KS Ashok Kumar believes integrated farming, a combination of traditional agricultural practices with technology, is a remedy for the agricultural crisis.
KS Ashok Kumar is someone you can call a persistent agriculturist. While many give up in the face of adverse circumstances and uncertainty, Ashok toiled on.
A major impediment in Ashok’s journey as a farmer was the looming water crisis. In 1989 while tilling his land in Doddbalapur, in Karnataka, he drilled 189 bore wells in search of water; but could find water in only 14. Lack of water led to huge losses and Ashok began to look for an alternative business model for sustenance.
“I wanted to have control on cost of production, use the best technology, and be up to date with market trends. I believe that integrated farming is a model of innovation and technology integration which disrupting the agrarian crises faced by India. By adopting this technology we are able to have more efficient, productive and profitable farming,” he says.
He had realised early on the need to integrate mechanisation and technology in farming. To this end, he had borrowed money from his father and re-started cultivation in his 200-acre farm later that year (1989) with the aid of micro-irrigation, implementation and commissioning of drip, micro, mist, and sprinkler irrigation system with fertigation. Earlier, the farmers depended primarily on rains and wells for water.
“The youth should be motivated to use technology to make agri-business grow. There is lack of knowledge sharing here. Hence, I wanted to uplift the farmers and work towards securing a future for the agrarian community,” the 55-year-old farmer says.
With a master's in agriculture from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, Ashok started exploring varying farming methods to make agriculture a sustainable business. He belonged to a lineage of progressive farmers, who supplemented traditional agricultural practices with sustainable auxiliary or subsidiary occupations, yielding higher returns.
Almost a decade ago, Ashok decide to integrate his poultry unit to produce broiler hatchable eggs, with an aim to secure his earnings, through his entrepreneurial unit Maa Integrators. Simultaneously, he adapted technology-driven integrated farming, which includes dry land cultivation and contract farming. This decision led him to growth at a rate of 15-20 percent per annum.
Today, the company produces more than 10 million chickens, supporting over 300 agrarians with multiple branches spread across Karnataka — Mangalore, Bantwal, Annavatti, Kunigal, and Sulliya.
The agriculture and farming industry has seen a number of visible technology-driven changes. Implementation of modern techniques has increased the productivity. In integrated farming, Ashok says, nothing is wasted — the by-product of one system becomes the input for the other, thus integrating livestock and crop production.
“The integrated farming system has revolutionised farming at Maa Integrators, with many advantages: there is an increase in productivity, environment safety, income round the year, adoption of new technology, conservation of natural resources and an overall input-output efficiency makes the system bountiful,” he adds.
Ashok believes integrated farming, a combination of traditional agricultural practices with technology, is a remedy for the agricultural crisis. However, his advice to farmers is to invest in water-retentive crops with a high yield.
Maa Integrators has enabled this by implementing irrigation technology and I-tech farming solutions, which includes growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent, arboriculture (the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, and vines), nursery, floriculture, horticulture farming, animal husbandry activities, poultry breeding, and poultry broiler.
Providing backward integration with the poultry unit, Maa Farms is primarily engaged in procurement of raw materials, which was essential for providing good breeding units — the chicken feed ingredients of maize and soybean. Since both the major ingredients are seasonal in production, it becomes essential for procurement, storage and use of such raw material on the farm. This backward organisation of procurement reduces the cost of feed and thereby adds value to final product, both in hatch-able egg production as well as in integrated commercial broiler production activity.
Maa Integrators is engaged in poultry broiler where commercial broiler birds are reared and breed to produce hatchable eggs. These hatchable eggs are either sold directly to other hatcheries or hatched on their own to produce day old chicks that are further grown to produce broiler chicken for meat.
More than 80 percent of broiler chickens raised for meat in India are done by contract farmers. This independent farmer contract structure is credited with not only saving farming operations, but also helping those farms thrive in what was once a struggling farming activity.
“We provide our contract farmers the chicks, the feed, veterinarian care and technical advice, while our poultry farmer provides the day-to-day care of the birds, land and housing on which they are raised, and utilities/maintenance of the housing. Farmers are paid under contract with Maa Integrators based on their performance in raising the healthiest chickens, which would be clearly outlined in the farmers’ contract as a performance/incentive based system. Farmers are paid according to both the quality and quantity of their flock, as well as how efficiently the chickens are raised. The win success of this model has inspired us and today we have more than farmers that we have a lasting relationship,” he explains.
The parent breeding farm has grown in capacity from 3.5 million eggs hatched to 25 million eggs per annum. Out of total hatchable eggs produced on the farm, nearly 40 percent of the eggs are used in forward integration for value addition where the chicks obtained are placed in commercial broiler farms on contract to produce broiler birds. Hence, instead of selling the hatchable eggs, 40 percent of hatch-able eggs are sold as broiler birds there by adding value.
The firm is a franchise of Vencobb breed of Venco Research And Breeding Farm Pvt Ltd and these parent birds are reared from day one to 68 weeks of age during which the hatch-able eggs are produced by breeding.
“Entrepreneurship according to me is connecting the old with the new and embracing technological innovations for business success,” he concludes.
(This story is part of the #KindnessMatters series, a partnership between YourStory and UNESCO MGIEP)