By: Joe Goley and Korawat (Kay) Tanwisuth, Sophomores in Supply Chain Management, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The following post was written by students on an ADM Institute-sponsored observation study tour through India – March 21, 2015.
We started the first of our nine-day journey with a blessing from Hindu priests in a local temple in Chennai. It was thought-provoking to witness the importance of religion to many Indians; and the way in which they welcomed us into their culture was warming. After having our trip blessed by the priests and receiving the traditional Vibhuti mark on our foreheads, it was time for us to begin our research and the work we came to India to do.
We drove through the city of Chennai to the Marketplace Literacy Project, an non-governmental organization (NGO) initiated by Dr. Madhu Viswanathan, a marketing professor from the College of Business at the University of Illinois. There, we learned about the MLC’s work and what an incredible impact the NGO is having in southern India. The NGO and its partners have trained over 15,000 men and women in the ways of business and economics and are pushing for a more economically efficient and independent agricultural class. Perhaps the most rewarding part of the day was our opportunity to interview and speak with a number of Chennai locals who are participants in the MLC’s programs. We learned about their backgrounds, their livelihoods, their families, their work, and most importantly, their thoughts on agricultural postharvest loss. These individuals all provided unique perspectives on the farming culture in India and both the causes and effects of agricultural inefficiency.
The first gentleman we interviewed was a farmer. He owned the land on which he plants peanuts, sugar cane, and rice. He told us that the major issue regarding his agriculture was the rain-fed irrigation system. Sometimes, he does not have enough water to grow his plants while other times his crops are flooded when there is heavy rain. We also discussed postharvest loss issues that he faces, including problems with the inefficiency of revenue dispersal. Our interviewee, like many south Indian farmers, relies heavily on middlemen for the sale of his crops. These middlemen often provide farmers loans at the beginning of planting season to cover initial expenses, providing leverage that can lead to exploitation. This exploitation makes it difficult for farmers to earn a steady income and causes a great deal of economic hardship.
The second gentleman we interviewed was a harvest machine operator. He recognized that when using his machine to reap the crops, some of the harvested material was damaged. In addition, he admitted that there is a certain percentage of the crop that is dropped on the ground by the machine. Interestingly, the operator and the farmers do not consider this a loss, but simply a part of the process.
The third interviewee was a farm laborer. His main job is to carry sacks of paddy after they have been harvested to the mill. He carries these bags using a hook that he punctures the sack of grain with. Interestingly, he told us that he did not see any postharvest loss when he does his job. It was apparent after further investigation that there is a certain amount of grain that is dropped from the bags because of the punctures from these hooks. Yet, the laborers do not consider this a loss because it is simply another part of the process.
It is important that actors at every point in the agricultural supply chain understand the importance of optimizing efficiency. If a solution is to be reached, it must begin with the general consensus that loss occurs at every stage, which we learned today is not yet the case. This was an excellent beginning to our trip and we are looking forward to furthering our work in the coming days.
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Joe and Kay are participants in the 2015 Supply Chain Management India study abroad trip organized by the program director in the College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Udatta Palekar. Throughout the 10-day trip, students observe how agricultural products in India move through supply chains from farm to consumer with a special focus on postharvest losses.