COVID-19 might have ushered in social distancing but it did bring together Indian seed industry companies to meet virtually, think of ways to optimize operations, put competition aside and collaborate to deliver quality seed to farmers’ doorsteps. While negotiating the hurdles posed by the lockdown, it is likely that a leaner and more efficient system will emerge that protects farmers from exploitation by traders who hike up prices in situations like these.
Pooling resources: Lessons learnt from handling the current rabi (postrainy) harvest during the lockdown are shaping the business model for the upcoming kharif (monsoon). Different companies will have to come together to meet the seed needs of a village as a unit. Shared railway wagons that crisscross India and shared auto-rickshaws/mini vans that drop seed packages at farmers’ homes were some ideas discussed to reach farmers with seed in time for the planting season that begins in two months. Travel restrictions, especially sudden clamps on a commutable area declared overnight as a red zone, shutting down of highway eateries and reluctant truck drivers have forced the industry to come up with new ideas to overcome the lockdown. The Government’s role in lifting curbs on agricultural produce transportation received appreciation.
Employees are a priority: Safety and health guidelines followed by companies like Corteva, US Agriseeds and Limagrain stressed on placement of hand sanitizers at entry points, workstations and vehicles, temperature scanning, disinfection, providing masks, biohazard disposal systems and social distancing in plant and lab. Some companies even have a doctor on their campus. Other issues discussed included difficulty in finding insurance providers for contract workers and exploring outsourcing options in case of insufficient internal capacity. Lesser operational efficiency, challenges in last mile delivery and having a plan B ready in the event of a COVID infection were discussed.
Managing cash flows: While it is indeed time to be thrifty with expenses, the advice was to safeguard relationships and not to get stingy with payments or end contracts. Keeping out of debt, balancing long-term and short-expenses with more thought on long-term consequences were some of the topics covered.
Ushering in technology: Mechanization and automation are future ideas being thought through for which a ‘mindset’ change is required and the current predicament could be the starting point for looking at efficient and faster ways to conduct operations. Digital marketing aspects were also touched upon.
Post-lockdown preparation: Ideas dealt with managing the scramble for work post lockdown, accelerating the supply chain, checking if plants and people were healthy enough to take on the extra workload and extending seed license validity.
The insights are from a webinar conducted by Gubba Seed Cold Storage on 13 April on the topic Covid-19 Seed industry challenges & how to overcome. The 90-minute webinar addressed issues from production, packing, marketing, finance to supply chain. There were over 470 participants.
The sessions were moderated by Mr Ram Koundinya, Federation of Seed Industry of India. Presentations were made by seed industry leaders Mr Gyanendra Shukla, Mr Ramana Rao GV, Mr Satish Ganiger, Mr Venkatram Vasanthavada and Mr Venkateshwarlu Yaganti.
For live recording click here
About the author:
Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT