A distinguished blend of faculty, highly zealous students from diverse backgrounds, a rigorous academic curriculum, an impeccable alumni database are some of the ingredients that helped the IIM Ahmedabad’s Post Graduate Program in Agri-Business Management (PGP-ABM) become the No.1 Program globally in the Agri-business / Food Industry Management category.
One unique feature of the PGP-ABM program is Rural Immersion Module (RIM). The Rural Immersion Module helps acquaint the students with the ground realities of the rural landscape, which is home to almost 70 percent of our country’s population. Every year the students from PGP-ABM are required to spend 3-4 weeks in a certain pre decided village. It takes place in two phases. In the first phase the students need to understand and analyze the problems faced by the rural people. The students also brainstorm on the prudent and viable solutions for these problems. The next phase focuses on the implementation of the solutions which are worked out by the students.
The programme management comes up with the states and villages to visit after much discussion and deliberation. The focus is always on the regions where certain major issues are cropping up with regard to agriculture or livelihood. This time around the management chose 2 villages each in Andhra Pradesh (AP), Patna and Jharkhand, and a group each was allotted to these regions.
Andhra Pradesh was chosen because farmers declared a crop holiday in some villages within this state. Students were required to understand the reason for crop holiday. They conducted In-depth interviews with the members of farmer community, visited government offices in and around the villages. They figured some negative effects of NREGA scheme on the labour availability for agricultural purposes. Major shift in land use pattern such as towards aquaculture was observed. Increasingly decreasing returns on agriculture produce was discovered as one major reason for this shift.
In order to deal with these issues, students have ideated increasing extension services to educate farmers about the drying techniques. This would ensure higher returns on produce through minimum support price on a higher grain volume when grains meet the stringent quality criterion set by the Food Corporation of India. Students also opined an alternative means of revenue – setting up coir industry using the abundant coconut tree shells as raw material.
Of the two groups that went to Jharkhand, one was handed over the task of determining the effectiveness of implementation of various government schemes at the grass root level in the Jamshol village area. The group visited the houses and surveyed around 70% of the villagers. They discovered major issues with the schemes like MNREGA, Public distribution system, Indira Awas Yojana and Anganwadi. The villagers were either negligent of these schemes or the authorities vested with the responsibility to carry out these schemes were taking advantage of the uneducated people. The group conducted a Gram Sabha, where the villagers addressed their concerns in front of all people of authorities and a formally signed document was submitted to an active NGO- SEEDS, before leaving.
The group experienced and understood the SHG model setup by Kalamandir at Junmdih for raising livelihood opportunity for the Bhoomji tribes. Kalamandir has provided round the year employment for the otherwise sporadic workers who face exploitation at the brick kiln factories of the area through the grass mat business. As students of the agri-business program, they were able to come up with solutions to problems that are preventing the business from scaling up. Inventory system, aggressive branding and marketing strategy, product costing and a better streamlined process with proper documentations were advised.
Coming onto the groups that were sent to Patna (Bihar), one of them was entrusted with the task of looking after the problems that are prevalent with Madhubani Paintings and the ways to promote eco-tourism in the area. After having talked to a lot of people in the Madhubani region, the major problems that came out with the paintings was absence of channel for marketing and advertisement, large scale exploitation by middlemen, no other source of livelihood, as a result of which artists have given way to artisans. The solutions proposed were – a website to market the product, Expos in major cities through collaboration with existing NGOs and export houses, and the reissuing of ID cards. And for the promotion of tourism – advertisements on major holiday sites, link with several festivals and focus on domestic tourists, the money from whom will help in straightening out the infrastructure, were the solutions that were prescribed.
The other group was made to visit the Vaishali and Sitamari region in Bihar. They devised a model through which a farmer can be advised about the mandi in which he can sell his produce and get the highest returns. They also suggested ways in which tourism can be promoted in the region so as to make the region more prosperous. In Sitamari, the biggest issue that came up was of intermittent electricity supply. The students recommended a rice husk plant to produce electricity in the region and also did the cost-benefit analysis for the same.
Looking at the above instances, one could easily see the multitude of issues that the students were able to find out and analyze. Such an interface between the management students and the villages that RIM was able to provide could go a long way in improving the condition of the people residing in the India’s heartland.