Improving Opportunities for Indian Farmers

by Hayley Farr, MBA '12 (5/1/11)

Hayley Farr, MBA '12

Conducting on-the-ground research for an SGE immersion sponsor - an agricultural machinery company looking to better understand the growing market for their products in India.

As a first-year student in the Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) Immersion, I had the opportunity to travel to India over Spring Break. I thought my travels in my previous life, as a policy consultant for the US EPA, had brought me to pretty interesting places: Riverboat casinos on the Ohio River, the sand dunes along Lake Michigan, and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco… And then I went to India with a brilliant team of “green” consultants: John Tauzel, a former agricultural lobbyist; Schuyler Blackman, a former brand manager for a brewery; and Jessica Fracassini, a former art conservator.


My teammates and I conducted on-the-ground research for our sponsor, an agricultural machinery company looking to better understand the growing market for their products in India. Traveling a few hours outside of the cities of Hyderabad and Chennai, we spent a week visiting the rice paddies of small towns and villages. With the help of regional and local guides, we interviewed entrepreneurial farmers about their successes and failures in forming a business, as well as about the economic benefits and risks associated with agricultural mechanization in India.


Prior to this trip, I had never been to a developing country, so I didn’t quite know what to expect when we arrived in Hyderabad. But, I’m grinning ear to ear as I write this because it was simply an amazing, amazing adventure. Our faces were pink for a few days after we played Holi with a group of children in Hyderabad; we got lost in a bazaar in Chennai; we ate a lot of tasty vegetarian food and discovered Maaza (a delicious mango beverage); and somehow squished four sweaty people into one rickshaw far too many times.


In addition to these unique cultural experiences, being in the field helped us gain an invaluable understanding of “the story of mechanization” from the perspective of our sponsor’s customer, the agricultural entrepreneurs, and their customer, the smallholder farmer. We met with and heard the stories of incredibly humble, happy, and simple farmers whose families’ lives had completely changed because of the small businesses they were able to form with the equipment they purchased from our sponsor company. Going forward, it is our job to tell these stories in a way that helps our sponsor grow their operations in India, but also helps to improve opportunities for rural farmers.