting and inspiring conversation with the CEO, Nick Delgado, on growth bottlenecks and the management of rural enterprises. Nick came from the financial sector, and was providing consultancy to a group of producers in Ludhiana, when rather than advising them started to make questions, impressed by the competence with which they were managing the business. 
After leaving the financial market, disillusioned with the subprime crisis, Nick founded the Quality Fruit & Veg. Co., investing in a work that was already being done in Ludhiana region with organic fruit and vegetables. 
In a very sincere and conscious speech, Nick talked about the need for small farmers to distinguish to survive. According to the CEO, traders are not interested in the origin of the commodity, which contributes to the low profitability of organic producers. Farmers should invest in scale and export themselves. Only then, by distinguishing and being commercially independent, they’ll be able to enjoy better growth opportunities. 
Nick also justified the few cooperatives in the Indian agricultural scenario thanks to the lack of reliability among farmers. When certain group establishes a cooperative organization, most of the time it grows substantially, but in a disorganized manner, without a proper base to stay sustainable, then becoming public domain (several examples in India). The central problem, again, is the lack of cohesion among cooperative members, with the fact that they do not trust themselves. 
I could assimilate much of his speech with what is happening in Brazil in new agricultural frontiers. The state of Sergipe, for example, has great potential for corn planting, and it may even change the cereal polarization in the Mid-South. We can see several capitalized producers, prosperous in their business, but who could earn substantially higher margins if opted for cooperative structures. The reason this does not happen? Same as Indian: distrust. This causes the frontier to expand slowly, delaying valuable investment opportunities in the sector. 
During the visit to the Australian Embassy in Dheli, we talked with Kuhu Chatterjee, regional manager of South Asia at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), an entity within the Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, which seeks to promote the growth of Asian emerging economies (focusing on India), encouraging scientists and Australian institutions to use their skills in solving agricultural problems in these countries. The theme that underlies its activities is food security, and small farmers are educated on sustainable farming, best management practices and management of their enterprises.
With a vision that goes beyond the relationship between emerging countries and Australia, Kuhu spoke on the most appropriate alternatives to Indian agriculture at present. Not being prepared to meet the international market, regarding some products, the country should stick to domestic dynamics. Some of its profile changes for the last decade: diet more focused to carbohydrate consumption, increased per capita income, increased protein consumption (including beef), among others. 
The internal market needs restructuring due to, mainly, disintegration in the productive process forward geographic boundaries. Markets in India are, for the most part, limited to municipal boundaries, which weakens the chain and affects adding value to products. 
Still, 60% of the population depends on agricultural incomes to have their breadwinner, bringing the fear on the need for food security. 
On the outcome of our wandering through the country, and one of the highlights of the GFP, we visited Asha.
The golden key
Maybe (and unfortunately), one of the most common ways to define India is by its overpopulation and poverty. According to the World Bank, about 180 million people live below the poverty line (US$ 1.78/day), or in extreme poverty, or under conditions unworthy of life, you name it. 
I believe that we all scholars were apprehensive to face this reality, and be invaded by the feeling of impotence and, in my case, certain responsibility – I don’t think continental borders alleviate our commitment of world citizens one to another. Asha, however, was an answer to this expectation. 
The organization was founded in 1988 by Dr. Kiran Martin, which wanted to work with the poor Indian urban community, promoting change and sustainable development, which results in quality of life for families. The institution is based on Christian values ​​of faith, hope and love, offering training services, financial inclusion, education, and mobilizing resources so that disadvantaged groups feel encouraged to change their own fates, and the environment they live in. 
Asha is not (only) a charity, but an outstretched hand (perhaps the only) for those who seek access to basic human rights and life improvement in Delhi. For this reason, the misery we faced is, despite challenging, the origin for organization and structuring of the community. Among shacks and pollution, we found happy faces, broad smiles, dreamy minds, students, creative children and a lot of willpower. We found, in the end, people who refuse to be victims of circumstances, and that will change the course of their own destiny (and the country, why not?). 
I left India with a warm heart and a great lesson: the permanence of a situation, be it whatever, it's a personal choice. No matter how adverse it is the condition in which we exist, there is always something we can do for us and others. India is home to 1.3 billion people, surrounded by structural problems, corruption, crime and others, but we should not (especially the international press) forget that portion who swims against the tide, and uses the resources available to mitigate the country’s emerging reality.

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