Interview with Dr Dilip N. Kulkarni, President of the Agricultural Food Division and Sustainable Agriculture at Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd, Jalgaon, India
Kindly tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to join your field of work.
I am an academic – an ex-Professor and Dean from a University – that turned into a sustainability and strategy expert in agriculture and the food processing industry. I was motivated most by the Founding Director of Jain Irrigation, Bhawarlal Jain. Since joining the company, I have been working on inclusivity and sustainability in agriculture and rural development, as well as on business strategy.
Why are you passionate about improving the lives of the very poor, especially in India?
I come from a modest small farming family and have seen the plight of the very poor in India, in particular smallholder farmers. I firmly believe that technologies compatible with small-scale farming can bring a revolution in improving the economic conditions of the very poor. The technologies developed by Jain Irrigation have impressed me. I am confident that implementing and scaling them up can bring about significant changes – not only in India but also in other parts of the world.
Jain Irrigations aims to translate ‘small ideas into big revolutions’. Could you give us a glimpse of how this process works?
Jain Irrigation has developed new technologies and applied them in small-scale farming. This approach has proven to be highly successful. Examples of these technologies are Small Farming Micro-Irrigation Kits; piped conveyance of water in agriculture; solar pumping for irrigation and drinking water in energy-starved areas; climate-smart agriculture, such as low cost-protected cultivation, tissue culture of banana, pomegranate, and other crops; ultra- high density plantation in mango and other fruit crops; and drip irrigation in field crops, like paddy, cotton, sugarcane. Jain Irrigation has triggered a revolution in all areas where farmers have implemented these technologies.
What were the key drivers to the huge success of Jain Irrigation since its foundation?
The business principle of ‘creating shared value in business’ and the mission of ‘leave this world better than you found it’. Those are the guiding principles of our work. We firmly believe that unless one creates advantages for every stakeholder in business, it will not be possible for businesses to be sustainable and successful. A win-win situation for all is necessary to succeed.
Why should companies think of the very poor when aiming to scale a business?
Globally, small-scale farmers produce more than 75 per cent of all food and most of these farmers are very poor. In India, 87 per cent of farmers have less than two hectares of land, 70 per cent of these farmers do not have irrigation, and they therefore depend on monsoon rains. The productivity of farms is very low and hence their income. That is why technologies need to be compatible with these circumstances and need to have large-scale applicability. Scaling is very important in order to have visible and significant impact. Jain Irrigation products and services aim to achieve that.
Why do some companies scale in a sustainable manner and others fail to do so?
Jain Irrigation provides a one-stop shop to farmers. It provides high-tech agri-inputs, pipes for water conveyance, solar pumping, planting material, like tissue culture plants, high-quality seed, bio fertilizer, agronomic practices, like high-density planting, guidance on good agricultural practices, extension support through farmer training and hand holding using information and communication technology. Jain Irrigation not only helps farmers to increase productivity but also does buy produce back through contract farming. Jain Irrigation also provides access to finance.
Other agribusiness companies only sell certain agri-input, or they buy and purchase commodities. The success of Jain Irrigation is a result of the support the company provides to farmers so that they can solve their own problems in a comprehensive and not isolated way.
The success of Jain Irrigation is a result of the support the company provides to farmers so that they can solve their own problems in a comprehensive and not isolated way.
What personal drivers are important for scaling an inclusive business?
It is important to have a passion for the improvement of the state of the very poor. One needs to believe firmly that private companies can be change agents. By creating shared value, businesses can still be profitable.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur in a market that seems to be full of barriers to scale?
One needs to implement the small successes in larger pilots, learn from the experience and have great patience. Take small steps at a time but aim for large achievements.
What role does digitalization play nowadays in scaling inclusive businesses in agriculture markets? What role do you think it will play in the future?
Digitization will help implement technologies more efficiently and will help in scaling them in a shorter period of time. Digitization is important in developing backward and forward linkages in agribusiness. It will also play a great role in data acquisition, data analysis and market intelligence.
Bhavarlal Jain’s vision was to ‘Leave the World Better than You Found It” – Do you think successful entrepreneurs need to work with purpose to become pioneers in their field of work or is it the amount of barriers they face that makes it easier or more difficult for them to become successful?
Challenges or barriers in business make tasks difficult, make entrepreneurs wiser, and help trigger creativity. Most innovations and solutions to barriers as a result of these triggers. Those in turn will lead to success.
Do you have a personal vision you’d like to share that keeps you motivated when you are facing barriers in your work?
Challenges are always exciting me. They make me think out of box so I can find new solutions. These keep me motivated.
This blog post is part of the February 2018 edition of the ‘THEME’ that reflects on scaling inclusive business.
What motivated entrepreneurs to stay focused while scaling their business? How did they overcome hard times trying to reach scale? What navigated them through this process? Read the full series to see what thought leaders and practitioners think about these questions.