India has the potential to be the Food Factory of the world
Siebe Schuur, Agricultural Counsellor for the Netherlands based in Delhi, on how the Dutch are collaborating with Indian farmers to improve farm productivity.
How is it possible that a country with a population smaller than that of metropolitan Delhi, and with a surface area nearly 80 times less than India, is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world, after the US? Siebe Schuur, Agricultural Counsellor for the Netherlands based in Delhi, explains how the Dutch plan to help Indian farmers improve farm productivity. Excerpts from an interview with BusinessLine.
In what sectors are Dutch companies and knowledge institutions (universities and colleges) active in India, in particular, tackling issues of water-stress in areas with a substantial and water-intensive range of crops?
First of all it is important to understand that many Dutch agricultural companies are family-owned, small and medium-sized companies. They like to work with similar family-owned companies in India, this is an important ingredient in business-to-business collaboration.
Dutch companies are active across the whole spectrum, with a strong position in potatoes and food processing – particularly in North India – and in horticulture in South India and vocational education and training across India. In these areas you can see how Indian and Dutch partners combine their strengths.
India is a big producer in many areas – mostly for the domestic market, has many climate zones, whereas Dutch vegetable seed companies are very successful in cultivation of varieties that prosper in a semi-arid climate that has become more and more common across India.
You also can witness Dutch-Indian collaboration across various forms of protected cultivation – net houses, poly houses, glass houses – leading to what we call hybrid innovation: combining the frugal innovation for which India is famous, with Dutch hi-tech.
What is hybrid innovation? Is this something the Dutch are trying to promote through these Centres of Excellence coming up across India?
That is exactly what is happening. The Centre of Excellence for horticulture in Baramati (Maharashtra) gives excellent examples. A Centre of Excellence for floriculture in Talegaon (Maharashtra) will be up and running by the year-end. Elsewhere in India, the states together with the Centre are in various stages of setting up similar centres.
In establishing these centres, we firmly believe in Indian ownership. What the Dutch government contributes is mainly technical assistance in the feasibility phase. Once a joint decision of the Centre and the state has been taken, there is of course the actual building of a centre, what we call the brick and mortar phase. In that phase, a joint effort by the Dutch government and the Dutch private sector is available, but they gradually step back to ensure that the Indian side remains in full control. Once a centre is up and running, and the first successes are visible, both in quantity and quality, the most important challenge is to keep everybody committed.
Therefore, we are very happy that the Indian government has combined its ambition to double farmers income by 2022 with the second ambition to double the value of agricultural exports by 2022. Whether this second ambition will be achieved is less important than the mindset behind it: to produce internationally competitive products, both price and quality wise. India has the potential to become the Food Factory of the World.
Is there a new Centre of Excellence planned in Kerala? If so, can you give us some details? What are the crops targeted through this centre?
It is true that the Central and Kerala governments are discussing such a centre. Based on Dutch technical assistance, the two are zooming in on a centre for horti- and floriculture. When it will be launched, is not clear yet, hopefully a decision will be announced soon.
Is it true that agriculture universities/ research institutions in the Netherlands are planning some joint programmes with Indian institutions? If yes, what kind of programmes would these be?
Yes, and there are interesting sessions during the on-going DST-CII Technology Summit, where these institutions will elaborate on various forms of public-private collaboration, like the session of Green Education Collaboration.
Also, Dutch universities like Wageningen University & Research are discussing collaboration with Indian universities and research institutions on a regular basis, of course in the context of the State Visit more intensively. The same goes for other Dutch universities like Erasmus University Rotterdam, Utrecht University and Nijmegen University, who also work on related topics, including animal health and nutrition.
The State Visit has a large delegation of university representatives, who are integrated in the various sectoral delegations, such as horticulture, life sciences and health and water.