Article •  13/8/2021

India plays a key role in our global operations, says Rahoul Sawani of Corteva Agriscience

President South Asia speaks on the agri-firms’ market perspective, sustainability goals

Corteva Agriscience, a pure-play global agri-firm, runs a sizeable business in India – from selling hybrid seeds such corn, rice and mustard to a range of crop protection chemicals including herbicides and fungicides among others.

It has a huge R&D Centre in Telangana, which develops products not only for the Indian market, but also contributes to the global portfolio in both seeds and the crop protection segment.

Rahoul Sawani, President South Asia, Corteva Agriscience

tells BusinessLine in a telephonic interview that India continues to play a key role in the company’s global operations not only from a market perspective, but also in driving its sustainability goals. Excerpts:

 

Could you share an update on the Indian operations?

We have been in India for long time about 50 years of footprint through our legacy company. There is a reshaping of the industry that taking place and we believe there’s a great role for us to play through our technology, partnerships and through this intent of driving sustainable solutions. In the seed segment, we operate in key crops – corn, rice, millets and mustard – where we have leadership position in many of those.

On the crop protection side, we have solutions that focus on rice, soyabean, corn, fruits and vegetables, and spans the whole gamut of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, seed treatment and plant growth regulators. India is one the key growth markets and we are committed in the long terms. We have close to 2,000 people employees based in India, the headquarter for South Asia operations. We have a key R&D centre in Telangana, which looks at multiple crops, creating solutions for both Asia and Asia Pacific.

We have been partnering with over 30 external manufacturing companies across India. It has been a growing presence. We see all the reasons to expand that even further, both from a market stand point in improving life of farmers as well as consumers. The role capability India playing globally, I think we see a tremendous future for growing presence here.

 

What exactly you mean by reshaping of the industry?

It is very much linked to how we think of sustainability today. We all realise that the pressures that come with global warming and environmental elements, there’s always going to be challenges that are presented. We are going to see weather patterns that are changing continuously. We are going to see pests, diseases and weeds that have different patterns and newer ones are emerging in areas where they were not seen before.

All of these are going to be challenges presented as we look at meeting the demand for food security for a growing population. What’s extremely important in being able to take those challenges head on is thinking long term about it. We are looking at it holistically and have defined 14 different sustainability goals that we believe are extremely important for advancing sustainability for farmers, land and community we operate.

The reshaping is very much about how the ecosystem takes sustainability into account and how companies really remain very focussed on sustainability goals and building them as part of the core systems itself to make a difference to farmers and community.

For example, in India, we partnered with Pradhan, a non- governmental organisation and have been able to help Indian farmers in an area where short duration wheat was grown in heavy soils, and we introduced farm mechanisation which led to increased household incomes and greater food security.

 

How is the response to your ‘AcreNext – Direct Seeded Rice’ initiative?

AcreNext is an alternative to traditional rice farming to help farmers reduce resource demands while providing a better return on their investment. It’s an integrated offering that includes hybrid seeds, mechanised sowing services, weed and crop management advisory services. To ensure sustainable development direct seeded rice (DSR) farming, there is a need to develop a complete eco-system for which we have started multiple initiatives from 2020.

This will help in faster adoption of DSR and over the next few years thousands or lakhs of acres may be converted from transplanting to DSR. Rice is a staple key crop for India and faces challenges such as depleting water table in North India. We have partnered with Pradhan in water scare regions to promote this integrated solution, which requires a lot of engagement with farmers.

Introduced in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, AcreNext is a massive change management effort. In all these States, we had multiple stakeholders wanting to partner with us in promoting sustainable solutions like this. We are expanding this to Madhya Pradesh this year.

 

What are your growth plans for India this year?

India is a growth market for us and we are delivering strong growth here. India has a key role to play in a robust global supply chain for us. We think of it as a strategic supply base, not just for products today and we have one the best pipelines. As we look at scaling, India has a growing role to play for us from a capability standpoint, great science knowledge base, skill sets right from the university system and much of that makes me optimistic about our presence. Our presence is continuing to grow every year. As I look at future for India is very optimistic.

 

What’s your view on the current regulatory environment in India for genetically modified (GM) crops?

It is important for the industry to have a future road map for investing or to remain invested in any technology. There is no decision on commercial cultivation of GM food crops yet. We are keenly watching for the readiness of the system and continue to engage in agriculture biotech space with partners across the spectrum – farmers, consumers, legislators and regulators.

 

Corteva was reportedly working on GM corn in India and had deferred trials. What is the latest update on GM corn? Are you still working on GM or moved on to other emerging technologies?

Agriculture is at a crossroads. Plants are under attack from changing weather, drought, floods, heat waves, diseases and pests. At the same time, our population is growing and consumers are increasingly demanding food that is healthier for their families and the planet.

This means we need to grow more food that is better for people and the environment using fewer resources. New technologies in seeds are emerging at a frantic pace. Many of them like CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) genome editing have great potential for breeding new seeds.

The advanced plant breeding tool can improve a plant’s characteristics without introducing foreign DNA from a different species. This technology makes it possible to deliver nutritious plants that could occur in nature or be developed through conventional breeding, but faster and more efficiently.

 

Your sustainability report talks about climate positive agriculture. Any India specific plans?

Even though we will publish our goals and progress making on them on a global level, it is very much based on the impact in each of the geographies and putting it together to report globally. If you look at the series of goals published, many those are centered around small holder farmers. One of them looks at how to train and impact on livelihoods.

You have goals on soil health and water stewardship. Much of that plays extremely well into the Indian market. You have to make significant progress in India to be able to achieve those goals globally.

India is one of the large small holder markets in the world. It requires us to make significant progress like Acrenext and DSR to be able to hit those small holder goals.

 

How do you see the growth and market for corn hybrids in India?

We have a very significant and market leading position in corn in Indian market. In the long term, there is growing population and growing middle class. We are going to require more protein and dairy products. Corn plays a vital role as feed crop for many of these industry. We continue to see good demand for good quality of corn increase.

 

What are your plans for the digital agriculture solutions in India?

We have multiple levels of engagements and various models on digital agri even in India. Many of our global capabilities are transferable to be able to cater to local needs in India. Many of the insights that we gain from farmers have resulted in models around agronomic advise, that we can build into various digital solutions.

Strong capabilities about using agronomic advise and enabling with data. We have at least multiple projects going on with various players to be able to get that right insights and right advise to farmers in their area. It is interesting that with tools such as precision farming and machine learning we can do a lot together. We can get insights to our customers in real time. It allows them to make key decisions around where to apply what in their fields, and maximise yields in big way.

Even in areas like fall army worm, there we are deploying technologies like that and I see possibility are only growing. We are experimenting with multiple players and interventions. We have one of the largest drone fleets in agriculture in the world. With the policy being clarified with the new drone rules recently, we see another great opportunity for us to scale at a different level in India.