Mr. Jai Shroff has masterminded United Phosphorous' transition from a traditional family run company to a professionally run agrochemical company with an international presence.
In an interview with equitymaster.com, Mr. Shroff spoke on the current agricultural scenario, elaborated on the company's efforts to tap the international markets and explained the impact of the introduction of transgenic seeds on agriculture in India.
Could you throw some light on the current agricultural scenario and how
are agrochemical companies such as yours are coping with the situation?
The rains in 1999-2000 were either too much or too less in key states. Further, the pest attack on crops was considerably less. Indeed, it was the efforts in branding and a solution approach that we have adopted that has ensured that the company did as well as the previous year despite the adverse external factors. Infact, the company was also successful in launching new brands last year.
Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed the rapid commoditisation of the technical grade pesticides and the margins of most technical grade manufacturers under yours under pressure. How has your company coped with this adverse trend?
Innovation is the key. Our focus being solutions, we work very closely with our customers. We are thus able to develop products that are needed in the market.
The company currently patents six new products every year. We have over the last year developed products (formulations) for a wide range of crops such as vegetables and fruits. We have also introduced herbicides.
We are also focussing on products for post harvest treatment such as fumigants for storage of potatoes. Besides, the company is playing a pioneering role through its product "Oorja" which can play a critical role in the cold chain development. The company is also promoting its own farming techniques in sugarcane and rice using its products scientifically to increase yield. This has achieved huge success in Maharashtra. We have also got approval for launching a new formulation for phosphomidon. (The government had earlier banned phosphamidon.)
Even in the future, UPL will continue to increase our branding efforts, which will include product differentiation and new dispersion techniques including dry formulations and water based formulations.
You have around 3,000 product registrations abroad. Are they all of technical grade pesticides?
They are a combination of technical grade and formulations.
You have been focussing on crops such as sugarcane, potatoes and even mango apart from the traditional crops such as rice and cotton. Could you please throw some light on your initiatives?
We have introduced products for potatoes, vegetables, and rice as well as a product for cotton. We are also focussing on a variety of vegetables and fruit to broadbase our business. We have also taken up promotional activities that involves farmers contact in the field to build awareness of the most effective practices and the usefulness of our brands in helping them deal with various pest and disease conditions.
Besides, we conduct on the spot demonstrations in farmer's fields. In addition, farmers meetings are being held to popularise our brands.
How would the introduction of transgenic seeds impact agriculture in India. What would be your strategy, inorder to remain relevant in the emerging scenario?
The adoption of transgenic seeds as a concept will take a long time to get established due to the following reasons -
- Very low levels of awareness and education among the farming
- Wide dispersion of the farmers across the country making
communication a challenge in itself
- Marginal Land holdings impacting productivity and the farmer's
ability to spend large sums on inputs
- Local bodies opposing the adoption of this technology
Hence, we see this not having a significant impact on the pesticide business in the short to medium term.
At the same time, as a leading player in the industry, we will invest in the latest technology developments to exploit the various opportunities that will come up from time to time.