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World Coconut Day: Mr. Amit Bhasin from Marico Limited Talks about Parachute Kalpavriksha Program Empowering Coconut Farmers

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World Coconut Day is celebrated on September 2 every year. The objective of the day is to raise awareness of the value of coconuts and disseminate information about their numerous benefits. Coconuts are among the most consumed fruits worldwide. This increases the economic importance of the fruit, and the farmers involved in its production significantly.
With an objective of taking farmers beyond traditional agricultural practices, Marico Limited took it upon itself to train them in the gamut of agricultural management, thereby educating coconut breeders to ensure increased productivity and higher yields. Kalpavriksha, a recently introduced initiative for the farmers, was therefore launched on World Coconut Day (September 2, 2017). Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation, a separate non-profit company, is now operating the Parachute Kalpavriksha programme for enhancing the farm yield and earnings of coconut farmers.
In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Mr. Amit Bhasin, Chief Legal Officer & Group General Counsel and Secretary, CSR Committee, Marico Limited, sheds light on how the Parachute Kalpavriksha programme is empowering the coconut farmers in India.

1. What are the objectives of the Parachute Kalpavriksha programme?

Sustainability has always been an inseparable part of Marico’s ethos. Committed to making a lasting difference, we are determined to look beyond our operational boundaries to positively impact society by nurturing and empowering the community through education, skill development and innovation.

Power Tiller

The Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation, our flagship initiative, was launched five years ago to make a difference in the lives of the farming community. Launched in 2017, the Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation is focused on helping our agricultural partner improve their productivity, livelihood, and overall quality of life by supporting farmers beyond traditional agricultural practices. The Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation operates to integrate sustainability in farming practices by training the farmers in various aspects of farm management. Moreover, under this program, farmers undergo training in scientific and research-based agricultural practices, which further leads to productivity and income improvement. The overarching aim is to equip the farming community with the steps to drive lasting change in their lives.
We have over 2.55 Lakh acres and 62,900 farmers currently enrolled with us. Through our efforts, we have led to a 15% enhancement of their productivity rates in FY22, and more than 1000 farmers have given us 4.22 points on an average (out of 5). We aim to cover a total of 4.05 acres and impact over 1.16 Lakh farmers, reaching a productivity enhancement rate of 16% by FY25.

2. What are the features of the program, and how does it help the farmers?

Our primary purpose with the Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation is to equip farmers with all the tools and knowledge they may need to increase their crop yield, leading to an enhanced income opportunity. The idea is to provide them with the know-how to improve their output for the long term through sustainable practices so that eventually, they can continue to do so independently. We have leveraged a ground-breaking socio-economic development model to empower the farmers with the necessary skills and knowledge base through various initiatives, including:
Extensive agronomist network: We have put together a team of over 120 qualified agronomists who are tasked with imparting regular training to the farmer beneficiaries. This allows them to stay updated about the best practices and the latest developments. This team visits the farmers, supports and guides them, and addresses any farming-related issue.

Farmer Training

Kalpavriksha Knowledge Centre (KKC): We established the KKC in 2020–21 to provide the enrolled farmers with hands-on, scientific, and outcome-based learning. Through KKC, we have joined hands with experts to help the farmers gain knowledge of the best management practices in farming. Under the guidance of our partner experts, the farmers under our guides are trained in areas such as pest control, disease prevention, and water management, among others which have helped improve crop productivity. The classroom learning is complemented by open house group discussions where farmers can raise doubts and receive further guidance and knowledge. The learning module also consists of the Kalpavriksha demo farm that the farmers visit at the end of their learning journey with the Foundation. At the demo farm, the visitors get hands-on practical learning of the best practices in tech-driven, science-based farming for optimal outcomes.
Kalpavriksha Digital Outreach: To reach a broader set of farmers, we have set up digital channels, including a toll-free IVR and expert consultations on WhatsApp and Facebook. They also include a dedicated YouTube channel and Instagram page. Together, these act as a ‘go-to’ place where the farmer can reach out and get their concerns on farming addressed. Through these efforts, we have conducted around 24,135 digitally enabled training sessions for farmers to enhance their crop productivity.
Kalpavriksha Agri-Business Centre: Our Agri-Business Centre (ABC) is a local enterprise that provides farmers with farm care inputs and a range of technical services with local entrepreneurs. Through these centres, we also offer high-quality equipment such as a rotavator, power tiller, etc., for farmers to rent if they cannot afford expensive farm machinery. Besides selling inputs and technical services, the ABC also provides the farmers with labour services at affordable prices.  By offering these services and goods through the Agri-Business Centre, local Agri-preneurs are gaining exposure, recognition and financial stability. More than 850 farmers have been covered with comprehensive services through 4 Agri-Business Centres in FY22.

3. What are some of the challenges that the Marico team faced while working with the farmers?

Water availability is one of the challenges faced in Tamil Nadu, the central area of the Foundation’s presence. Due to this, we found that farmers were unable to properly care for their crops, adversely impacting their yields and income. Initially we had encountered unawareness and apprehension about using new technologies and methods to improve their productivity, especially considering the use of hybrid seeds, which would benefit them. To tackle these hindrances, we visited universities and knowledge centres to understand how we could improve farmers’ lives. We took our learnings back in the form of the Foundation after a lengthy trial period.

4. From your experience, what are some of the key challenges that need to be addressed in the agriculture sector through CSR?

The agriculture sector proved the most resilient and recorded a significant growth of 3.9 per cent in 2021 – 22, driving the overall Indian economy’s natural GDP expansion to 9.2 per cent in 2021-22, according to the Economic Survey of 2021-22. However, while the growth is astronomical, the sector continues to face serious challenges such as limited water resources, knowledge and skill gaps among farmers, limited agricultural productivity, inadequate rural infrastructure and resources, and many more. In my opinion, corporates across India, with a network in the agricultural sector, should leverage their presence and expertise to solve the challenges faced, thereby enabling better productivity and sustainable farming practices. Through targeted and effective CSR efforts, companies can reach the remotest of farming communities to educate them on new-age and sustainable farming practices, enabling them to garner higher yields and income levels.

5. How can CSR contribute to improving the lives of farmers in general?

Corporate CSR has the potential to improve the lives of farmers significantly. Companies that invest in agricultural communities as part of their CSR initiatives can dramatically enhance conservation of natural resources, the cost of cultivation and farming practices across India. CSR can help improve crop productivity and ensure that farmers get enough capital and technical know-how to practice sustainable cultivation, improving their yields and incomes and uplifting the community.

6. How does Marico ensure the sustainability of the impact after it withdraws its presence?

Through the Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation, we envisage a framework which can directly improve the capability of the farmers with regular guidance from our experts. Eventually, as mentioned earlier, the aim is to make the farmer reach a self-sustaining level— where he would be imparted the requisite knowledge to manage the farm scientifically and sustainably independently.  For optimal outcomes, we have dedicated 16 call centre agents who reach out to the farmers seeking their feedback while also addressing any issues they might have. Even after our physical presence is withdrawn, we use this channel to reach out to the farmers and take their feedback, thus ensuring the impact sustains.

7. How can CSR encourage youth to participate more in the agriculture sector?

Companies need to leverage the increased penetration of internet and rapid digitalisation across rural India to encourage the youth to learn, participate and access information on the agriculture sector.
As most farmers are used to following traditional methods, there is a need to lay a strong foundation for modern and organic methods of farming. Organisations can contribute to training the youth with a combination of traditional and modern agriculture approaches that drive maximum profits. Enhanced outcomes derived from innovative farming techniques will encourage the youth to enter the agriculture space.

8. Has Marico considered any initiative that would encourage more young individuals to participate in agriculture under the Parachute Kalpavriksha Program?

To make the farming experience more enriching and exciting, we have installed a Kalpavriksha demo farm which acts as a model farm to demonstrate best practices. We have also established a Kalpavriksha Knowledge Centre, which serves as a hub to provide farmers with hands-on, scientific, and outcome-based learning. These appeal to tech-savvy youth and educate them about effectively using their time for farming.
The increased penetration of the internet and the rapid digitalisation across rural India has created opportunities for young people to access information, learn and participate. Keeping that in mind, under the Parachute Kalpavriksha umbrella, we have created digital channels across social media platforms for reaching out to the youth, thus gaining their interest. We also launched the Kalpavriksha App in November 2021, which serves as a ready reckoner to these young farmers on aspects related to farming.
Furthermore, we run campaigns encouraging farmers to reach out to our toll-free numbers, where they could attain guidance on scientific agriculture and feedback. These digital channels have received an encouraging response as we have seen more than 15,000 Kalpavriksha App downloads and received close to 70,000 calls on our toll-free number.  Moreover, we have 1.7 Lakh followers on Facebook and 8 million YouTube views, which testify to our success.