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  • Foto del escritorThe Corporate Reviews

Ashish Gautam

Vice President and Co-Founder, Farmbox Inc.

 

Describe FarmBox Inc. 


Farmbox Inc. is a manufacturer, technology developer and deeply focused on all that is required to make agriculture and climate green and clean, as it is supposed to be.  In addition to selling easily transportable plug-and-play farms, Farmbox is working on and constantly evaluating and adopting new technologies to help local producers secure better quality output and the supply-chain deliver the same to the consumers through minimal wastage. The bouquet of services and technologies offers a sustainable model aligned to food security coupled with decarbonization, climate change, net-zero, ESG, sustainability, and UN SDG goals. 


Could you tell us what are the main challenges that the food industry is facing right now and what do you think that must be done by the authorities in order to handle them? 


In the normal conversation food industry is seen to be comprised of only the farmers, farm machinery and growth material suppliers, and the retailer. But in reality, it takes the whole world to deliver food produce, both farm/marine-based, to the table of the consumer. It’s a sensitive and heavily dependent intermesh of multiple players and causative factors, both external and internal. 


These elements are constantly at play and influence each other such that to ensure an optimal output, there has to be a great appreciation and understanding of the delicate interaction and impact. The food cycle has the potential to break at any step in this flow and that could be owing to multiple reasons such as geopolitical, socio-economic, logistics, supply chains, science & technology, and most importantly the forever fragile climate and the list goes on. After all, the food industry is all about dealing with one form of life, here the food produced, for the sustenance of another form of life, the human race, the livestock, etc. 


There are 3 big factors among a bunch of numerous others that are a grave cause of concern today and are some of the causes of rising food insecurity. 


  1. High input cost of production and low profit margins to the producer thus leading to reduced interest globally in taking up farming as a primary career.

  2. Improper acquisition and handling of food produced, inadequate and inefficient global cold chains, and long-haul transportation leading to increased food wastage.

  3. Disproportionate distribution of produce globally with haves with access and have-nots staying deprived of basics. 


Governments and large institutions such as the UN bodies and the World Bank along with a host of supporting entities recognise this issue. However, with the rapidly growing global population, there is constant pressure to come up with initiatives to keep pace with this exponential upward trend.  By the time Governments and agencies come up with a solution, it's already half a decade that would have passed, and the goalpost would have moved. Authorities have to develop agile models for recognition of issues, understanding of resolution mechanisms, and giving the flexibility to deliver and secure auditable and measurable impact. Authorities need to move beyond pilots and test beds to large-scale implementation plans with the capability to scale to achieve visible results. 


In spite of the resources and efforts destined to fight against famine, there are still millions of people facing hunger around the world. Is that a problem of one or multiple factors? Could you describe those?


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, defines famine as a situation in which a substantial proportion of the population of a country or region are unable to access adequate food, resulting in widespread acute malnutrition and loss of life by starvation and disease. 

I have also touched on some of the cause factors in the previous question. Expanding on them … The biggest cause of famine in the recent history of the last century and a half globally has been geopolitical insensitivity. Without getting into details of the past, the biggest learning is that famines are avoidable if the governing administrations keep the interests of their impacted constituents above the rest. But that’s a theoretical statement for political analysts and commentators to elaborate on. 


Fact remains - Famine in today’s age and time is not a natural phenomenon but singularly the result of administrative oversight and apathy.


However, there are multiple other factors that have apart from political disinterests have been and still are a cause:


  1. Making local resources inaccessible to the regional communities through prohibition in favor of alternate commerce, or diversions to more lucrative markets. This leads to forced human resettlements through migrations, reduced efforts to focus on local food production, or changed the focus of the workforce on better paying alternate non-agricultural jobs.

  2. Inappropriate and non-sustainable industrialization with an irresponsible disposition of waste poisoning the local habitat, upsetting the native ecological equilibrium.

  3. Deforestation and dewatering of natural aquifers for colonization and erosion or contamination of topsoil owing to commercial activities without any regenerative procedures deployed. This has rendered large portions of arable land nonproductive.

  4. Or very simply; excluding a geographical region and the population staying therein from the global regulatory oversight leading to labor exploitation, overexploitation of natural resources, and under or no representation on global forums.

  1. What do you think is the role that privates are called to play in this task?

Food security for the private sector is no longer a do-good-feel-good initiative but a business imperative for its own existence and sustainable growth. In plain terms, the inputs to its own operations and the consumers of its output are what the private sector has to make sustainable.


It is therefore in the business’ own interest that boards must ensure all their units, as well as local, and global supply chains practice and report sustainable business behavior. Food security is the primary need and fundamental right of humans. Nutritious, adequate, accessible, and affordable food leads to addressing a large number of physical, emotional, social, and economic factors in society. 


In addition to creating a sustainable business model within the organization, the inclusion of the value chains in these conversations is equally important. After some time it would become integral to the business environment as the importance of payment of wages, safe and hygienic work environment, clean drinking water, and ethical business behavior. 

A short-vision business venture with no long-term eco-diversity planning and implementation is like cutting the branch on which you are sitting. 


It is not an overly difficult task either for the private sector. In the value chain of any business, there is enough technology in all fields to develop or adopt need-based projections for the equitable distribution of resources. These can be both monetary and in-kind across borders within and beyond geographical limits. The private sector only has to make a delta extra effort to identify and practice this in its own business interest. 


You spent a relevant part of your professional life working for big corporations, particularly in their government affairs offices. Can you describe what is the optimal way in which governments and corporations should interact in order to achieve their respective goals?


Over my 3 decades of career life, I had the good fortune of being trained under the best and worked with the finest public policy leaders and professionals from across the globe. During this time I lived and engaged in some of the transformational tech and workforce policy conversations both regionally and globally and also secured what a policy professional yearns for – a successful outcome. What I have seen being successfully applied for the most optimal outcomes is a healthy cocktail of – patience, resilience, articulation, negotiation, investigation, assessment, and creativity just to name a few. 

While the Government has identified senior negotiators, from the corporations, this should be led by a named policy expert. This expert can be the CEO / Board Member / Senior named executive or a trusted individual in the organization.


A policy professional is actually the bridge between the government and the corporation. It is essential that the individual is able to do a two-way translation of the content and the intent in the language that each side understands. But this is not the job of a postman. A policy professional also has to play the role of a two-way advisor. To reach a point of agreement on a contentious matter, it's upon the policy person to help redesign the subject, to help reduce the points of debate. This also means telling the corporation, here also the employer, where there is scope for amendments and what it should do to move closer to achieving the desired result. 


It is now that the ground is set for the beginning of possible interactions between the regulator and the regulated. It's absolutely crucial that both sides know the non-negotiable, and therefore focus first on the soft topics. An ongoing dialogue with an open mind is absolutely a must for reaching a resolution that is owned jointly by the Government and the Corporate sector. Somewhere the larger good of the decision must be clear to both sides and be present as the anchor for all deliberations. These deliberations may take months and mostly a few years. However, it's worth the wait since the end result is always sustainable and long-term. 


Having said this, on the other hand, there are some critical matters that necessitate an immediate implementation. These decisions may be taken unilaterally by the Government in the larger interest of the Nation and its constituents. It is at these times that corporations must see merit in the urgency of the matter and be seen as aligned with the Government’s decisions. Corporations may also extend unsolicited support to augment the Government’s initiatives. This also helps build an environment of trust between the two sides. 


The only optimal way, thus, is to keep the communication networks open, but only through channels that are trusted by both. Of course, the desired outcome can only be achieved when the larger interest of business, the nation, and above all the ecosystem that would be impacted by the decision/s is kept ahead of all. 


Last but not least. How should be the balance between environment and productivity? 


Productivity is core to the evolution and growth of human civilization and the environment is the external feeder to its sustenance. Traditional knowledge that was developed over centuries of experience and understanding of the local ecosystem worked well for the native communities till it got lost or pushed to the background due to foreign invasions, cross-cultural pollinations, migrations, and a myriad of other factors. 


There is a very good recognition of this information, however, it needs to be appreciated and adopted in the core design principles of business growth. Steps have been taken in this direction and over the last decade there is an increased expectation from businesses to announce their sustainability initiatives. However, what must be the natural next step is to also report the net impact improvement being felt through sustainability initiatives. To make it more effective enterprises and governments must be encouraged to build these into their core governance models and report successive and incremental annual progressions in improvements. 


The convergence of technology-based research in climate and agriculture with political science and ekistics, the science of human settlements, would be a good example of setting a standard to assess this balance. 


Recognition and Restoration of traditional knowledge and blending it with modern science and economics with the involvement and participation of the local communities is the key to a long-term and sustainable balance between environment and productivity.

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