Modi brought big change in Rural through digital India: Dr. US Awasthi
| 10 May 2017
| Onkareshwar Pandey, Editor In Chief, NOP

Modi brought big change in Rural through digital India: Dr. US Awasthi

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Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited, (IFFCO), the world's largest fertiliser cooperative federation with over 40,000 member cooperatives is celebrating its Golden jubilee year this year. He has made an ambitious plan to achieve Fertilisers' Marketing target of 15 million tonnes per annum by 2020. Coincidently this year is also Dr. U.S. Awasthi's 50th year of service to India's farming sector in various capacities. The Cooperative legend Dr. Awasthi is Managing Director and CEO of IFFCO, India's Multi State Cooperative Society.

A Chemical Engineer from the prestigious Banaras Hindu University, Dr. Awasthi is a world-renowned professional and an authority in the global Chemical fertiliser sector. With nearly 5 decades of experience, Dr. Awasthi is seen as the guardian of about 4 crore farmers connected to IFFCO, who has been instrumental in making IFFCO a global leader in fertiliser production. Under his leadership IFFCO has made rapid strides on all fronts and has diversified into several sectors like General Insurance, Rural Telephony, Rural Retail, SEZ.

Onkareshwar Pandey talked to Dr. Awasthi on various issues ranging from farmers to IFFCO and the performance of Modi government in his three years of tenure in an exhaustive and exclusive Interview at IFFCO’s Delhi headquarters.

Here is the First Part of his three part long Interview:

How do you see the overall scenario of the agriculture & farming sector in India?

- It is the 50th year of IFFCO and my 50th year in this industry; I intend to travel across the country. I have decided to visit 125 locations, right from Andaman to Leh and from Arunachal to Kutch.

And this must be mostly in rural areas?

- Yes Of course. With the presence of members all over the country, my idea is to meet them all. In IFFCO, we have a democratic process called 3tire system. The 40000 cooperative societies elect 1000 representative general body members; these 1000 general body members elect the board.
The general body members are met only once a year for our general body meeting. For which we take care of their travel fare, stay and gifts etc, but I don't get to meet the remaining 36k members. The cooperative society members get our balance sheets, they are ones who actually do business with us, but they only meet our field officers. The directors also meet only the representative members, who come to vote as per the democratic system. Keeping in view the above points I initiated this task to meet & reach out to each & every life. Even In the regions with no members at all, for eg. Mizoram, I have tried to enroll some in rural areas.

So when do you plan to start?

- I have already completed 69 locations, now I will be going the 70th. I am practically travelling through the week with just one day break, when I work out of Delhi office. Everywhere in our country there are different pockets with expertise in different agriculture practices. The idea is to cover entire geography of India, meet all kind of farmers, and understand each ecological strata and places of agriculture needs.

You have already completed 69 locations, what is the message you want to convey, what actually are you getting back from these visits?

- First of all in this process, I take all my JV’s, our insurance company, communication company, organic company, our new initiative IFFCO Bazar, as a moving exhibition to each location, which people are not aware of. Through small health check-up initiatives we are creating awareness amongst farmers about basic conditions such as BP, sugar, eye care etc, in this way we are building bonds by coming closer to their lives. Also I have a four hour completely structured program, there is no deviation, every program starts at 10 am and close at 2pm, there are no politicians invited.

What are the major elements of the program?

- From a minimum 500 to maximum 3000 people, I meet everyone personally during the exhibitions. Post this interaction, we have a presentation to address the general gathering, a senior cooperative personnel chairs the dice. Our JV partners & our marketing executives speak about the products, advice about what all can be done in agriculture, how farmers can increase their income, how they can improve their lifestyle etc. I get a total of 25 minutes to speak to them my heart, why lam here, why I met them, what I think they should do, how they can increase their income, and i also introduce the IFFCO Cooperative Digital Platform to them.

In one line can you summarise what message you convey to them?

- I am connecting all of them, in one massive cooperative market which is India, through a digital platform. Today we can join and empower them by technology.

This has been made possible by Narendra Modi’s initiative of Digital India and mobile penetration for 97% Indians. We get their telephone number registered here to add them as a member of IDCP, and then we give them access to the platform, They get complete information in their own language. We have this running in 12 languages providing instant information in field of agriculture etc.

Is it first of its kind in India?

- In the field of cooperatives, Yes! I don't know about Alibaba in china etc., E-com must be selling products for urban market, but no one has done it for rural until now.
Another program we have got is IFFCO Yuva, for skill development and training. When I do this, I am surprised to see how India has changed. The burning desire in young boys and girls, they want jobs, they want to show that they can do something good. You can feel the vibrations in them.

Was this not there earlier in the youth?

- No, earlier village girls were timid; they did not even dare to come out of their home. I have seen. I have my self lived in a village. I have seen the change. Till 5th I stayed in a village, in schools we used slates, with no roads, in village called Sathni. I had to walk through a canal to reach the railway station. I have seen my mother who would use a dhoti and chaadar “parda system”, women could not even cross the “deodhi” or the gate of the house, but today we have a changed India. In that changed India our cooperatives have stopped thinking the old way and have embraced the modern India.

Do you feel India has changed because of PM Narendra Modi?

- I think everyone has contributed, but Narendra Modi has strived to bring major change through digital India. He has brought certain dynamism. We couldn't have reached here without the governments support & contribution. Everyone has contributed, all leaders have contributed. But there is a perceptible change, and this is not only for 3 years; this is from 10 15 years from now. I am a person who likes to be in touch with people /farmers. It’s not only this year, this year I have done it extensively. Otherwise I always strive to meet farmers, live with them, know them. I feel very happy that way, I don't like sitting in this office. With digital, I can do everything from my phone, even while travelling. So I have seen big change, perceptible change. When I personally go to meet you can’t imagine woman of south who can’t understand my language, hold my hand wanting to understand. Seeing this as an opportunity l want to travel across the country and meet everybody.

Since we are talking about last 50 years and your experiences, what has been the major achievement of IFFCO in India?

- When we started in 1967, there was no concept of cooperative society in industry. Cooperative act was formed in 1904 and Bombay Cooperative societies act was the first one. In 1956, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “We want the entire country to become cooperative oriented. We want the backbone of entire nation to be cooperative. I want bad cooperative, I want good cooperative but I want cooperatives, they should become the backbone of economy.”

That time a big importance was given to cooperatives, but small scope of thinking led to the formation of small societies like housing, consumer. In 1963-64, Cooperative Team of USA visited India and started working on a project, to promote industrial fertilizer cooperative which can work to provide agri inputs to the farmers and work through the farmers. Report came in 1967 that they employed ACDI as a project manager in India. They gave a million dollar grant for starting this society and invited government of India as a support system to the cooperative.

- On 3rd Nov 1967 IFFCO was born. In the first meet, it was said that government of India had 98% of share and a few cooperatives (57) had 2% share. It was formed with the objective that all the government shares will be returned and IFFCO will become a true cooperative. In those times it was impossible to sell cooperative shares and think that cooperatives can run an industrial enterprise. So it was always that what IFFCO is! People invested money with no surety, but every year the dividend got converted into equity.

In 2002 Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to Atal Bihari Bajpayee, that cooperatives need to be given autonomy. So we were registered under multi-state cooperative society, doing business in different states. Every state cooperate law is different. We have 29 states as partners and 29 different styles of accounting. Then we integrated everything into our accounting software. Then it was decided to amend the act and in 2002 august it was finally passed. Now we had an opportunity to return the government equity and became an independent cooperative with 100% ownership by cooperative society and farmers in July 2004. What we are allowed is 20% maximum dividend this is the 16th year when we will be giving 20% dividend. Our system is such that by 21st, our accounts get audited we have 5 auditors and within 60 days we hold our AGM and distribute the dividend the same day. Our systems are completely open and transparent.

What are your plans in this Golden jubilee year of IFFCO which is your 50th year also in this industry?

- We have made plans to achieve specific targets for Energy Saving through modernisation of existing plants, manufacture of new Fertiliser products, setting up Agro-processing units and Agro-Chemicals Projects, diversification in e-Commerce and promoting Venture Capital Projects, setting up Fertiliser projects oversees through strategic Alliances and also to set up a Credit Rating Agency for cooperative Societies.
IFFCO is also running some skill development programmes. What is that?

- The platform is called IFFCO YUVA. We ask them to take an online test. After the test, it tells you what skills match your aptitude. They have designed theoretical program, followed by practical training, all online. I feel any movement when it starts; it starts in small and then catches up.

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