Digital marketing has played important role in reaching out to the farmers: S Nagarajan, COO, Rallis India

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    Digital marketing has played important role in reaching out to the farmers: S Nagarajan, COO, Rallis India
    Digital marketing has played important role in reaching out to the farmers: S Nagarajan, COO, Rallis India

    “India’s agrochemical industry has a market value of ₹40,000 crores with equal shares of domestic consumption and exports. Although key trends like enhanced focus on digitisation, and increased use of speciality products are driving growth, the industry still faces major challenges,” says S Nagarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Rallis India while speaking to Mohd Mustaquim on today’s competitive issues, integration of innovation and technology and future roadmap for agrochemical sector in India

    Excerpts

    What is the biggest single competitive issue in the Indian agrochemical sector today?

    Indian firms import technical products rather than manufacturing them because of the cost of manufacturing the technical products. The manufacturing cost in China is comparatively cheaper to that of India since they use cost-effective technology for production of active ingredients. Also, the availability of raw materials and the halting of production of technical-grade pesticides by MNCs in various countries and choosing to shift their units in a massive scale to China hamper India’s prospects.

    Patent compliance also restricts manufacture of latest molecules, giving innovators an upper hand in providing new formulation products. The need of the hour for Indian companies is to be more aggressive in research and development and to come out with cost-effective commercial manufacturing processes for novel molecules.

    The agrochemicals sector faces many challenges. What are the major challenges Rallis India is facing today?

    India’s agrochemical industry, the fourth largest in the world, has a market value of ₹40,000 crores with equal shares of domestic consumption and exports. Although key trends like enhanced focus on digitisation, and increased use of speciality products, bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides, among others, are driving growth, the industry still faces major challenges.

    Lack of awareness among farmers, high R&D costs, and the need for efficient distribution systems are a few of these. As a country, we are still highly dependent on generic molecules and complex, dynamic regulatory processes – the Pesticide Management Bill being one of them.

    Rallis India also faces similar challenges. In India, the agricultural resource requirement and availability conundrum is often solved by farmers using the ‘Grow with less’ mantra.

    Supply chain management still remains our biggest challenge for certain intermediates, along with steep cost inflation. Adding to that, the dependency on Chinese raw material supplies and the only way forward seems to be strong collaborative initiatives by key players.

    Our company is currently focusing on minimising the disruptions to production. Along with this, calibrated price corrections have helped in partially neutralising the cost inflation. Volatility induced by geopolitical challenges and environmental factors is increasing the complexity in agriculture.

    Indian plant protection companies are acquiring multinational brands today, how is it going to put a long term impact on the industry?

    India has much going for it to become a global manufacturing hub for agrochemicals, leveraging its talent pool, low production cost, high consumption and strong presence in the manufacturing of generic formulations. Companies have been focusing on exports with the prospect of huge potential in the foreign markets amidst seasonal domestic demand. The government is promoting cluster-based development that is expected to boost competitiveness in both exports and domestic sales by reducing costs.

    Most of the top multinational agrochemical players already have a presence in India in the form of joint ventures, but some of them are now ready to explore. They are looking at opportunities to grow through acquisitions and mergers.

    Many Indian plant protection companies are in-licensing or co-marketing newer agrochemical formulations as expansion. These new formulations either offer superior outcomes for specific problems or reduce usage and thereby the environmental impact.

    Many Indian companies have deep distribution networks and are also willing to invest to promote these offerings. Indian companies have the opportunity to develop innovative combinations to offer better products to Indian farmers at cheaper costs. With the enhanced reach of Indian companies through the widespread distribution networks, improved awareness among farmers and easy availability of inputs at an optimum cost, the industry is expected to develop in multiple dimensions.

    Farmer awareness campaigns are integral to agri input companies, what campaigns do you run for the balanced application of pesticides?

    Rallis strongly believes that the farming community can be empowered through information dissemination. The Samrudh Krishi (SK) programme is one such initiative targeted at grape growers in Maharashtra. The programme provides holistic agro-advisory services from seeds to harvest, including digital technology-enabled agronomy and weather information services. This one-stop solution provides features in a customised package of practices consisting of weather information, mandi information, crop solutions, complaint/query resolution and personalised advisory through farm visits. The company has also revamped its initiative with Rallis Samrudh Krishi 2.0 (RSK programme) that has stepped up direct engagement and distance marketing efforts for all farmer segments (not just grape growers). By leveraging the Drishti platform, we are moving to the next level of excellence. Drishti is one of the key digital enablers that has now been extended to seed production farms.

    In addition to this, village-level meetings and mega-events to increase awareness on crop pests and diseases preventive measures are being held regularly. Farmers are also being educated on the benefits of high-quality seeds through several physical and digital activities.

    Do you have any plan to diversify into some other sectors of agribusiness?

    As a group, we have entered the high potential Microbial Biopesticides category with our products Ralli Neem – a botanical biopesticide, Ralli Flomonas and Ralli Bactilis – Bio-bactericides, Ralli Derma – a Bio-fungicide and Ralli Paecilo – a Bio-nematicide. These products have not just been welcomed by the farming community but also encouraged well. Our introduction of crop-specific and stage-specific Speciality Water Soluble fertilisers has also captured a large customer base since we are focusing on some key cash crops like grapes, potato, onion, apple, cotton and other key vegetables.

    The world is leveraging e-commerce for FMCG, lifestyle, pharmacy and even durables. Agriculture is also adapting and evolving with this evolution. The company is onboarding many of these e-comm players as channel partners along with existing rural retail chains as part of the strategy to strengthen alternate channels.

    With the technology revolution up on us, companies are moving towards a tech-adapted environment rapidly. At Rallis India, we have initiated trials and experiments of our product approvals for label expansion for drone spray. It would be an emerging segment for the industry and we plan to emerge fast in this segment. To utilise the vast pool of knowledge, we have our planned studies at state agricultural universities. This is being done in collaboration with service providers for drone application in the crop protection sector.

    What marketing strategies do you apply for reaching out to the farmers?

    Many businesses have relied on traditional forms of marketing strategies for years to reach their customers. Having a digital marketing strategy for the business has only grown in importance over the years as the online world has been growing. Our digital marketing strategy has played a very important role in reaching out and communicating with farmers, channel partners and field staff on a larger scale. It helped enhance our RSK programme with the use of suitable digital mechanisms, promotion of distance marketing and Net Promoter Score Surveys. Customers were diligently segmented into Rallis Margapradarshak Farmers (RMF), Rallis Pragatisheel Farmers (RPF) among other activities. In view of limited physical access during Covid, regular calls during the entire crop cycle were made. This led us in reaching a higher number of customers since the digital India initiative has enabled a large farmer base with connectivity.

    Crop Advisors initiative was another means of distance-marketing based on tele-calling and advisory dissemination through voice blasts and text messages. Additionally, regular feedback was sought from farmers on product performance through Net Promoter Score Surveys. Facebook Live seminars with the active participation of scientists, e.g. from NRCG on pests, diseases, and nutrition and canopy management were also conducted.

    In addition to our digital initiatives, we continue to focus on demand generation activities through individual contact, result demonstrations and field days. We conduct farmer meetings, crop seminars and retailer training to enhance awareness of our products and services. In order to improve visibility in the marketplace, we also installed retailer gates, wall/panel paintings, posters and hoardings. Along with this, we regularly take the support of TVC for quick scale-up of the brands.

    What new offerings are you going to bring in for the farmers in 2022?

    In the year 2021-22, we launched multiple products in the market. Prodim is a new herbicide as a post emergence application for grassy weeds management in soybean crops. Also, PEPE was launched for the management of all types of weeds in rice as a pre-mergence application. Zaafu (Hexa GR) has been launched to address the sheath blight diseases management in paddy crops. It is the first granular fungicide for Sheath blight management, which brings ease of application to rice farmers.

    Rallis will continue to introduce at least two new 9(3) products per year in the crop protection category. A herbicide, an insecticide and a fungicide are in the pipeline and are going to be launched for the coming season. This will benefit the farming sector in addressing key pests, diseases and weeds challenges. In addition, we will introduce both 9(4) and co-marketed products to enrich our offerings. Under the crop nutrition segment too, we have planned to offer several new products.

    In the seeds segment, we have two new products to be launched in FY23. For the cotton segment, we will be offering a hybrid (Diggaz) which will help farmers in north India to get early yields which will facilitate timely planting of mustard and also reduce the potential damage due to Pink Bollworm. In regards to hybrid paddy, we will offer a hybrid (DR 8336) in the bold grain segment for eastern parts of India and Gujarat state. The hybrid is a potential high yielder and suitable for low water availability conditions.

    Modern advanced digital technologies such as AI, IoT, drones are the new phenomena in the agriculture sector, how does Rallis India adopt them to serve the farmers better?

    Rallis India is well-positioned to tap both domestic and international opportunities as we continue to make strategic investments in manufacturing and R&D. The company is strengthening its brands and improving internal processes with help of advances in digitalisation. We are banking on these to achieve our next leg of growth and have undertaken digital acceleration through campaigns, sales meetings, trade, product development trials and engagement with farmers and employees.

    The company is expanding the use of digital tools to deliver benefits to growers and convert data into knowledge, insights and wisdom. The business of seeds is subject to production risks, involving weather, pests, diseases, and the availability of proper and sufficient land, growers and storage facilities. We are constantly exploring new production locations and the use of innovative digital tools coupled with the engagement of growers in providing crucial information/solutions to maximise yields and productivity. The package of practices has been digitalised and made available through mobile apps and our call centre. In addition to that, Hybrid Advancement Trials data is also captured and analysed electronically into insights to derive the best hybrid candidates.

    The use of AI, remote sensing technologies in agriculture becomes a prominent emerging trend, and Rallis India is one of the pioneer companies in India to leverage these technologies for providing site-specific advisories to farmers.

    We use AI-based technologies to augment resilience to climate change and improve decision-making processes. It also provides early alerts to the farmers on pest outbreaks and weather conditions through its physical and digital touch-points. Seed production happens in the open atmosphere resulting in direct exposure to the adverse effects of climate change. Therefore, we utilise satellite remote sensing and AI for remote surveillance of our hybrid seed production plots. Every week satellites scan the registered seed production plots and provide actionable insights, which help the seed production team in speeding up the decision-making process. Satellite and AI-based farm scan process remotely identifies problem areas, thus saving significant time and human efforts, while reducing the risks. High spatiotemporal resolution of remote sensing-based farm scan and yield monitoring process allows the seed team to have near real-time monitoring on the scattered and distant production plots.

    To feed the future generations, sustainable utilisation of resources is the fundamental need of today’s agriculture, how does Rallis India adopt them in its practices?

    At Rallis India, we know that businesses can play a major role in protecting our planet by driving international benchmarks for sustainable practices in the business. We have pledged to integrate environmental, social, and ethical principles into our business. We are committed to minimising the negative impact of operations through investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction.

    In our portfolio, we are developing more water-based formulations as compared to solvent-based formulations to reduce the environmental impact. Furthermore, improving the soil health by introducing ‘GeoGreen’, an organic manure, to improve physicochemical properties of the soil, with a focus on yield enhancement is aiding our green initiatives.

    Through our crop nutrition and microbial bio-pesticides portfolio, we are working with farmers to ensure sustainable Crop Health Management for farm prosperity. Our newly introduced products -Botanical Bio-pesticides, Bio-fungicides, Bio-Bactericides and Bio-nematicides are testimony to our adherence to principles of “Integrated Pest Management” and ensuring environmental sustainability.

    The company also believes in the ‘Integrated Nutrient Management’ principles, where products encompassing all types of nutrient sources are developed and recommended for use in an integrated manner. For example – Ralligold, Tata Bahaar and Uphaar help stimulate plant physiological activities to make better use of applied nutrients. In addition to this, we have also invested in the innovation of high-efficiency products (especially micronutrient products) – Surplus, Flowbor. Since traditional micronutrient sources have very low use efficiency (<5%), the introduction of such innovative products reduces the amount of application, unnecessary deposition/ pollution of soil, and improve micronutrient uptake in crop produce.

    From a manufacturing point of view, the company has initiated utilising solar energy, replacing 90 per cent of the grid power with renewable energy by installing rooftop solar power plant at our Akola facility. These initiatives have helped Rallis to reduce the carbon footprint significantly while ensuring environment-friendly operations.

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