Interview with Mr. Udayraj Prabhu, EVP and Head – CSR & Business Process Transformation, IT, Marico Limited

Q.1 What are some of the trends that you have observed in the coconut processing industry and what would be your prediction about the future of the industry?

Considering the increase in awareness amongst consumers around the goodness of coconut and its products, Coconut Processing Industries are experiencing significant growth in the last few decades. There is a huge scope of making value-added products from coconut like Coconut Oil, Virgin coconut oil, Coconut water, Coir pith, coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut chips, Desiccated Coconut Powder, etc. Consumers are increasingly using these products considering aspects of goodness and health associated with these products.

Coconut processing industries thus have a large headroom to grow and increasing penetration will only enhance this growth potential.

Q.2 From your experience, how would you describe the scope for an aspiring entrepreneur in the micro food processing sector in today’s time when it comes to Coconuts/Coconut based products?

While we in India have always known about the benefits of coconut the world is realizing the multiple benefits such as the excellent hydrating power of coconut water, the medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) in virgin/non-virgin coconut oil, coconut milk as a replacement for people who have lactose intolerance, coconut and tree part as biodegradable inputs and coconut fiber as soil replacement is being recognized by the world only recently.

Given Increasing awareness and consumer bend towards healthy products, there are enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs to explore this domain and develop a long-term and sustained growth Business model.

Q.3 Could you please tell us about the Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation initiative by Marico Limited and how it is helping Coconut based micro-enterprises?

Coconut farming is a micro-enterprise. It is like investing in a factory and then run it profitably, once a farmer invests in the coconut farm, with an initial gestation period of 5-7 years, it needs to be run like an enterprise for next the 50-60 years. Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, is focused on supporting these Farmers in enhancing their productivity, return on their investment, and thus overall higher Income.

Q.4 What was the idea/vision behind the initiative, and could you please walk us through the journey of the development of the initiative?

Our belief and purpose is to make a difference in the life of coconut farmer by helping them increase their earnings mainly by -

  • Enabling higher and sustainable crop yield.
  • Train farmers to handle their farms independently – enhance their awareness around pest, disease, nutrient, and water management.
  • Transform myth and belief-based farming into farming based on scientific research and knowledge.

Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation follows the below program methodology -

  • Conduct Training and Awareness programmes propagating scientific farm practices on the nutrient, disease, and water management.
  • Kalpavriksha Agronomist enrolling farmers into the programme, educating them, providing on-field support, and monitoring implementation of right farm practices.
  • Providing on-call troubleshooting solutions through Kalpavriksha care call centre.
  • Experiment and promote water conservation practices in farms.
Starting with a pilot in FY 2015 with 6 Agronomists, today we employ 100+ field Agronomist supporting around 1.7 Lac acres of farms reaching 33,590 Farmers. We are present across all four coconut-producing states- Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh. Farms that have completed more than a year with Kalpavriksha have delivered 16% increase in yields.

Apart from the productivity enhancement program, our efforts are also focused on water conservation initiatives. In the last 3 years, we have developed 42 Cr Lit of water storage potential with 339 Farm Ponds.

Q.5 How would you describe the structure and curriculum of the training provided to the enterprises?

We believe in educating and training farmers to make them independent for managing their farms effectively. We use multiple ways of imparting training like group training (50+ farmers), micro trainings via placards (around 10 Farmers), one-to-one training, training via digital means like YouTube, Facebook, etc. We also provide a complete day training to farmers in our Kalpavriksha Knowledge Centre where farmers get trained by Agri experts and interact with the expert around various aspects of farm care.

Q.6 Could you please tell us about how you have utilised the digital medium and developed innovative communication strategies for interacting with micro-enterprises?

The digital medium is one of the key channels for enhancing our support to coconut farmers. With the advancement and penetration of digital medium amongst farmers, we use various platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp for reaching farmers and supporting them. We also have a Farmer care centre (Toll-Free IVR - 18002664646) for supporting Farmers across all 4 Southern states producing coconuts. Our Agri experts can interact in all 4 local languages. Farmers can interact with us across these multiple platforms and seek our support. Through Digital engagement, we have supported around 10000+ farmers who have been engaged through digital channels in the last 1 year.

Q.7 In terms of utilization of the digital medium for training purposes and imparting knowledge, could you please tell us about the training material developed for the digital medium and the topics covered in it?

We have leveraged digital mediums to build content on best practices in coconut farming. The content is from Tamil Nadu Agricultural university relating to pest, disease, and water management of coconut crop converted into 35 videos in 5 different languages to propagate them among coconut farmers using digital mediums like YouTube, Facebook, etc. These videos are also part of the training curriculum for our field staff to enhance their knowledge and understanding of coconut crop management.

Apart from this, we share regular content across these digital platforms providing continuous education and training to the farmers on various aspects of farm management.

Q.8 Could you please tell us about the Kalpavriksha Knowledge Centre and the type of support/facilities provided there?

Kalpavriksha Knowledge centre (KKC) as the name suggests is a centre of excellence for training coconut farmers on the management of coconut crops. The facility consists of a demo farm with 6 varieties of coconut plants to experience different inputs to demonstrate the correlation of yield and the input it receives. Demo farm also demonstrates best Farm care practises including smart irrigation set up as a step towards precision farming. Apart from the demo farm, we have a training centre wherein coconut experts impart knowledge and training to farmers regarding best management practices for coconut farming - pest, disease, Nutrient and water management, etc. Interaction with experts is also facilitated to seek their advice on various facets related to coconut farming.

Q.9 What are your thoughts on the importance of collaboration and knowledge exchange with educational universities or research institutions? Have there been any such collaborations that your organization has been a part of that have been instrumental in supporting micro-enterprises?

Educational universities and research institutions have a treasure of knowledge which once placed in practice can enhance the effectiveness of industries to a very large extent. Educational/ research institutions must understand the practical aspect of industries and accordingly divert their research direction towards making its implementation operationally and financially feasible.

We interact with various educational & research institutes to enable farmers to get effective training and support from these Institutes.

Q.10 What are some of the challenges often faced by micro-enterprises when it comes to setting up their Coconut product processing unit or managing day-to-day operations?

Coconut Product processing units are facing stiff competition in the global market in terms of quality and cost. Entrepreneurs face various challenges like shortage of working capital, availability of skilled workforce, the managing labour force in rural parts where majorly processing units need to be set up. Apart from day-to-day operational challenges, investments in research and development are a challenge for SMEs.

The most important step for enhancing our cost competitiveness with the global market is to increase farm productivity by a large extent.

Q.11 What type of activities/training is conducted whether within the Kalpavriksha Program or by Marico Limited for encouraging entrepreneurship among micro-enterprises engaged in food processing?

Marico limited has professionals in the Food Processing area actively involved in providing a lot of training and support to start-ups and micro-enterprises in the food processing industries. They propagate food safety and efficient food processing practises through various forums to food processing units across various industries.

Q.12 Could you please tell us about the Marico Innovation Foundation and how it is helping micro food processing enterprises?

Marico Innovation Foundation, the not-for-profit arm of Marico Limited drives the Innovation agenda of the company’s CSR efforts. The Foundation works closely with innovative ventures across industries to help them solve operational efficiencies, thereby achieve sustainable growth and sustained impact. Through its efforts, the foundation is supporting some eclectic micro food processing enterprises.

MIF works with various firms for developing solutions around drying local fresh produce, enhancing operational and cost-efficiency of their manufacturing units, revamping their packaging materials to increase packaged product shelf life and enhancing end-to-end (farmer to consumer) supply chain efficiency.

With our Flagship Initiative ‘Innovate to Cultivate’, we have invited around 94 Entrepreneurs to work closely with coconut Farmers and help them enhance their cost efficiencies. Basis feasibility, we are currently working with 6 Entrepreneurs in space of prototyping innovative solutions for coconut crops.

(MIF's Scale-Up Program is truly the first of its kind in India that holds true value for budding entrepreneurs. If you think you are innovative or know anyone who can benefit from this philanthropic program, then write to

Q.13 What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who are planning to venture into the arena of coconut processing?

Coconut is a sunrise sector with lots of tail-winds. The world is recognizing the benefits of the sector. With investment in R&D and support from the Government of India for facilitating exports, the Coconut Processing industry has experienced good growth in the last decade. Entrepreneurs/Agripreneurs have a lot of opportunities to capitalize upon like developing coconut based value-added products, developing cost effective processing setups (Solar driers, sorting, etc.), or providing value-added and cost effective solutions to coconut farmers like developing crop yield boosters, efficient and safe harvesting machines, etc.

Entrepreneurs must develop and implement cost effective solutions that enhance the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the value chain starting from farmer to the point of sale.

(Content shared by Marico Limited)