Heir to one of the world’s largest micro-irrigation firms, Athang Jain is set to be a Director of Jain FarmFresh Foods Ltd. at the young age of 26. Although Athang hails from one of India’s most well-known families, he remains driven, grounded, and wonderfully empathetic towards the communities he works with. After graduating with a B.A. from St. Xavier’s College in 2012 and an M.SC. from London School of Economics and Political Science, he now concerns himself with issues in India’s agricultural sector– from giving farmer’s fair prices for their produce to installing disruptive technology to ensure more sustainable agricultural practices. “This company was started by my grandfather, so it’s a matter of pride and honour to be able to continue serving it and taking it to the next level,” Athang says.
As a speaker for the United Nations Young Changemakers Conclave ‘18, Athang sat down with Homegrown to discuss his talk on the future of the agricultural sector.
Homegrown: What’s the most unique problem that India’s agricultural sector is dealing with?
Athang Jain: The most unique problem is that the next generation doesn’t want to get involved in agriculture. All farmers want their children to do other things; they want them to move to cities and take up other jobs. But, if done properly with the right technology, farming can be a good career. Also, rather than the urban youth getting involved in agriculture directly, they need to understand the problems farmers face today and the risks they take. If they acquaint themselves with these issues, they won’t have a problem paying higher prices for fruits and vegetables, that a lot of us complain about.
HG: How does Jain Farm Fresh Foods use technology to “Reimagine Agriculture”?
AJ: We need to take technology to the next level. Already, technology exists where you can place sensors in the soil that will tell you how much water is needed for the plant. So, you don’t need to waste resources providing fertilizers– you can give the plant what it needs at the touch of a button. Using such technology will really help take Indian agriculture to the next level.
HG: How do you think young Indians can be involved in the development of the agricultural sector?
AJ: The way the Indian youth can be more involved is obviously through social media. If you see our [Jain FarmFresh Foods Ltd.] Twitter feed, we’re trying to post stories of farmers so you can relate to what the farmer is growing through. We post success stories of farmers who started with nothing but have today become very successful and have sent their children to school and college and further. So, when the youth of India, especially the urban youth, sees these stories and realise what can be done for the indian farmer, they will take more interest in the industry.
HG: How does your profit-making company, balance profits with the interests of farmers?
AJ: Like you said, there’s a big dichotomy for a profit-making company that’s publicly listed like us to keep in mind the welfare of the farmers. So, how do we do that while also giving our shareholders the return on their investment? The way we do it is with a process called “Shared value,” where every stakeholder– from the farmer to the consumer– benefits. We basically ad value to the farmer by getting better produce from them by growing more through less pesticides and better resources. So, we supply the consumers better products that they’re willing to pay better prices for.
HG: Rural farmers are the backbone of India’s agricultural sector. How does your organisation collaborate with them?
AJ: One way is contract farming. We have more than 6,000 farmers from whom we buy fruits and vegetables and we ensure they get minimum price for their produce. Even in a bad year when the market fails them, we are able to give them a better price than the market. Even when the market is higher, we are able to give them prices that are closer to the market rate. So, they get a consistency in their price and we are able to get a consistent supply from them. Another way is when we provide them with high-quality inputs like micro-irrigation pipes and help them with something called “Jain GAP” or good agricultural practice, where we make sure they use less pesticides and fertilizers but are still able to grow more using less resources.
This article is a part of the UN Young Changemakers Conclave ‘18, an event held in collaboration with the United Nations Information Centre For India & Bhutan and X-Billion Labs on Oct. 27. To learn more about the future of the agricultural sector, register for Athang Jain’s talk here with guest code, “HOMEGROWN”.