Dr. Ubaid Khan – medicinal and aromatic farming expert

Dr. Ubaid Khan, Senior Consultant & Manager, Pioneer Aromatics & Agri Solutions, Lucknow completed his PhD in 2002. He was then associated with with various research organizations in India up until 2006. In 2006, he resigned as a junior scientist and set up his consultancy firm. This Lucknow-based firm, offers end-to-end farming consultation services – supplies all types of planting material and seeds and exports agricultural commodities like medicinal oils, essential oils and natural fragrances in the global market. Excerpts from a recent conversation:

What kind of consultancy services you provide?

First let me speak about our consultancy projects. We provide a complete package – from planning to market place. We chalk up a plan for our customers – farmers/land owners/agricultural entrepreneurs and we give them a complete solution – advise on cultivation, irrigation, marketing – for buy back and tie ups with other companies to sell their produce.
At times, there are people who get in touch seeking advice on what can be done if they are not interested in cultivation but want to be in the farming business. To them we advise on procuring agricultural raw materials from the market – like aromatic herbs, essential oils etc. and develop their own products like deodorants, fragrances, etc. We help them understand and adopt the technology they need to know to undertake such projects.
From experience I have come to realize that consultancy business in India does not fare well because according to me, people – the educated and the uneducated equally are hardly interested in acquiring in-depth knowledge. There is very less, or no, emphasis on proper planning and research of agricultural projects.
It is a paradox that people here are ready to invest large sums of money and start their projects, but show resistance when it comes to investing time, energy and money into the planning phase. There seems to be a mind block about spending money and hiring experienced and knowledgeable consultants who can plan out their farming activities.
Coming in terms with this gap in the industry, we began extending our services on a global scale. Currently, apart from India, we provide services in 8 countries. Currently, we have end-to-end projects in Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Israel. Of all the projects that are on-going, Israel is a project that needs special mention. We signed up for this project in 2016 and is our biggest project till date.

Tell us about your Israel project

Israel is new to aromatic and medicinal herbs farming. This provides a great opportunity for us to represent India in the field of medicinal herbs and aromatic essential oils. In Israel, they do have land, but they do not have sufficient water for irrigation so we advise on various irrigation techniques. Though they have very limited quantity of irrigation water, they are doing excellent in agriculture because of the methods they employ. Drip irrigation system does wonders.
In 2016, I was in Israel for 5-10 days. I realized that we are far advanced in the field of agriculture when we compare ourselves with them. They are advanced in modern agriculture but their basic knowledge is not very strong. Our education system provides us in-depth knowledge; so our base is very strong.
But, other countries override us with their strong intent and attitude towards agriculture. The farmers are clear about their purpose and the government schemes, subsidies, facilities and support the farmers gain there is remarkable. We lack good policies around agriculture and so, our progress rate is not at its best.
In Israel, they employ automated fertigation – fertilization and irrigation – system. Farmers fertilize and irrigate their fields using an application installed on their mobile phones. And, it’s consistent! Each and every farmer in Israel has access to this system. So, where ever they are they can make sure that the fertilization and irrigation of their crops happens on time, as per specific needs of the crop. This eliminates a lot of manual intervention and error. With the click of a button, their entire farm gets irrigated in a matter of half an hour. The amazing part is that this app was created and shared with them by an Indian. Like I said earlier, they may not have the apt land, climate and water but their attitude is make the best of what they have.
As part of the sustainability of our consultancy project, we realized that extending our services across borders is a necessity. Apart from Israel, I have two successful projects in Nigeria and one successful project in Kenya.
I am involved in every phase of the project. When we started our first project in Israel, we even selected the crop for them. We selected Akarkara. On our trial project in Israel, the market price for the dried root of this plant was about Rs.900/- per kg, in India. Per the buyback agreement, with Israel farmers the rate was around 400/kg because we had to comply with the 38% Indian duty charges. In the last 3-4 years, the market price of these roots shot down to about Rs. 100/- of that of the Indian market. This made it impossible for us to import the goods. We discussed this issue with our clients and they realized the truth. They decided to stick with us. We tweaked a few things and resolved this issue. We linked them to contacts we have in other foreign countries. There are various importers in USA and Europe.
Whatever we do, we first focus on the consultancy and we provide solutions that best suits the soil and climatic conditions of the plot we are catering to. In India, all the medicinal herbs were being harvested in the forest areas, but in the last 20 years, we have started cultivating medicinal herbs. This way we have come to preserve our forest reserves. We suggest the same to our foreign clients. We advise them to cultivate their forest crops. If they agree, we develop the cultivation model and back them with complete technological support and free-of-cost technical guidelines and buy-back solutions. In countries where we cannot provide buy-back solutions owing to certain policies, we offer tie ups with other buyers in the international market. If farmers are interested in Indian herbs, we provide plant material – seeds, roots etc.

You are also interested in e-learning ?

I have been associated with e-learning programs on agriculture portals. In 1998, I was a facilitator for a firm run by Asia Pacific Regional Technology Center based out of Bangkok. I first rendered voluntary services for their organization as a course moderator. From 2000-2006 I worked for them as an expert facilitator. This phase gave me exposure to interact with agricultural professionals in international markets. Additionally, this experience gave me an insight on the cultural and linguistic environment of various countries across the globe. This certainly gave me an edge and lot of contacts in the international market. Using this expertise, I could crack the ice when we decided to plunge into the international market.

If an interested farmer contacts you how do you work with them?

When someone approaches us, we try to gauge if you are a passionate farmer or if they are just looking for free advice. Hypothetically, let’s say, you may are either new to agriculture or to a specialized section of agriculture like medicinal and aromatic agriculture. You read that the aloe vera is a highly profitable crop. With this in mind you come to us. At that point, we query as to why aloe vera? From your answer we can gauge and account for the knowledge you have accumulated.
Usually, in such cases the enquirer would have a rough estimate of the initial expense and the profit they can make. They would hardly know the constraints of the job. Also, there are consultants nation-wide who do not believe in sharing true information with farmers. To market and sell the products they have at their disposal, they encourage farmers to buy their stock without disclosing proper information. You may, for example, have to purchase 15000 aloe vera offsets. They will provide for plantlets where you will have to invest about 1.5 lakh and they will exit. They would never disclose that there are two types of aloe vera – one which will thrive in Indian climate and one which doesn’t.
Also, within 4-5 hours of harvesting aloe vera leaves, the pulp should be extracted or else it gets useless. So having a pulp extracting unit on your farm is absolutely necessary. For most people who call themselves consultants, all they want to do is sell off their planting material. They don’t care if crops fail or thrive. This happens largely because farmers don’t take the time to explore and adopt services from knowledgeable and qualified consultants. As far as government consultants are concerned, they draw a regular salary and so are not concerned in taking the pain to help farmers succeed. People cannot consult and educate farmers within a few hours – this is a journey.
If you come to me and ask about say, aloe vera, I will need 2-3 hours to explain about the crop, theoretically; leave alone rest of the services.
People ask questions like how many crops we can grow. How could I possibly do justice to such questions without visiting your plot? But people are not interested to pay. I am not talking about the poor farmers, I am talking about entrepreneurs, who are only interested in making their profits. They do not understand that taking advise should mean that we help them plan the cultivation as well. In countries where planning of crops and cultivation is essential, it is proven that their yield is 80-90% more successful. In India, we do quite the reverse, we only allot 10-20% time and focus to plan and we spend all our energy in our intuition, which eventually results in non-profitable farming.
There are genuine consultants and traders. But sometimes farmers end up associating with the wrong set of people; most often because they don’t do a background check. They don’t try to understand the qualification of the consultants. They have to get into the habit of asking the consultants about their qualifications and where they acquired it from. Take the time, effort and money to travel to the University where your consultant acquired a degree and do a background check.
Once a farmer came enquiring about the palmarosa plant. I disclosed the complete economics side of it. He indulged in the project and cultivated palmarosa. One day he calls and accuses me of cheating him. I had written palmarosa gives about 50 liters of oil from a hectare of land. He didn’t know the conversion rate of his land. I explained that 2.47 acres is 1 hectare and asked him to redo his calculations. Most of these farmers do not know the difference between hectares and acres, so their calculation will get faulty. Sense prevails only when knowledge flow is fair, not with a vested interest to promote a particular crop. So, false marketing breeds confusion.
Another person approached me with a desire to cultivate tulsi. I explained the mathematics. He got confused and told me that he heard that tulsi would yield Rs 100 per kg. I asked him from where he acquired this piece of information. He mentioned he sourced it from the net. I searched using the keyword he asked me to use and realized that he read literature which was around 9 years old. I said this was the price when the demand was much higher. This way people grow crops based on old or false information and reap losses. Genuine consultants will not advise to grow tulsi at this point in time. We advise farmers against tulsi. People search information on Google but do not check the validity of the information.

Do you feel frustrated when you come across these type of farmers?

No, I am not frustrated. I was just stating facts. But, I am not frustrated with these people – they make us sad though.
As for us we are doing our work. We are into fragrances – we have our presence in Amazon. We have an office in the US also, which we opened last month. Other than that we have an office in the UAE as well. Within a week or two we will have this information published on our website as well. We are also planning on revamping our website so that genuine seekers get a very structured form information from our website.
We are open to providing end-to-end services or part. We are open to everything. If they come to us, we are here to educate them with genuine information. Upon understanding the requirement of a farmer, we document it and send them a quote with details explaining the services we would cover.

Dr Ubaid Khan
Senior Consultant & Manager, _Development & Marketing_
Pioneer Aromatics & Agri Solutions
#45, Sun City Enclave, Jankipuram Extension
Lucknow- 226 021, U.P., INDIA
Phone : +91- 9889478275, Mobile: +91 – 9452268275
Email: sales@pioneeragri.com, Website: www.pioneeragri.com