“It is a very exciting product that we are about to launch. We are also working on leaf curl tolerant tomato varieties across the country. We continue to improve yields and variety or resistance level for other products as well,” said Namdhari Group CEO, Gurmukh Roopra.
The group, which began in the late 1970s as a contract producer of vegetable seeds for international clients, continues to improve yields and variety or resistance level of other crops through crossbreeding. “We’re working on a variety of things. We’re working on finding the best resistant strains for our chili crops. We’re working with public institutions to see if they have any germplasm exchanges where we can access resistant material that they may have developed but are not part of the cultivars.” business,” said the CEO of the company based in Bidadi, Karnataka.
Namdari, who works on hybrid seed research and development, works with various universities on chili peppers, bitter gourd and rice. “We are exploring these with public institutions. We are working with various public universities and agricultural universities in promoting crop research and biotechnology research. We also license varieties developed by public institutes, be it rice or other crops, and use them as part of our research as well.
Namdhari sells seeds nationwide through 15,000 to 20,000 points of contact with dealers and distributors in most states. It has its main R&D center at Bidadi near Bengaluru, while it houses its biotechnology facilities in the capital city of Karnataka. However, Namdhari’s has R&D pilot sites across 7-8 sites in the country with 25-30 breeders looking after it.
The primary Namdari vegetables in terms of research are tomatoes, peppers, melons, okra and a few pumpkins. It has programs in India and works on development for Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Thailand and the countries around them.
Rubara said that the company has a productive activity, a large part of which is exporting fresh products to western markets. We are also doing business in different regions of the country in apples, oranges and pomegranates. We develop specialty grown products by understanding the local climate of Indian consumers which are usually imported such as strawberries and blueberries.
Namdhari’s researches fresh and specialty produce such as leafy greens with e-commerce operators and others to offer products throughout the year. The company is present in the retail sector in Bangalore, with a single store in Hyderabad. The company, which entered the R&D sector in the early 1990s, is a regional player and offers a range of value chain controlled products (60-70 percent) such as staple foods, fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
It launched its first variety in the early 1990s and its seed business is the oldest, while Namdhari’s launched retail and fresh in the early 2000s.
From a research and development standpoint, Roopara said, agribusiness companies have problems with hybridization. “For a vegetable company like ours, it usually takes five to seven years to deliver a product, and about 8-12 percent of our sales are invested in doing research,” he said.
Although a lot of time, say 7 to 8 years, has been spent researching a product, the company, which is among the top five vegetable seed companies in the country, is unable to market it quickly. This is either because it does not work in the Indian climate or for other reasons.
A large amount of investment goes into research and development and the government should encourage more research activity by incentivizing companies to put more money into research. I think good economic policies that are attractive to companies like us will be very good. Today, simple things like Indian squash, okra (lady’s finger), lots of vegetables, and even complete DNA sequencing are not available.
“Now, to provide this information to individual companies like us, it could be very expensive, because the cost of doing the sequencing is also very high,” said the company’s CEO.
At the production level, connecting to the market is still a big challenge. “We have about 7,000 Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) that are subject to regulation. If the ambition is to have an APMC every 5 km radius of the growth area, we need 42,000 APMC. “There is a huge deficit,” said Rubara.
Referring to China, he said that it is one of the largest exporters of horticultural products such as garlic, ginger, citrus fruits and apples. “We can improve varieties or increase productivity through investment or through research. We can help farmers gain access to planting new varieties, cultivars, or the latest genes, so they can compete globally.”
Indian farmers grow citrus fruits with seeds while the whole world has moved to seedless. The world has also moved on to fruits that can be easily peeled. This can be done not only with oranges but also with peaches and nectarines, Roubara said.
Products such as Nagpur oranges, apples and pomegranates can be improved to match the international quality. “Indian research in developing new varieties for growers in home conditions is almost non-existent. If we want to compete with China, we also need to look at the investment they have made in research in terms of developing better planting material, in terms of better varieties, better farming practices,” said the CEO of the company.
Pointing out that smaller countries like Thailand are big exporters of many products, he said the reason for this is that they have a trading arm in almost every country that promotes their products. “We don’t have that kind of push from the Indian side, which is doing the same thing. If we really want to compete with China, we really need to have that appetite to invest in better materials at the grassroots level.”
On the role of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), he said that while rural connectivity is happening through mobile penetration, they will continue to drive new innovations. Solutions are likely to emerge over the next few years.
Roopara said focused research in biotech and agriculture is the need of the hour and there is no way to feed another 400-500 million people in the country in 20-25 years without investing in agriculture at the biotech level.
Improved farming practices have helped yields of tomatoes and peppers increase by 50-60 percent over the past 20-30 years. He said that crossbreeding was the primary contributor to increased productivity, and called for a public-private partnership (PPP) in the agriculture sector.