Sustainable agriculture needs innovative partnerships

Rijit Sengupta, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Responsible Business (CRB), opines that if producers adopt certain sustainable business practices, it will not only make them efficient in producing and using resources, but also make them competitive and enable access to a wider pool of customers. He asserts that it needs innovative partnership between farmers, business  & public sector.

Sustainable agriculture min 1

IBT: How can the concept of ‘sustainable business development’ be incorporated into the F&B sector in India? How can sustainability help these businesses stay competitive?

Rijit Sengupta: It first needs to be understood what ‘sustainable business development’ means. This phrase implies integrating the principles of sustainability into business development and operations. It’s akin to reducing vulnerabilities and risks (climate change, labour shortage, etc.) in the value chain, and consolidating opportunities like promoting green jobs, sustainable value chains, improving transparency and traceability, reducing loss and wastage across different agricultural commodities.

The agri-food sector is very complex & often characterized by fragmented supply/value chains, in both inputs and the outputs markets. The sector is driven by the producers (farmers, farming community, agri-entrepreneurs of various kinds). So, the interest of the producers should be fundamental to the development of the sector. There also needs to be a consciousness that there is considerable heterogeneity in the producer segment. It has various stakeholders ranging from landless farmers, smallholders to modern agro-entrepreneurs to big traders and exporters, and even the large agri-food companies. So, there is a need to understand the characteristics of each of the different agri-value chains.

The biggest challenge in the post-COVID19 era for small and medium enterprises and producers is to get access to capital to revive their livelihoods – i.e., recovery and resilience. If producers adopt sustainable and good agriculture practices, it will make them not only efficient in producing and using resources, but augment their competitiveness. There is a growing demand, especially among buyers, who are looking for producers who can provide them full information and transparency in the value chain w.r.t things like the use of chemical fertilisers, water use and energy efficiency, wages and working condition of farm labour, etc. Adoption of sustainable and good agricultural practices can play an important role in helping producers get access to these markets and investments.

IBT: What benefits does sustainable agri-business innovation have for Indian farmers, customers and the environment?

Rijit Sengupta: For the farmers, there’s a niche market, which is growing; where they can sell directly to the customers. These customers are looking for crops and products, which have a particular standard; not just in terms of quality, but performance on sustainability indicators. Secondly, for farmers, good agricultural practices that align with traditional knowledge and practices are comparatively easy to adopt as compared to advanced techniques and costly measures.

IBT: What different sustainability business models can Indian agri-food companies explore in order to meet the international low-cost competition with quality products?

Rijit Sengupta: The first model involves developing sustainable value chains. A business model that many international, even domestic buyers are now promoting, it entails incorporating principles of sustainability throughout the entire value chain. Value chain goes beyond the conventional and transactional concept of supply chain. That would also help in balancing the interests not only of the buyers and the producers but also identifying risks and challenges in the entire value chain.

The second model revolves around closed loop in businesses. It tackles the limitations of the traditional take-make-dispose (linear) model of manufacturing/production. It helps to create circular (material and energy) loops and in conservation of finite resources. In the agriculture sector, this can be applied in crop residue management and food loss and waste reduction.

IBT: How can agribusinesses in India ensure net zero carbon emissions?

Rijit Sengupta: The first step would be to identify the hotspots where the emissions are high and figure out what needs to be done, who can do what and set SMART reduction targets, etc. Secondly, identify key stakeholders and possible partnerships for taking necessary actions to achieve the targets. Thirdly, facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogue and actions to ensure collective monitoring and evaluation of progress. Finally, these efforts must be rewarded by the market and financial resources need to be made available to implement these.

IBT: How can Indian agri entrepreneurs leverage technology to make their businesses sustainable?

Rijit Sengupta: Children of farmers often don’t want to take up traditional farming, which remains a concern for the sector. Rural youth could be attracted to farming by exploring and pursuing opportunities in value addition to the agricultural produce. So, appropriate technologies that can help add value can also create economic opportunities for the rural youth. This could be achieved through tripartite partnerships involving public sector, businesses and the farming community.

IBT: How can sustainable business development-oriented investments be enhanced in India’s agribusinesses?

Rijit Sengupta: There are two types of investments broadly in agriculture – (i) conventional and (ii) contemporary. Conventional investments would include those supported by priority sector lending (PSL), which has been a policy-driven priority for financial institutions. It is crucial, however, to assess the impact of such investments.

Contemporary investments are impact driven. Various financial sector actors are exploring investments in supporting the agri-business sector. For example, we can have innovative financing instruments supporting agro-forestry initiatives. In case of both conventional and contemporary investments, the interests of the producers,. especially the vulnerable, will need to be at its heart.

Rijit Sengupta Sustainable agriculture

Rijit Sengupta is CEO of the Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) – and has over twenty years of experience in various areas of sustainable development policy and practice across Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

His interest lies in the interface of business and society – particularly environmental protection/management, consumer welfare, community welfare, livelihoods/SMEs, business regulation, responsible business and SDGs. He has designed and implemented various projects/programmes on these areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia. Currently, while much of his work on sustainable business/SDGs is focused on India, he has been also advocating for greater North-South dialogue on sustainable business/SDGs at various international platforms, while researching and writing on these issues. He has a Master degree in Agriculture and in Environment Management. He is an Alumnus of the University of Calcutta and the United Nations University (Tokyo). He is Member, Advisory Board of the Trade for Sustainable Development programme, International Trade Centre, Geneva and of the Consumer Information Programme of the One Planet Network.

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