India is a veritable testing ground for any kind of crops or seeds
Because of its size, India is like a laboratory. The amount of data you can get from there, you can get nowhere. With all its different climates, the country is a veritable testing ground for any kind of crops and seeds. If you can grow something in India, you can grow it anywhere, says agricultural advisor Sritanu Chatterjee. This article is part of a series on the agricultural advisors who play an important role in the Netherlands Agricultural Network (LAN) worldwide.
When he joined the LAN team in India as an agricultural advisor in 2012, he didn't know much about the Netherlands in terms of agriculture. With an education in mechanical engineering and financial management and a career in the software sector, Sritanu Chatterjee was sort of new to the job. Since then, and together with his team, he has successfully helped numerous Dutch companies and knowledge institutes to get out of their comfort zone and get a feel for Indian society and the Indian market. 'India is a complex country,' Chatterjee says. 'It is not an easy place to do business, not only for foreign companies but also for local companies. And it requires time. That's why it's important that Dutch companies come to us to find the right partners to enter the Indian market.'
Why did you join the LAN, in particular?
Jokingly: 'Once you are with the Dutch, you will always be with the Dutch. I studied financial management at the School of Management in Rotterdam. When I returned to India, I became part of its Holland Alumni Network. The then Consul General used to say that students returning to their countries were ambassadors. My appointment was more or less the result of a trade crisis between India and Europe about certain residue levels in Indian grapes that were imported by the EU. The Dutch government and the GroentenFruitHuis (branch organization for food and vegetables) started a project here, because the port of entry for those grapes was Rotterdam and Dutch companies were affected, too. The Consul General asked me to join the LAN and that has been the start for me.'
'In addition, I have always had a fascination for policy making and the government sector. But unless you start your career in government from the very beginning, it is a difficult sector to get into. So, in that respect, my appointment has been an opportunity for me.'
What does the LAN team look like?
'The LAN team consists of 7 people and is located in four different locations. Working at the Netherlands Embassy in New Delhi are agricultural counsellor Michiel van Erkel, policy support officer Rima Rai and myself. At the Consulate General in Bengaluru there's agricultural attaché Rick Nobel and agricultural advisor Surya Kiran Vaddadi. At the Netherlands Consulate General in Mumbai there is a vacancy for an agricultural advisor. And then there is the Netherlands Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka with my colleague Nishan Dissanayake as an agricultural advisor.'
'Another area of cooperation is high end research into the development of seed varieties for open field crops'
What does your average day look like?
'That's a great question. To be honest, I have never thought before about what an average day looks like. Usually, the highest priority is given to responding to queries of Dutch organizations: we reach out to Indian companies or government departments to discuss possible collaboration opportunities. And there are delegation visits and events, of course.'
'In addition, water, agriculture and health (WAH) are the three priority sectors of cooperation between India and the Netherlands. There are good cross-overs among these topics and that allows me to work on joint activities with colleagues from the departments of health, water and innovation.'
What are the challenges of the agriculture sector in India?
'In fact, they are not very different from those across the globe. We face increasing challenges from changes in weather patterns, depletion of soil quality and groundwater and from the uncertainty in income for people who depend on agriculture sector. The main goal of Indo-Dutch cooperation in the agriculture sector is how to get organizations of both countries to work together to make the agricultural sector more sustainable. This involves the setting-up of demonstration projects like a Centre of Excellence where Indian farmers get exposure to advanced technologies for protected/greenhouse farming.'
'Climate Change is impacting Indian agriculture big time. There are different areas in which Dutch organizations can work together with their Indian counterparts to make agriculture more climate resilient. In technological developments like AI/ML, for instance, or the application of remote sensing in agriculture. Irriwatch and Space4Good are good examples of that. Another area of cooperation is high end research into the development of seed varieties for open field crops.'
How would you promote India to Dutch companies?
'There is this saying: nothing succeeds like success. Dutch companies who have been successful in India are the biggest promoters of India to other Dutch companies. So when we organize events, we invite existing Dutch companies to tell their story.'
'Also, India is a large country with a big population. The amount of data you can get from India, you can get nowhere. Indian has 11 different climatic zones. If you can grow something in India, you can grow it anywhere. In that respect, this country is like a laboratory.'
How can the LAN in India help?
'India is a challenging country to do business with. It takes time to get to know it. That's why it is important to look at the successful cases, before coming here. There are quite a few of those, like the ones I mentioned earlier, in which the ingenuity of Dutch entrepreneurs has shown that if you come out of your comfort zone and adapt to the Indian situation, then you can be pretty successful. But please remember, come and see us first. We have a huge network. Enjoy the network effect!'
Are there any concrete events or initiatives you are working on or organizing in the foreseeable future?
'Throughout the year, lots of trade fairs happen across India. However, we try to participate with the Netherlands pavilion in only two of those: one will be in the South of India and the other in the Northern region. One of the events that we are planning to participate in is the Mega Food Event between November 3-5 in Delhi. For this we will reach out to Dutch companies to see if they want to participate. After that, we will decide if we're setting up a Netherlands pavilion or not.'