Nurture neglected businesses

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Nurture neglected businesses

Monday, 22 July 2019 | Vinayshil Gautam

The world of possibilities is so large that one institution cannot possibly plug the gap. We need to widen the ambit of R&D in a manner which is a win-win situation for all

Forest wealth is one of the biggest assets for India. It needs application of principles, creativity and innovation in the same scale and intensity as has been done in the larger R&D section of manufacturing and services. Application of the principles of subtraction, modification, addition, alteration and more of the creativity process to the sequence of modification of the produce will add value to the product. To illustrate, substracting the content of sulphur in hydro carbon products makes the petrol less polluting. The principles of creativity and innovation do not end with such transformations alone. They include practices of attribute listing, forced matching, synectics and the list can be long.

The inability to institutionalise these interventions on forest products like tamarind and chiraunji among others has come in the way of product value addition. It is everyone’s loss — from the general public, who would have gained from the medicinal property of tamarind to the gatherer, who gets less remunerative prices.

It does not need a genius to realise that Sal leaf can be used for dona making or indeed peeling together all petals for popular use. This would have been hygienic and economical for the user and remunerative to those who collect. In fact, Sal seed, which is generally used for oil extraction, can be used as a bio fuel. Putting together cow dung on shafts of the corn plant or the bare paddy plants and drying them has served useful service in bringing light to areas where electricity may not have reached. Local innovation plays a crucial role in making life not only more bearable but also joyful. Organised R&D, which is often a fallout of formal education, has by and large not shown much awareness for such interventions of innovation at the grassroot level. It does not need a genius to know that tamarind seed powder is an input in the medical sector and can also be used for talc and starch purposes.

Similar is the story of Mahua seeds, which can yield bio fuel.  They can have good usage, say in proportion of 20 per cent in petroleum fuel for vehicles. There is nothing against Western paradigm of research. Similarly, there can be nothing against R&D efforts. But the plea in these lines is to widen the ambit of R&D in a manner which is a win-win situation for all. The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) is trying to attempt at this. However, the world of possibilities is so large that resource of one institution cannot possibly plug the gap. Indeed, it will be very difficult even for an institution, which is commercially oriented. To do this, R&D is needed. This will give large-scale benefits to make it not just commercially viable but remunerative for all stakeholders. For some strange reason, businesses do not see this as an opportunity.

This is not the only sector which has defaulted in larger processes of Indian industry and business. A young graduating engineer with a management degree will not seek employment in a unit manufacturing, say of the industrial alcohol in the rural sector. Even though he may be given a sprawling farm house or extensive club facilities and support to commutations to towns and more, he will still be reluctant. His first choice will remain employment in the larger sector say of FMCG, IT or finance division in a metropolis. It does not matter to him that living conditions over there are often harsh, requiring him to travel long distances and long hours in inhospitable conditions. Daily chores keep gnawing at whatever cushion time he can snatch from ever expanding office hours.

Such is human nature: It is often riddled with contradictions and attracted towards the incoherent. Trying to keep up with the trend, many keep chasing at a mirage of comfort. These are subtler issues of orientation and acclimatisation of value systems which gain approval. Social climbing in circles, where one seeks acceptability, is a push factor. Tribal welfare and interventions may even make business sense but being bereft of social glamour, they have very little pull factor. The argument of going to the tribal areas to do some good to the communities is a facetious one — it is neither true nor fair to the tribal world. So the talent in dominant percentages does not move in the right direction in significant numbers. Without this talent intervention, communities in not so fashionable areas don’t reap the harvest of technology at a sufficient scale. This needs serious thought. Unfortunately, snazzy economist paradigms and a large percentage in corridors of power have found little time to address these issues.

Indeed, many of the tribal products can fuel favourites of the urban communities, for example chiraunji seed, which is popular in many areas, including Jharkhand and is a useful input to the ice cream industry. Perhaps in the business of the linkages indicated above, all are left the poorer by the neglect.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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