Book Review of Farming Futures by Shirish Joshi
Updated: Apr 28
At the outset I would like to thank and compliment the authors/editors/publishers and funders of the book Farming futures published by Authors Upfront and edited by Ajit Kanitkar and Shambu Prasad .
The biggest strengths of the book are as follows;
It is a painstaking venture to collect so much primary data and present it in a very readable format .
The book has stayed away from academic adventures like “precisely defining” evolving phenomena like social enterprises and instead has focussed on describing them. The commentary of the editors at the end has refrained from over distilling the data and prescribing “the model.”
The cases include comments of multiple stakeholders like customers /suppliers/ investors / employees not just the narrative of the entrepreneur.
The book does not try to create heroes out of the social entrepreneurs,instead it tries to capture the stories of the entrepreneurs as well as their enterprises in an appreciative stance . It describes the successes and failures, challenges and opportunities with as many authentic details as possible .
The stories describe the enterprises in adequate detail to help potential entrepreneurs to repeat / build on/ implement the core ideas in their contexts .
The book has carefully chosen stories of products and services for farmers as producers . Some of the stories pertain to supply of inputs to farmers like weather services / planting material/ low cost machines. It also has stories for enhancing the commercial staying power for the farmer e.g. micro storage. It also captures stories of services for aggregating the outputs of farmers and enhancing the price realisation Thus the book takes a comprehensive approach to the enterprise of farming.
The book has made efforts to document “new and recent stories “ instead of repeating earlier successes .
The team has selected enterprises which have crossed two major hurdles i.e. creating a useful service/ product which is accepted and fully / partly paid by farmers and which have been able to convince some investors to support the venture .
without specifically creating a chapter , the book has been able to describe the social enterprise ecosystem . This itself can be a very important input to the various stakeholders including investors and policy makers .
Last but not the least , the book has tried to cover stories from ten states in the country from east/ west/ south and north .
I am tempted to draw my own inferences about the social enterprises but keeping with the spirit of the authors and editors I would like the readers to make their meanings .
I would like to offer a few suggestions for next edition and further studies
The cases include financial analysis including ratio analysis . This will be very useful to commerce and management students. However , it can intimidate the social sector professionals. It will be useful to create a sub-chapter for this analysis rather than integrating it in the main case.
The book has tried to distinguish social enterprise from commercial enterprise . It will also be useful to distinguish it w.r.t social service / development organisations. It will also be useful to distinguish them from community based organisations . This will bring up more dimensions to delineate the strengths and weaknesses of these actors .
The social entrepreneurs seem to have played many roles like inventors/ creators of new industries/ industry segments. These have made their journeys more arduous . If we accept the adage that “ management is the art of the possible” it is necessary to bring out their journeys from trying the impossible to discovering the ‘feasible’.
The word B To B has been used to indicate both large consumers like “industrial canteens” as well as those who use the input to further process and then sell the next level product or service e.g. tomato pulp being used by food processors to create a sauce . Actually selling to farmers is strictly speaking a B To B transaction but looking at the numbers it looks like B to C .
I am also realising that apart from the form of enterprise as being for or not for profit / community managed/ professionally managed etc., it is necessary to highlight the importance of the business model. Though there can be some broad generalisations it is necessary to capture commodity wise specific business model. I think the next book could embark on documenting these business models . In agriculture the term “ package of practises” is used to describe the best agronomic practises for a given crop. These practises also mention where that crop will succeed e.g. type of soil, agro climatic conditions, rainfall etc. It will be useful to attempt a similar empirical exercise to enumerate the best commercial practises along with the related environmental factors. On the other hand there needs to be a study to enumerate how the changing environment will lead to change in the business model.Such a study can then help stakeholders help understand the difference between the three different environments and their impact on three models for the same commodity e.g. Amul model, the Mulkanoor model and the possible Maval dairy model .
About the Author
Shirish Joshi is an organization design consultant with over 35 years of experience in corporate and social sectors.