Sandeep Kumar Sahu: Engineer turns agri-entrepreneur
Sandeep Kumar Sahu grows cauliflowers, other cole crops, potatoes and tomatoes on an acre of land in the village of Sukumar in the Lohardaga district of Jharkhand state in India. In February 2020 he started operating a BLF center.
What’s unusual about this engineer-turned-farmer is his background: a mechanical engineering degree and two industry jobs before returning to the family farm.
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Having worked in the mechanical engineering industry for three-and-a-half years, Sandeep Kumar Sahu decided to quit his job, return to the family farm, and set up a Better Life Farming (BLF) Center. What motivated him to return to his home village in Jharkand state?
Farming is in his genes
Sandeep admits that he had always felt a “tinge of inclination towards his family business in farming”. That was in his genes, he says, but there was another key reason for turning his back on a career in engineering: The opportunity to become rural entrepreneur run a BLF center in his home village of Sukumar in the Lohardaga district of Jharkhand. Sandeep’s in-depth understanding of the market dynamics of India’s agricultural ecosystem and the local agicultural landscape led him to see the BLF Center as an opportunity to help local farmers.
A second motivation came from an additional revenue stream, the Common Service Center (CSC). The organization employs ‘Village Level Entrepreneurs’ who help support rural India via various popular CSC schemes in the areas of health insurance and online medical consultation, minimum income support, tax registration services, as well as education courses (e.g. basic computer skills). This is basically a village-level entrepreneur who helps rural India benefit from government and other schemes, such as the unique individual identity number (Aadhar Card), banking facilities, online medical consultation, insurance, and education courses (e.g. basic computer skills).
Most engineers would undoubtedly be happy with a job in the private sector. Sandeep wasn’t. “The work satisfaction I got was not at the level of my expectations. I always had the desire to work around my people and seeing my people happy through my guidance gives me immense satisfaction,” he says. Coming from a farming family, Sandeep knew what local smallholders were lacking: “You need to plan and prioritize your work in order to get the best results. My family and the farmers in our area were lacking these organizational skills.” Now he is using his engineering expertise and industry experience to open up new economic opportunities for local farmers who visit the BLF center for advice and assistance.
One aspect of his work as a BLF agri-entrepreneur, which Sandeep is particularly passionate about, is helping his fellow farmers to understand how to better market their produce to achieve a better return on investment. Sandeep sees a genuine need to open up new economic opportunities for these smallholder famers who, he says, are “prone to be exploited” due to a lack of market information and access in rural areas. They increasingly need to adopt modern technology, but lack the proper knowledge to do that. Here, Sandeep can apply his engineering know-how in helping local smallholders to get to grips with modern technology and advise them on how to market their produce more effectively. During the COVID-19 pandemic he was also able to support local villagers in farm produce procurement, providing them with a cash withdrawal facility at the center, ensuring timely availability of quality agricultural inputs, and run Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) demonstrations on cole crops via Better Life Farming.
Climate change is a major threat to farming businesses in this east Indian region. “The monsoon is inevitable, but drastic changes in rain patterns in recent years have led to heavy losses in our fields,” he says. In the past monsoon season crop damage has been around 60% on his farm, he points out. One solution Sandeep sees is to combine his engineering skills with the advice of agronomists to curb the problem of poor productivity. The monsoon is inevitable, but if the land is cultivated more productively with higher yields, there will be more quality harvest left to sell after the rains have gone.
Sandeep sees another challenge in the agricultural inputs local smallholders have traditionally used to cultivate their crops. One of the messages he is communicating through his BLF center is that well-timed and carefully managed applications of state-of-the-art plant protection products will enable local farmers to grow safer and higher quality food, for which they can demand a higher price.
Sandeep’s engineering degree and job experience in the industry enable him to think outside the box back in Sukumar. This helps him to open up new economic opportunities for local smallholders through his work as a BLF agri-entrepreneur, which benefits his entire community.
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