He graduated from IIM but chose to become a farmer. He is already creating waves. Here is an excerpt from an interview
Puspadhar Das is an IIM graduate from Bengaluru but he decided to travel along a path which was in sharp contrast to the established norm. Instead of sitting in a swanky corporate office and drawing a hefty salary, he decided to become a farmer and till his own plot of land at Sonapur near Guwahati. He was born at Baksa and after completing school in Guwahati, he was admitted in the prestigious St Stephen’s College in University of Delhi with honours in physics.
What did you learn at IIM?
Three things that I learnt at IIM have had a tremendous impact on what I do and how I do. First is the difference between problem and symptom. Many times, we tend to confuse between the two. The adage that if you know what the problem is, it is almost as good as solved. So, even in our practical lives, we have this confusion and we tend to overlook the problems and start looking for a solution based on the symptom and we never arrive at the solution. Secondly, I learnt that one should always defer judgments. What we see is not what it is, so before concluding, we should look at things objectively and try to analyse. The hundreds of case studies and numerous tools that we learnt at the institute were useful to us to distinguish between symptoms and problems and postpone judgments. Third and the most important is what our professors used to call unlearning. The essence is that learning is a never ending process, you keep unlearning and learning.
Unlike your colleagues, you chose to take a different path. What motivated you to become an agriculturalist?
As a child, I always wanted to become a physicist. Slowly I realised that higher levels of physics are on the brink of physics and philosophy and we have far more real and vivid problems on the ground. So, I decided that I should go for something that gives me a practical learning scope to solve real-world problems of the country. So, I decided to go for a management course. The barren fields, the unutilised natural resources and the shoddy condition of the agricultural system of our state have always motivated me to become a farmer. A decade ago, systems were still archaic compared to many agriculturally developed states: low productivity, little mechanization, minimal market linkage. Even after a decade, even after digital and other technologies have developed so much, technologies we use in agriculture are not up to the mark. I aspire to be a part of the process to create an environment that fosters innovation and attracts new talent in agriculture through a steady, self-developing system.
What have you been doing as an agriculturalist?
I am going through a continuous process of improvement. First was the community farming, then mechanisation, then irrigation infrastructure and then marketing. Right now, I am working on various marketing solutions for our agricultural produce, starting with rice and dairy. The cycle is not complete yet, but as we go on, we have been facing new problems and trying to solve them one by one. As a farmer, I face all the perennial problems that a farmer faces in Assam. First is the fragmented land holding. I have 6 hectares of land at six locations. So, if I have to build infrastructure, I have to do it in six locations, which is difficult. Second is the issue of irrigation. Third is the problem of stray cattle. Unless everyone grows, it is difficult for me to protect my crops in the six different locations. In my free time, I develop software. Currently, I am working on a system of information management for a dairy cooperative. If completed, the system will look into the entire value chain, starting from breed management, milk production, feed management, procurement to marketing. It’s an ambitious project for me and for our entire team working for the development of the farmers of our state.
What have you achieved so far as an agriculturalist?
I have miles to go before I sleep. What I have achieved is insignificant compared to what I endeavour for. We have been trying to promote community farming, without which production is not possible, for the simple reason that we still practice open grazing of cattle during the non-rice growing period. Community farming also helps reduce the per capita cost of infrastructure development. Through grants received from other organizations, we have been trying to create irrigation and other agriculture infrastructure in a few places. We are trying to mechanise farming, especially rice cultivation. I feel this is one of the ways to attract the young generation to agriculture.
What are your future goals?
Be a part of the agricultural revolution that is happening. The essence of this revolution is that we the farmers are creating and nurturing corporates and the agriculture value chain is slowly being controlled by the farmers. What could be more revolutionary than this! If others can make agriculture a profession, why not the indigenous Assamese farmers? Currently, I am involved with Sitajakhala, one of the oldest dairy cooperatives of the state, established in 1958. I wish that there shall be a thousand Sitajakhalas all over Assam. This is the ultimate goal and the rest will follow.
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