Wageningen University and Research has entered into a partnership with the Subhash Chandra Foundation, a philanthropic organisation set up by the eponymous chairman of the Indian conglomerate Essel Group and member of the upper house of the Parliament of India. This joint initiative will focus on boosting farmer incomes and stimulating rural economies.
The partnership will see WUR work with the Subhash Chandra Foundation (SCF) to enhance the curriculum and overall quality of a university in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Intended to provide opportunities to the underprivileged and tackle social and economic inequality, the initiative will bring new technology and best practices to Indian farmers in order to boost yields and strengthen their position in the farm-to-fork value chain. A new 1,000-acre campus will be set up as a pilot and include greenhouses for fruit and vegetables, dairy and poultry farms, and processing facilities for various crops.
First two demo facilities
After several exploratory visits by a WUR expert team to India and one by the SCF leaders to Wageningen, the decision was taken to design and implement two demonstration facilities over the next two years. The first might, for example, contain fully vertically integrated chains of vegetable and fruit production in modern glasshouses and dairy production and processing. The second could involve fish and poultry production based on innovative protein sources.
Next steps include a more detailed feasibility for the two demo-facilities followed by the actual implementation. Wageningen UR is opting to lead the feasibility study for the demos, and assist in the village development programme via education and training. The role during implementation will revolve around providing advice and monitoring services.
Subhash Chandra, the head of the foundation, is a successful businessman who wishes to deploy best practices from the private sector within the new initiative. “The habit of giving subsidies to our farmers and controlling the markets has weakened our agriculture sector,” he explains. “We have to make farming an attractive occupation again.”
The initiative will be run like a business with the profits reinvested into the project. “Usually, firms just give some money as donations and think they are done with it, but we want a self-sustaining model to be implemented,” Chandra affirms. “Until the rural economy in India is fixed, I don’t see a future for our country. It’s not just about farmers; the health problems and poverty faced by people also stem from the quality of food they eat.”
Once the project has achieved a demonstrable impact on farm outputs and incomes, similar clusters will be built at various sites in the north, west and east of India. The initiative will initially have a budget of three billion rupees (35 million euros).