AGRICULTURE: IN SHACKLES OR IN TRANSITION? - The Daily Guardian
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AGRICULTURE: IN SHACKLES OR IN TRANSITION?

In order to truly unfetter it from its shackles and lure younger generations to take up ‘agripreneurship’ with enthusiasm, we must work to make the sector profitable through public and private partnerships, modern technologies, and courageous but cohesive policies.

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I travel regularly to rural India, agriculture being both my profession and passion. Recently, in the Tarai region of western UP, during a brief break in my journey, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of farmers, all aged and wise men, perched on charpoys outside a village. Speaking in Hindi, the farmers were rueful of the fact that they were a lonely lot.

“We worked hard to educate our sons, and they do not want to enter our fields, much less carry on farming for themselves and their families,” one of them said. There was a chorus of agreement all around. “Yes, my son would like to open a shop in Kashipur nearby and wants money,” stated another old farmer, smoking a bidi. “Kishan, my son, has started to work in Bilaspur in a tractor workshop.” A sardarji interjected, “My son too has gone to Delhi looking for work. He wants to settle there. I am thinking seriously of selling my land, now that the new highway is making land prices go up”. Another middle-aged dhoti-clad farmer interrupted, “My bahu (daughter-in-law) belongs to a city family and is after my son to migrate. Who will then look after the fasal, the animals and our land? He is asking me to sell off a portion of our land, not that we have more than few bighas!” “Babu,” he said to me, “Kheti to khatam hi samjho ab—na to kuch bachta hain, na hi hamare bachchon mein dum hai kheti karne ki. Unko chahiye paisa jaldi se.” There was a nodding of heads—agriculture is not profitable and is disappearing and every son wants to partition the land and obtain his share of the family property.

Since Partition, farmers and their families have partitioned farmlands and the average holding presently is around 1.08 hectares. An M.S. Swaminathan Foundation report says that 2,035 farmers are moving away from cultivation every day, while rural youth constitute only about 19% of the farming community! There are 15 million fewer farmers than there was in 1991, as per the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR).

Where have all the farmers gone? Where are the farmers of tomorrow, the next generation of “sons of the soil”? The writing on the wall says that everyone has gone to the towns, gone to explore their own destiny and find their identity. Even the girls and women are following suit. A nationwide farm survey by CSIS reported that 62% of the youth in rural areas did not want to take up farming since it was unprofitable and there were better options that would give higher earnings and an improved quality of life. 69% of farmers own less than 2 ha of arable land. Even with best practices, given the vagaries of nature and the monsoons, these farmers cannot subsist on crop income alone. Statistics state that small farmers earn approximately Rs. 6,240.00 per month from agriculture, or even lower in some geographies or from certain crops—for instance, a paddy farmer earns just Rs 4,620 per month (according to data for 2017-18). Increasingly, landowners are leasing their farmlands for cultivation at fixed annual returns to landless labourers or small farmers who run the farming operations. These farm contractors have no sense of ownership and less understanding of modern practices, crop protection measures and crop management techniques using new technology. This is a non-sustainable business model, one with diminishing returns, with input costs going up and market prices eroded by middlemen. No wonder then that non-farm income is increasing, being 55% of total rural income, at this time. Farmers in the hill states are worse off. Demographic change is evident, but is there any dividend at the bottom of the pyramid? Or are we facing a backlash? The answers, dear readers, are blowing in the wind!

In the north Indian states, the centuries-old stranglehold of the kaccha and pakka arhatiyas (commission agents and moneylenders) has only spread its tentacles wide and deep into the APMC and mandi agricultural operations. The farmers depend on them for quick loans for land development, farm machinery and tractors, pumps, weddings, medical situations, education and purchases of animals and poultry, and construction. Farmers make a beeline for the APMC to sell or barter their output at the MSP or lower returns, depending on conditions. They use this harvest money to repay debts, buy inputs for the next season and satisfy family needs. No financial inclusion can substitute this traditional monetary and commercial cycle that pervades the farming communities politically, economically and socially.

In Haldwani, Uttaranchal, farmers were selling potatoes for Rs 1/kg, when the consumer price in retail is well over Rs 30-40/kg. Tomatoes in Maharashtra mandis were facing a similar situation. The arhatiyas and commission agents, shroffs, wholesalers and mandi agents get the thicker slice of the share. Cold storages are full and expensive to rent, post-harvest losses are huge, and marginal farmers have no staying power, with debts being a historical curse in rural areas. Seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and machinery—all cost a lot. To add to that, the water table is dwindling and tanks are running dry, and drip fertigation is a far cry. What are the farmers to do? Further, burdened by being left alone to manage agricultural operations, they become more vulnerable to exploitation by middlemen. And then they have to repay loans borrowed at interest rates as high as 3%-4% per month. Traders have high bargaining power on the prices too; they form a cartel and dictate prices to the farmers without even auctioning the produce. So, if the farmers do not get any surplus income, they must repay the commission agents with their crop produce or family assets. And so, in despair, they settle in the evening, after a hard day’s work, to drink a glass of country liquor and play cards with the village folk, resigned to their fates, and woe the sequence of events occurring year after year!

Compared to major countries such as the US, China, Japan and Canada, and regions like Latin America and the EU, crop yields in Indian farms are among the lowest for major crops. If we take the production of rice as an example, China’s production amounts to 7027 kg/ha, the world average is 4679 kg/ha, while India produces only 2638 kg/ha. For maize, the US produces 11864 kg/ha, the world average stands at 5924 kg/ha, but India’s number is only 3070 kg/ha. (Source: Commission for Agricultural Food and Prices, 2018, FAO) Thus, India uses more land and manpower than other countries to produce lower yields and a lower quality of agricultural produce. This makes Indian agricultural exports uncompetitive and unviable. 

A recent study indicates that the loss of primary produce before reaching the market due to the lack of proper handling, sorting, storage, grading and packaging at the village level is about 30-40%. The government sets the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for various crops, based on input costs and the appropriate margins needed to keep farming viable. Without the MSP, prices can spiral downwards. The MSP helps in pushing market prices upwards and farmers rely heavily on it. Moreover, they are unlikely to adopt free market reforms anytime soon because of the prevailing interdependence on intermediaries and APMCs.

It was an understanding of the above situation that made the government announce the policy objective of “doubling farmers’ income by 2022”, accompanied by seven enablers for stakeholders to engage with. It is a lofty target indeed and, as of now, difficult to achieve. A detailed document on the subject has been already released by the NITI Aayog, which is a workable roadmap for the way forward.

Verily, a change in thinking at all levels is needed for redefining the practice of agriculture, where farmers are not viewed as victims, but as partners in growth. Future rural development plans and schemes must create new employment opportunities and PPP should implement new agri-business models that foster and enable inclusive growth with farming and rural communities. Understanding and adopting new and modern technologies for farming is the future driver of rural growth, and integrated and connected agriculture. The Soil Health Cards, modern mechanisation techniques, use of satellite images, data analytics including AI and ML, cloud computing and precision farming are all tools on the anvil. Technologies to consider include indoor farming, vertical farms, aeroponics, aquaponics, sensors, satellites and drones for information and crop mapping, and futuristic mechanisation. New technologies for animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries, aquaculture and dairy farming can also help supplement farm incomes. Water management continues to be the priority, as does drip irrigation and fertigation, considering that 70-80% water for irrigation goes to waste. The use of hybrid seeds, increasing GM crops, changes in crop rotation and adopting integrated pest management techniques and effective crop protection technologies will also increase farm yields and returns.

Market linkages with e-NAM and e-Mandi platforms based on fast internet connectivity, ensured by efficient service providers, form the future central hub of communication and the commodity supply chain. The creation and management by aggregators of cold chains and storage infrastructure at the village level, enabling farmers to sort, grade, pack, sell and make transactions, both under APMC protocols and directly with consumers at their doorsteps, will minimize costs and maximize returns for farmers. The government will need to revisit the current situation regarding subsidies and minimum support pricing policies for crops, as per the stated objectives of the three farm laws passed by the Parliament recently. They are at the centre of the current farmer agitation and, after eleven rounds of talks with the government, have only hardened the stand of both sides). Obviously, in order to make this change happen, institutions such as NABARD, universities, corporates, agricultural start-ups, NGOs, SHGs and educated farmers must pitch in to create awareness, undertake training and build confidence in the reforms by demonstrating their benefits. Thrusting reforms into unresponsive mouths may not be a good idea.

The creation of modern warehousing and cold storage infrastructure, using new technologies, is already a national objective. The support of agribusiness clusters would also provide the necessary boost to investment, employment and the development of small towns. These activities would result in integrated and connected agriculture – the future deliverable for a rural digitally integrated ecosystem, which will help create a multiplier for GDP increase (from 3% to 4.5%) from agriculture and allied sectors (The Ministry of Agriculture).

An understanding of the foregoing will reveal that agribusiness entrepreneurship can be the initiative that can attract the next generation of farmers, who are technology-driven and can be trained to make agricultural operations profitable. Many pilot projects and schemes to promote entrepreneurship have been already implemented by the government. The National Agriculture Innovation Fund (NAIF) and Agri-clinic and Agri Business Centre Scheme (ACABC) are GoI initiatives to build entrepreneurship. 22 agri-tech incubators have been set up under the scheme. This scheme needs a shot in the arm through continued World Bank support. Many university-led private Incubators under the IIMs and IITs are functioning as well. NABARD is playing a pivotal role by providing funding and marketing support. The Ministry of MSME and Ministry of Labor have various schemes to foster agri-entrepreneurship. A new breed of farmers must, therefore, emerge and evolve into agri-entrepreneurs. National Skill Building programs should aim to deliver the required inputs. Smart cities and towns need to integrate with digital and precision farming business models that embrace animal husbandry, dairy management, poultry, fisheries and aquaculture, and other incumbents in the future food security chain. There are great opportunities for agri-business startups and aggregators and many have had initial success too.

To overcome the drag of fragmented landholdings, the infrastructure of Farmer Production Organizations, now about 868 in number, may be expanded in order to be the fulcrum of farm services such as soil health, insurance and rural credit, through e-governance channels. Member farmers will remain owners of their land, but may avail the benefits of modern agri-services through the FPOs. The new generation of farmers needs to be convinced to join FPOs, undergo training in skill building and adopt new technology based on agri-business management and share the profits. Krishi Vikas Kendras (KVKs) can also act as the future implementation arm for FPOs. E-markets must pitch in to bridge gaps in the food supply chain, so that by a reduction in the number of middlemen, the margins thus saved can go to the farming business. The challenge is to help small farmers, who constitute over 90% of the farmer population, find solutions and increase income. This is not easy to do across India.

The point of this article is to say that we must change the way we look at the future of agriculture in India. We must work to make this sector profitable and alluring for the emerging and diverse rural youth. We must work through public and private partnerships, create a critical minimum mass of change through technology adoption, such that a multiplier effect takes place. Our respected Prime Minister has tried to bell the cat, but a compliance mode of action will not make any substantial impact. The solution lies in crafting innovative ways to make agriculture profitable, through the implementation of new business models, which are well supported at various levels by institutions, banks, corporates, NGOs and research bodies. The rural youth must look at agri-business as a favored choice of career and ‘agri-preneurship’ as the preferred roadmap! The challenge now lies in the execution of policies and implementation of new plans, as agriculture is a State subject. Given India’s diverse economy, ridden with issues of caste and religion, pressured by khaps and politicians, suffering from rural indebtedness, and facing increasing growers’ activism, the goal to march ahead with cohesive and courageous is indeed a far-fetched ideal. But, for the new rural India to break free from its old shackles, out-of-the-box thinking and action, taken by all stakeholders, is the need of the day.

The writer is involved in agrochemicals industry management and is a faculty member and senior professor of rural marketing.

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Chemical-free living is here to stay and is the way of the future, says I Say Organic CEO Aakanksha Kapoor

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NewsX was recently joined by Aakanksha Kapoor, the CEO of I Say Organic for its special series NewsX India A-List. She shared her journey of working in the fashion and retail industry and how all that led to I Say Organic.

Sharing how candid and unpredictable her journey has been, Aakanksha said, “I landed in I Say Organic very unknowingly but I’ll start from the beginning. I did an undergrad and then studied a little bit in New York. I was there for about two and a half years, studied marketing at Parsons and then worked in fashion, moved back to India in 2012 and continued working in fashion in the luxury space as a brand consultant. While all of this was happening, I Say Organic was growing on the side; it was launched in 2012 and Ashmeet started the organisation and was looking to hire somebody in the marketing team; the company became what it is in front of me.”

She added, “While having unofficial work-related conversations and seeing this opening in the space, I realised what I Say Organic stands for—clean eating, responsible consumption, and production was very aligned with how I led my life like eating well, overall interested in the well-being, and personally dealing with minor health issues but having overcome them through regular good food habits. I just thought it was a very interesting time in the startup space and my personal vision aligned with the company so it was a great move.”

Aakanksha moved to I Say Organic on a full-time basis in 2014 and joined the marketing team. Since then, she has been working with the company in leading marketing and eventually leading their retail in 2015, setting up their offline stores and taking on as a CEO as of 2020.

Throwing light on how I Say Organic works, she said, “I Say Organic essentially started as a home-delivery company and as an e-commerce platform providing organic certified farmers across the country a platform to sell their products directly to the consumers. Getting into the offline space was one of the things that we wanted to experiment with and it ended up being a really good space for us as well. Our vision is to provide the safest and the purest form of food that’s available out there to the consumers, making it easy for anybody to go completely chemical-free in their living and get the option of eating safe food.”

Aakanksha further said that a person can order seven days a week from their website across Delhi NCR as they deliver seven days a week. Their portfolio is primarily fresh produce to grains, lentils, spices, oils and they’ve also ventured into value-added products like healthy snacks and savoury items that they manufacture on their own using their produce. According to her, I Say Organic has a huge variety of products needed to run a kitchen.

“A few years ago, when organic came into being the biggest question was what is organic and will this stay. We have been in the business for the last eight years, chemical-free living is here to stay and is the way of the future. It is how one should live their life but the biggest concern is that there’s a big misconception on what is organic and what is farm fresh. So, you’re hearing the word ‘farm fresh’ a lot, newer companies are coming into this space and using that term. I think the consumer is a bit confused and probably not fully aware that farm fresh does not necessarily mean organic,” said Aakanksha.

To give more clarity on farm fresh and organic, she expressed, “Farm fresh doesn’t necessarily mean it’s chemical-free, organic means that it’s completely chemical-free, without the use of pesticides, and how nature has intended it to be. It’s growing produce without any external chemical inputs into your agriculture. As an organisation, our goal is to get the most genuine and the most authentic practices to the customer’s doorstep. We want to work with farmers who are dedicated to growing produce that is good for the environment and good for us. We have everything under the sun on our website that you need to go completely chemical-free. We are authentic, genuine, and transparent about who we work with, where our products get lab tested from, which farmer is certified, and which farmer is in the transition period. We share this information regularly with our customers, especially if they ask we have all the certifications to show to our customers about our farmers.”

Talking about the future goals of the organisation, Aakanksha said that until now I Say Organic has been a Delhi NCR specific brand, and they are yet to explore it pan India. They want to do it with their dry produce and snack items. In the next five years, she expects I Say Organic to start making an appearance in different cities whether it’s through their own home delivery model, through different retailers or their offline stores which are their branded stores.

“I get very motivated when I hear other successful women entrepreneur stories and honestly if there’s anything that has pulled me back, it’s just doubting myself. Begin conversing with the right people and identifying people that you want to network with. Just go out there, you don’t need to fully set up a company, if you have an idea just start piloting it and then eventually it will brew into something,” said Aakanksha.

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TOOLKIT CASE EXPOSES THE DANGEROUS HYPOCRISY OF LIBERALS

The online ‘toolkit’ shared by Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg has exposed the pseudo-liberal brigade which is speaking on matters it has no idea about just for the sake of opposing the Modi government. However, it is more alarming to see some Indians at home, including the Opposition, collaborating with the people who wish to harm India’s image on the global stage.

Vishwas Pathak

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Since the 2014 general elections, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge as the leader of this nation, a new trend of conspiring and mobilising people on the basis of false and motivated allegations has begun. Prior to 2014, the moot issue of discussions in the political arena had been the embarrassing corruption scandals by the Congress-led UPA government. However, with PM Modi walking the talk on his strong pitch for anti-corruption in the government, the Opposition has now resorted to leading people astray on the basis of false allegations.

If the chronology of the same has to be understood, it all began with the selective intolerance of the Award Wapsi gang in 2014, the balloon of which was quick to burst. That was followed by allegations of attacks on religious missionaries and churches, which again was refuted by enforcement agencies of the country. In the recent past, the controversies revolving around the CAA and NRC have shown how the political opposition of this nation did not leave a single stone unturned to corner the government on the basis of their hypocritical and insensitive presumptions. However, the people’s faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intentions remained strong and this conspired controversy also came to an end with the political parties of the Opposition falling flat on their short claims.

Now in the sixth year of holding the office of Prime Minister, PM Modi has maintained the sanctity of his post and continued to walk on the honest path of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” with efficiency and no corruption. However, his political opponents have now found a new way to attack the government.

The passage of the three historic and revolutionary farm legislations in the Parliament have irked a few anarchist elements of the country who had for a long time monopolised the supply chain of agricultural commodities in the country, especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana. As these three farm legislations brought in by the Government of India aimed at ensuring a free market for farmers, along with countless other benefits for the sector, the agents of chaos have come together in opposing the bills.

While a negligible percentage of the population, disguised as farmers of this nation, sat together to protest, the chronology of events began with the political opposition of the country taking a plunge into the issue and glorifying it with false statements or misleading facts. What was a nadir to these developments were the drastic and horrifying incidents led by these protestors on Republic Day which went on to become the day of sorrow for all Indians.

The intent of these elements which were causing unjustified disruptions was to tarnish the image of India on the global platform. Perhaps this was the reason why the protestors caused such violence even on Republic Day. Although the nation stood strong against this conspired and shameful act by miscreants, further execution of the plan was deemed necessary by these anti-national elements or the so-called liberal lobby, to keep up with the planned agenda as per the “toolkit”.

After 26 January, the nation witnessed a sudden foreign interest in the farm protests where nationally irrelevant international opportunists started speaking up for something which they have absolutely no knowledge of. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg shared the orchestrated script, which is popularly called as a “toolkit”, that reflected the idea and planning behind creating a conspiracy against the country with the sole intent of maligning its image. The suspected international angle to this entire controversy also came true when Thunberg removed the toolkit after tweeting it. The toolkit did not just have details of how to conduct agitations in the capital, but was also something very dangerous for a democratic country like India.

Apparently, Greta Thunberg is known for her work in the field of environment. Here I want to highlight the hypocritical mindset of the pseudo-liberals who are tight-lipped when it comes to environmental erosion in the states of Punjab and Haryana but are quick to exhibit sympathy for farmers, while absolutely uninformed about the issue.

Unfortunately, these irrelevant international elements were being helped by some misled Indians like Disha Ravi, who allegedly played a role in the entire controversy. It has been alleged that Ravi is an editor of the document and a key conspirator in its “formulation and dissemination”. “She started a WhatsApp group and collaborated to make the toolkit document,” the police have stated.

According to the police, Disha Ravi was the one who shared the document containing the toolkit with Greta Thunberg. Later, 21-year-old climate activist Disha asked the international environmentalist to remove the main document after its incriminating details accidentally got into the public domain.

The visuals of 26 January, where police personnel were seen helpless, cannot be forgotten for a very long time. What happened on Republic Day was shameful for all of us. However, the culprits of it do not shy away from taking pride in what they did, disguised as innocent farmers.

Some unscrupulous and fame-hungry international elements talking about the issue for self-motivated benefits of the pseudo-liberal ideology is one thing to consider. However, the fact that our fellow Indians are being accused of collaborating with these people is an alarming sign. What is absolutely a nadir is the fact that politicians sitting on the opposition benches, in their quest to corner PM Modi’s popularly accepted government, have forgotten the limits of the opposition. It is the need of the hour for the nation to ask these supporters of the farm protests, orchestrated by such international miscreants, how far is too far?

The author is Media Head, BJP Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal.

The visuals of the 26 January tractor rally, where police personnel were seen helpless, cannot be forgotten for a very long time. What happened on the Republic Day was shameful for all of us. However, the culprits of it do not shy away from taking pride in what they did, disguised as innocent farmers.

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‘Our USP is personalised education’: Rohit Jain, Founder & CEO, uFaber

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX as part of NewsX India A List, Rohit Jain, Founder & CEO, uFaber spoke about the growth of uFaber, how it is revolutionising online education and his vision for the company.

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Rohit Jain, Founder & CEO, uFaber recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List.  uFaber is one of the fastest-growing Edutech companies in India, specialising in personalised training with the latest technologies and high-quality content. Spearheaded by IITians with over 10 years of experience in education, uFaber has one of the largest course catalogues across languages, entrance exams and skill enhancement subjects

Talking about his journey with uFaber, Rohit Jain said, “uFaber started in 2014, and since then it has been like a roller coaster journey. From a two people led team back in 2014 to now being almost 2000+ people team, uFaber is growing every year at almost 2x and  3x every year. We are glad to contribute to the growth of the industry and sector by making a lot of people learn online from home without any constraint of time and location and obviously, partnering with a lot of people, having an amazing team together, giving the opportunity to a lot of women who work from home and become a part of our trailer community. So, it’s been an amazing journey so far.”

He added, “The pandemic has contributed a lot into the surge in the industry. So, that is one reason. The second reason is that some players are getting very aggressive and a lot of funding is coming into this space so that is opening up a market, giving more awareness to the parents, especially in K12 space, where people were very limited to sending the school’s students to their schools, or kids to their schools. But now, because of the pandemic, the schools were not available, and there were these several options available outside of school. That has suddenly given exposure to the parents and it is visible into the numbers also. At the same time, online education has been around for a while now. It was growing at a little lesser growth rate, but now people have started seeing a lot of benefits of it. The pedagogy has improved, the internet speed has improved, the content quality has improved. People are seeing that online is as good as or maybe in some cases better than offline. That is why more and more people are shifting to it.”

When asked about the kind of educational courses  offered by uFaber, he responded, “uFaber is not sector-specific. We are not limited to K 12, or entrance exams or any space. We have our USP and our offering is basically personalising education. We offer a personal tutor, a personal trainer for every student and whenever we see that there is a learning requirement, there is a good number of students who want to learn that particular subject, we provide personalised courses for that. Currently, we offer programs for entrance exams like UPSC, teacher training programs and courses for school students like programming, communication and robotics. It is a very diversified portfolio that we have started from school to college to post-college and working professionals as well.”

Speaking about the increasing competition in the market, he said, “Adaptation as an industry is not like typical e-commerce or travel industry, where everything is digitised and people are just becoming a marketplace and selling the same thing. Though there are many players but everybody is selling different stuff. Even in the same space as in K12, there are many players but everybody has a different product to offer, a different USP to offer and a different program to offer to the parent. How we are keeping ourselves differentiated and liked by a lot of students and parents is that we focus a lot on personalisation. We are not taking away the role of the teacher, which is essential for education. We all have learned from teachers and have liked some of the other teachers in our learning experience in school or college. A teacher plays an important role in the education of the child, no matter what content or technology you have. Hence, we focus a lot on the teacher quality and offering the teacher to the student. Along with the teacher, we obviously provide you with good quality content and assessment and technology and all those things. One of the things that we really emphasise on and are proud of is a very good quality of teachers, which is very limited in offline space, as well as in other offerings because providing a personal tutor at a large scale with better quality. That is a big problem and that is where we are focused on.”

Commenting on effectiveness of government policies, he said, “Government is already doing good in terms of supporting startups and coming up with policies in education like the NEP, which was launched last year. As far as the government support is concerned, it is quite good. There is nothing specific that this particular industry needs from the government because there is a lot. Rather the industry, especially the private industry, exists because of the inefficiency in the government system, especially in education. If had the public schools been really good, and had colleges been very good, there would be no need for any private player in applications.”

At last, sharing his vision for uFaber, Rohit Jain said “We want to become a leading player in the personalised education space and our growth depends on the number of trainers that we have and the number of programs that we have. We are planning to grow about 5x.  So by 2025, we would reach a milestone that we plan to have. The growth is both horizontal as well as vertical. Currently, we have five different offerings and we want to extend that to about 10-12 different offerings, more and more skills, and at the same time, we want to expand our trainer base. Currently, we have about 2000 plus teachers teaching us from all part of the country and we want to increase it to about 10,000 trainers or 15,000 trainers in next couple of years.”

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Our vision is to change bamboo perception from poor man’s timber to wise man’s timber: Yogesh Shinde, Founder, Bamboo India

Founder of Bamboo India Yogesh Shinde recently joined NewsX for an thought-provoking chat as a part of NewsX’s special series ‘NewsX India A-List’. In an exclusive chat, Mr. Shinde said that the motto of Bamboo India is to reduce the usage of plastic by replacing it with bamboo in our daily lives.

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Yogesh Shinde, the founder of Bamboo India, recently joined NewsX for an exclusive chat as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. In an exclusive interview, Mr Shinde talked at length about the necessity to reduce plastic, which could be possible only by the advent of bamboo. Bamboo India has been manufacturing local grown bamboo, which can be the most effective solution to reduce the usage of plastic. “To contribute something to India’s economy brought me back. In any time in the future, when the history will be written, I will be known as a contributor, not as a spectator. ” exclaimed Mr. Shinde, who had been a part of the corporate culture but decided to walk on the path of social entrepreneurship owing to his growing concern over increasing pollution in India. 

Tracing the journey of the inception of Bamboo India, Mr Shinde said, “The inception of Bamboo India occurred with the vision of ‘Brush, Collosion, Awake’. The motto behind the establishment of the company has been the reduction of plastic with bamboo. India is the second largest bamboo growing country but is not contributing to the bamboo world market. We are not even in the top ten list to import the products. On top of that, we are the world largest bamboo importer. That made me very scared and I thought that we must do something about it. Our target is very simple. We want to reduce plastic waste from our mother Earth.” 

Interestingly, Bamboo India is also known to make very innovative products, one of them being the bamboo toothbrush. Emphasising on the need to reduce plastic and shift from plastic toothbrushes to bamboo ones, Mr. Shinde stated, “Plastic toothbrushes are one of the leading pollution contents in the world. As every one of us have been talking about the increasing global warming, I, as an individual, thought of manufacturing bamboo toothbrushes in India. We are one of the first companies to have started manufacturing bamboo toothbrushes with local grown bamboo”. He believes that the usage of sustainable products will be a long term affair. Applauding those individuals for their effort in promoting the principles of sustainability on social media and playing an important role in the reduction of plastic, Mr. Shinde calls them ‘the real superheroes’. 

The path to sustainability, which has been led by Bamboo India, has also provided inspiration to other companies to manufacture bamboo toothbrushes. Commenting on the journey of Bamboo India so far, Mr. Shinde said, “To convert the bamboo perception of poor man’s timber to wise man’s timber is what our journey is all about.”

When asked about the challenges one has to confront while running a social entrepreneurship enterprise, Mr. Shinde said, “The first challenge is definitely fundraising. As Bamboo is not a traditional business in India, we faced difficulties in terms of financing. None of the single companies has offered us a loan because they did not understand the potential of bamboo and that is not the end of the world for us. We get funds from friends and family”.

Sharing his vision of the company, Mr Shinde said, “In the next five years, all our products will be available at local medical stores. Till the last four years, we have been a small startup. We have reduced 14 kilograms of plastic with our own initiative. Once the media starts showing interest in the venture, it will be a wildfire and more plastic would be reduced. Bamboo toothbrushes would be available in the supermarket across India by end of this year and maybe the next year, this product will be available all across the globe”.

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‘Startup is all about scaling up’: Disha Singla, Co-founder, Supreme Incubator

In an exclusive interview with NewsX, Disha Singla talks about her journey, the future of startups, and how Supreme Incubators is leading the way for new startups in India.

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Disha Singla, Co-founder of Supreme Incubator, recently joined NewsX for an insightful conversation as part of its special series NewsX India A-list. In the exclusive interview, Disha spoke about the inception of Supreme Incubator, the functioning of a startup incubator, future of startups in India and how her organisation is paving the way for young entrepreneurs to lead a change.

Speaking about the inception of Supreme Incubators, Disha said, ”A couple of years ago, I went to a business school in the USA to pursue my degree with a major in entrepreneurship. I spent a lot of time around startups there. In fact, my own startup was incubated by my university. I got connected with mentors and potential investors over there while working with other startups, who were at the same initial stages. All of this inspired me to further pursue my passion. When I came back to India, I hosted some events here and received a great response. We started receiving applications from all over the country and we connected those startups to potential investors and mentors and received phenomenal feedback from them. It has been two years now since the inception of Supreme and it has been going great. We are focussing on Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, we uplift the startups by connecting them with potential investors, experts, and specific mentors so that they are able to grow in a short period of time.”

Giving our viewers an insight into the functioning of an incubator, she said, “An incubator takes action towards creating an adept ecosystem by connecting them with experts and advisors. These mentors are expert in their domains and have led their own successful ventures. They are leading large corporations so they know how to run large organisations. We at Supreme have mentors from different fields, some mentors are experts in business and technology while many of them are experts in artificial intelligence.”

Further emphasising how Supreme is different from other incubators, Disha expressed, ”We focus more on a personalised approach. Every start-up, which is accepted in our cohort, gets personalised assistance and guidance as per their industry type. We provide industry-specific mentors to them so that they receive mentorship and guidance throughout their tenure, which will help them to move in the right direction in the least possible time.”

When asked about her views on the start-up ecosystem in India and how it has changed and evolved over the years, Disha said, ”The startup ecosystem has definitely developed at a very fast pace over the last 10 years, especially over the past 5 years. When I was in high school, I used to keep up a lot with news-related to business. Earlier, when we used to hear the word ‘startup’, we had to understand what it is but now everyone seem to say that they want to get into the start-up ecosystem. Startup is all about scaling up. There are a lot of challenges and the success ratio of startups are very low. Yet everyone is excited about this term ‘startup’. We have also seen a lot of companies coming up in India, with so many success stories. I think everyone gets motivated to pursue the field that they are passionate about.”

Finally, on a concluding note, Disha shared her vision of the company and expressed that the company is looking forward to work with startups that offer different niches and who are determined towards uplifting and volunteering for a social cause. ”At this point in time, as an incubator, we accept startup applications from different industries so, in the coming years, we definitely want to get into different niche segments and to connect to those startups which are focussed on non-profit ventures and startups doing some social cause. we would definitely like to pursue startups from these niches as well,” she stated.

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Fashion isn’t just about a fashion show, catwalk, behind the scenes or what we see on Instagram: Rina Dhaka

In an exclusive interview with NewsX, Rina Dhaka, one of India’s most celebrated fashion designers, spoke about her journey so far, changes in the fashion industry and much more. Read on!

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Rina Dhaka, one of India’s most celebrated fashion designers, joined NewsX for an exclusive interview as part of NewsX India A-List. She burst on to Indian fashion scene in the late 80s and has showcased her work at The Louvre Paris, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York among many others.

Talking about her incredible journey so far, she said, “When I came around, there was no such career path for people in designing as such. There was late Rohit Khosla as a designer and there was Ritu Kumar in the northeast. But this whole industry as such didn’t exist. My journey, in fact, is what youth is, youth is all about innovation. That was the need of our hour. Our hour means, me and my contemporaries like Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani; we all came around at a time and we were very heady with that period of time. There was no concept really about money, it was all about creativity, craft and trying to pursue some kind of fashion. In fact, at par with the rest of the world, there was really no design industry, even in the west. There were high street stores like Selfridges, Bloomingdales in America. Designers, as a category of clothing, came about the same time as us. And look where it is today. We have schools of fashion, we have students coming out of these great schools every year and there is a booming trade and industry. When we found the FDCI, we were just nine members. Over a cup of chai every evening and a few laughs, we created this body of FDCI. Today it itself has millions of followers on Instagram and it runs successful events like fashion weeks, which can help designers in India and internationally come together and get work. So yes, fashion has really been a long way and my journey is that journey too.”

Expressing her views on how the landscape of the fashion industry changed over the years, especially with inclusion of issues that matter to young people like body positivity and inclusivity, she said, “Lakme approached me to do a plus-size show and we did the casting for plus sizes. This was, i think two years or maybe two and a half years ago. There were 300 models, who came for audition, we only announced an hour before. Fabulous, body positive, not shy, very confident, and frankly, they could do runways anywhere. These are plus-size models. And one of the girls I picked out from a crowd called Sakshi. She has gone on to be on the cover of every national magazine. Today, she is India’s most celebrated model. Now in fashion weeks, we have to have a better ratio of plus-sized models as well. This is where the journey of inclusivity has got us and then the noise that we made in the years prior to that, took us there. I’m really happy that it’s no more about a size eight, which is called a sample size and passion because we always made samples are the first pieces on that size, which was the model sizing. Today, a sample size is also a plus size.”

When asked about the difficulties faced by the fashion industry in the past one year and are things coming back to normal, she responded, “Fashion is actually one of the trades which teaches you, especially for all of us who have been designers and my contemporaries. We are always in competition, we’re always running to the next season. We’re always pressured against, what we call a deadline, and the deadline has the word ‘dead’ and it’s not a fake word. It really is that you have to die before you finish the clothing.  You are really as good as your last collection or your last show. The year was hard. Everything was shot and the costs were high. There was also the demand totally shrunk. People realised that. My own very old client, who always has to buy something new that I have to offer, who is also like my muse, said, ‘Rina, what have I been doing with my life? Where am I going to go wearing these coats? I don’t know what I’m going to do, I have no need. I have decided not to be an active consumer anymore’.  This was like what the industry faced, especially the luxury industry of ours. In terms of exports as well, there were a lot of uncertainties, fears with stores, closing down, customers patterns, buying patterns and needs changing. ‘How do you reinvent yourself’ was something we all learnt. We’re on that journey now, we’re on that road now. I must say we’re like roaches, we will survive because our trade has taught us such. So, you can’t write us off as yet. We just go through, go through this.”

On a concluding note, she shared a piece of advice for the young designers and said, “Have strong health. Don’t ever ignore your health because you need health. A lot of these children go out and eat on the roadside food. Some of them succumb to jaundice, there were a lot of interns who would get jaundice because of the water, in the early days, not now maybe now they’re more aware. Second, Fashion isn’t a fashion show or a catwalk, behind the scenes or what we see on Instagram, or social media or television. In reality, it is quite dreary and dreadful. It is a lot of pursuit. You go into these dirty lanes following your garment or where it’s made to get it done. One has to be prepared for the monotony of the daily life that you need to pursue to stay in the grind of completing your work. ”

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