RG Agarwal: world class crop protection technologies
DAL has been bestowed with multiple accolades and awards for its contribution to the Indian crop care chemicals business. In December 2019, it received the Hurun Industry Achievement Award for outstanding achievement in the agriculture sector. In 2018, it received Assocham’s Water Management Excellence Award, India Chem award and FICCI’s ‘Commendable Work for Changing Public Perception’ award.
The company started its journey in the field of plant protection agrochemicals in 1974, by setting up an office in Hyderabad for trading in pesticides. It subsequently ventured into manufacturing by acquiring a Gurgaon-based sick unit, Northern Mineral Pvt Ltd, in 1980. Later, it got incorporated as Dhanuka Pesticide Ltd (1985) and has now achieved one of the most extensive market penetrations in the industry. In 2007, Northern Minerals was merged with Dhanuka Pesticide, to become the new entity – Dhanuka Agritech.
The company has a pan-India presence, with marketing offices in all major states. Backed by 40 warehouses and a network of over 14 branch offices across India, DAL caters to 7,200 distributors and about 75,000 dealers. In fact, it is among the top three companies in terms of market reach and penetration for brand sales in the domestic market, as it reaches out to over 10 million farmers with its products and services.
“Over the years, as a company we have been making available world class crop protection technologies and products to our farming community,” says RG Agarwal (71), chairman, DAL. “And, while doing so, we have ensured that these are done in a cost-effective manner. Our quality and approach have generated massive response among farmers, who have always reposed their trust in us and encouraged us to serve them well. Going forward, we will continue to do what we have been doing so far, even as we will try to work in close coordination with our farmers and build a portfolio which helps them the best.”
DAL’s manufacturing is supported by a strong R&D facility. The company’s R&D centre, located in Gurgaon, is recognised by the Ministry of Science & Technology for generating scientific data and evaluating new research in chemistry. Its R&D division is a world-class, NABL-accredited, laboratory. The company closely works with other agriculture research establishments like the Indian Council for Agriculture Research, New Delhi; Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack; Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla; Tea Research Association, Tocklai, Assam and state agriculture universities.
Pursuing its vision of ‘Transforming India through Agriculture’, DAL has been working relentlessly towards making available world-class solutions and products to Indian farmers. The company has collaborated with the best technology providers/innovators in the world to bring quality solutions to India's farmlands. It has strategic collaborations with Sumitomo Chemical Co, Hokko Chemical Industry, Nissan Chemical, Mitsui Chemicals and OAT Agrio, (all Japanese companies); FMC Corporation, Oro Agri International, Corteva Agriscience and Agrinos (of the US); and Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta (Europe). The company enjoys long-lasting relationships with its global partners; in many instances for more than a decade.
In line with the improvement in agriculture growth on account of the better monsoon season, the company has also recently improved its performance. Having grown by over 11 per cent to Rs1,120 crore in 2019-20 (PAT grew over 25 per cent to Rs141 crore), DAL is on its way to grow over 20 per cent in the current fiscal due to a good monsoon season.
Despite Covid-19-related challenges, the industry as a whole has done well and DAL has not been an exception. In the first two quarters of the current fiscal year, revenue has surged by over 30 per cent to Rs816 crore from Rs621 crore, while PAT jumped by over 63 per cent to Rs121 crore. DAL’s share price has more than doubled on the BSE in the last seven months.
Dhanuka: introducing new technologies
Analysts believe that the industry has made a good comeback after a sluggish performance between 2015-16 and 2018-19, when it grew slowly at a CAGR of seven to eight per cent on account of a weak and erratic monsoon pattern. As a company, DAL has a well-diversified portfolio across various crops and a strong geographical footprint, and is well placed to ride on this favourable setting; so far, it has moved in the right direction.
“During H1 2020-21, its EBITDA and PAT have grown at a record 65 per cent and 63 per cent respectively, given the good monsoons, better pricing realisation for farmers, higher cash transfer by the government, as also aggressive marketing and a healthy product pipeline,” says a recent Centrum research report. “We see revenue growing at a record pace of about 26 per cent in 2020-21.”
“With five new products launched in 2019-20, two in Q1 2020-21 and two more in Q2, we believe DAL is on track to achieve its target of launching at least 10 products over the next two years,” adds the report. “Additionally, the company’s new launches over the past five to six months have seen strong demand momentum, which is expected to support management guidance of 22-25 per cent revenue growth over 2020-21.”
“As a company, we have always worked consistently towards providing new technologies and products to our farmers and help them achieve the best crop protection solutions and thus augment their overall production,” says MK Dhanuka (65), managing director, DAL. “After four-five years, we have experienced favourable rainfall this year, Also, sowing, in the case of most crops, has surged significantly.
In line with these encouraging developments, our company is well-geared to offer integrated crop management solutions, which would help in attaining higher crop yields and boost farmers' incomes. We are focussed on effectively expanding our market coverage, ensuring availability of our solutions across touch points and offering our best products and services.”
All geared up, the company, which is looking to double its turnover in the next four to five years, is now in the process of setting up a modern manufacturing facility at Dahej, Gujarat, for technical grade pesticides. Having received the environment clearance, it will invest about Rs90 crore in this facility, which will be ready for production in the next 12-18 months. The facility, built over a 35-acre land parcel, is expected to augment capacity by 30-40 per cent.
“We are ramping up our manufacturing capacity to cater to the growing demand,” says Agarwal. “Our facility at Dahej will help us augment our capacity further and help us achieve the growth trajectory we are looking to chart out, going ahead.” Deviating from his ancestral business of textile trading, Agarwal had decided to serve the farming community, as he entered trading (distribution) in fertilisers in 1968, after graduating from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. He got into pesticides trading in 1974 and finally into manufacturing in 1980, by buying out a sick unit in Gurgaon.
Value-driven ethical business
Over the years, despite all sorts of regulatory hurdles and restrictions and amidst the inherent uncertainties prevailing in the agriculture sector, he has continued to build up the organisation. DAL has, under his dynamic stewardship, attained a distinguished place in the agro-chemical industry, with its annual revenue crossing Rs1,000 crore in 2018-19. The company, synonymous with value-driven ethical business, has been bestowed numerous awards and recognitions for its pioneering efforts in the field of crop protection.
Rahul: expanding market reach
Agarwal (former chairman, Crop Care Federation of India, the apex chamber of all Indian agrochemical majors, as also chairman, FICCI Sub-Committee on Crop Protection Chemicals) firmly believes that farmers have to be provided with the right kind of products and technologies as they are desperately looking to improve their income from farming. According to him, unless all the stakeholders align themselves with the Prime Minister’s vision of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022 and working in a cohesive manner, it would be difficult to keep farmers interested in farming activities and ensure food security for the growing population.
India is projected to become the most populous country in the world, with a population of nearly 1.7 billion, by 2050. In order to feed this population, it is likely to need in excess of 320 million tonnes of food grains, as against the current 295 million tonnes. While there is not much scope of increasing the land under cultivation (which hovers at about 140 million hectares now), there is definitely huge scope for increasing productivity, which is currently significantly low. And, for achieving that goal, a concerted policy framework coupled with a well-formulated action plan is called for.
Experts feel that adopting technology and following integrated farm management practices are vital to the augmentation of the country’s crop productivity. Serious attention has also to be paid to making farm inputs like seeds, fertilisers, agro-chemicals (such as pesticides) and other ingredients adequately available.
On the farm input side, agro-chemicals used for crop protection are a critical ingredient, because Indian agriculture production suffers hugely on account of lack of adequate availability of a crop protection mechanism. In fact, despite being one of the largest agro-economies in the world, the per capita consumption of pesticides is abysmally low in India, at about 650 gm, as against China’s 13 kg and the US’s seven kg. According to one estimate, in India only 30 per cent of farmers have access to pesticides and other agrochemicals to protect their farm produce from insects and other pests. In other words, only about 30 per cent of India’s agriculture land is protected against pest attacks.
“The role of pesticides in augmenting agricultural output has been well perceived and these have been considered as essential inputs in agricultural production,” remarks Vijay Sardana, agriculture economist & food chain specialist. “Considering the significantly low consumption of these crop protection chemicals in India, where agriculture is such an imperative portion of the economy, there is undoubtedly huge scope for increasing the consumption, to achieve which all stakeholders will have to work in a cohesive manner. But how we make these agrochemicals and then how judiciously use them (as they pose potential risks to the ecosystem in general and human beings in particular) will be critical.”
Realising the significance of pesticides in crop protection and augmenting their consumption to ensure food safety and security, the Union government recently decided to revamp the existing age-old regime. After the approval of the Union cabinet earlier this year, the government is in the process of replacing the age-old Insecticides Act 1968 (which governs the registration, manufacture, export, sale and use of pesticides) with new and more contemporary rules and regulations. It has come up with a new Pesticides Management Bill 2020 (PMB) and is now seeking its passage in Parliament, even as the domestic industry has urged the government to look into some of the issues that have not been addressed in the draft bill, which is aimed at creating a robust regime for the industry.
Harsh: creating relationships
“No doubt, the government, by coming up with this draft bill has validated the significance of the agro-chemical sector which, due to multiple challenges and inherent limitations, has fallen considerably short of exploring its true potential,” says Salil Singhal, an industry veteran & chairman emeritus, PI Industries, a major player in the domestic agrochemicals sector. “There are certain important issues that need to be addressed, or else the whole purpose of this new bill will be defeated. One of them is the flawed registration process for pesticides, which needs to be fully revamped to cater to the contemporary demand of farmers and our agriculture economy.”
Due to the lacunae existing in the current registration system, only a few pesticide molecules/products (292, as against 1,175 pesticide molecules available globally) are registered for use in India. Experts are of the view that the whole process of registration is quite cumbersome and, hence, farmers have access to only a limited portfolio of products and technologies, even as they struggle to cope with growing pest attacks. Since the registration process is not transparent and time-bound, it takes a lot of time for any new molecules to come to the market, thus depriving farmers of access to new products and solutions.
“Despite being a crucial input provider to the agriculture sector, the domestic pesticide/agrochemical business has not progressed the way it should have,” argues Dhanuka, who is the younger brother of DAL chief Agarwal. “However, lately, the government has shown serious intent to address these issues that have bogged down the industry. With these initiatives in place, we see massive opportunities emerging in the country’s agrochemical business. As a company, we are prepared to tap these avenues and build a much stronger entity that can be banked upon for seeking holistic crop protection solutions.”
The company continues its strong legacy of providing world-class crop solutions, best-in-class digital innovations and superior supply chain management. It has been in the forefront of offering innovative solutions for crop protection and has taken a collaboration route which has helped the company significantly in expanding its business in the crop protection agrochemical sector. With this approach, DAL, whose strength primarily lies in manufacturing formulations, has managed to remain asset-light – something that has enabled it to put more resources into expanding its reach to a wider geography and a larger population of the Indian farming community, which continues to lag considerably behind in terms of adopting crop protection solutions.
The collaborations and tie-ups have also helped the company build a strong and well-diversified product portfolio across the crop protection value chain, since developing these molecules and products is a time-consuming (in excess of 10 years) as also resource-draining process. With this strategy, the company has been able to pursue its vision of providing world class crop protection solutions to Indian farmers. Most importantly, this has also helped the company in a big way to not only stay afloat in the MNC-dominated domestic agrochemicals market but also grow its presence with its cost-effective manufacturing as also strong distribution and reach.
The company has collaborated with the best of technology providers in the world to bring world class technical solutions to Indian farmlands. DAL has technical collaborations with Japanese, American and European corporations that help it to introduce new chemistry on a consistent basis. In fact, though the company started its manufacturing way back in 1980 with the acquisition of a sick unit, its real growth journey began in 1992, when it joined hands with DuPont, USA (enabling DuPont to enter the Indian pesticide market with this foray) and introduced a formulation called Dunet (Methomyl: 40 per cent), which is an insecticide used to curb American Bollworm attacks in multiple crops like cotton and pulses.
Our quality and approach have generated massive response among farmers, who have always reposed their trust in us and encouraged us to serve them well
Dunet was a major hit in the Indian market, where Indian farmers were struggling to save their crops from the havoc of this pest. In fact, in places like Gulbarga in Karnataka, police had to be called to handle farmers who were jostling to get this product from retailers. In just five years, Dunet sales grew from nil to over one million litres per annum. In 1997, though DuPont decided to go solo, it continued to get the product made at DAL’s facility for the initial three years and even got it co-marketed with its erstwhile partner.
“We have always believed in creating long-term relationships with our partners and that has helped us immensely in developing this ecosystem of ours and creating a niche for ourselves in the market,” says Harsh Dhanuka, 36, director, DAL. “Global innovators and leaders in the field of crop protection have always looked at us as a reliable partner who can deliver their vision and expectations in the Indian market. Our ultimate goal has been to serve the Indian farming community with the latest technology and products and these partnerships have played a major role.” Dhanuka’s son, Harsh, who was inducted into the board of the company in May 2019, is responsible for all international relationships and acquiring new patented products and technologies for the benefit of Indian farmers.
In 1997, when DuPont decided to go on its own, DAL entered into a tie-up with Sumitomo Chemical Co, Japan, with which it has products like Caldan 4G and Caldan SP, as also Seathmar. In 2000, it tied up with another Japanese giant, Hokko Chemical Industry Co and offered products like Kasu B and Conica (a money-spinner). This was followed by partnerships with Nissan Chemical Industries, Japan, in 2001 (for Targa Super, Sempra, Sakura and Chempa).
Growth of herbicides
The company continued its collaboration spree and joined hands with FMC Corporation, USA in 2004 (for products like Aaatank, Nabood and Cover); Otsuka Chemical, Japan and DOW Agro-sciences, USA in 2008; and Oro Agri, USA in 2011 (for Wetcit and Suelo). The process continued, while the company joined the Rs500-crore club in 2012. At present, DAL has collaborative arrangements with five Japanese majors, two US giants and one European major, and is committed to introduce new products/formulations in the Indian market.
Though, DAL has a presence across the entire gamut of crop protection agrochemicals – insecticides (45 per cent), herbicide (30 per cent), fungicides (14 per cent) and plant growth regulators (11 per cent) - it is increasing its presence in the fast-growing herbicide segment, which presents a huge opportunity in a country like India where the labour cost is on the rise.
The company encourages innovation and digitally-enabled practices
The Indian market largely comprises of insecticides, which cover 60 per cent of the overall demand, followed by fungicides (18 per cent), herbicides (16 per cent) and other categories (6 per cent). Herbicides as a segment have grown steadily in recent years, with changing weather conditions (warmer), rising labour costs and increasing cultivation of rice, soybean and wheat crops. Fungicide has grown relatively slower, with increasing cropping areas of rice, fruits and vegetables. Bio-pesticides have not seen significant growth yet, but their usage is likely to accelerate over the longer run, as environmental awareness grows and farmers cut down on the usage of chemical-based pesticides.
While the company has a well-diversified portfolio of products, it has established one of the strongest distribution networks, on a pan-India basis. Besides, apart from over 1,000 techno-commercial employees, it has created a field staff of 1,500 graduates and post-graduates (called Dhanuka doctors) who travel across villages and meet farmers and apprise them on new farming practices and various crop protection solutions and tools.
“At DAL, we encourage innovation and digitally-enabled practices for improving farm productivity,” says Dhanuka. “Our best-in-class platform helps in reducing inventory loss, smooths fund transfers and matches demand and supply effectively, which immensely benefits the entire value chain. Automated order processing and robust digital infrastructure ensure the timely delivery of crop solutions to our end customers. We consciously make efforts to ensure farmers are prudent and punctual in using our solutions so that they benefit monetarily from higher yields.”
During the ongoing pandemic also, the company has managed to keep its momentum intact as the demand for its product was quite high in the wake of the good monsoon season. As agro-chemical products were notified under the ‘essential’ category, the company closely engaged with suppliers, vendors and distributors to ensure that farmers got their inputs on time.
“The role of agriculture is crucial to recover from the Covid-19 crisis, and shape the country's economy,” says Rahul Dhanuka, 45, director, marketing, DAL. “The crisis has proven that digital innovation and technology-driven infrastructure is the future for agriculture. Technology-infused supply chain management and other value chains will create a new integrated service system for the pre- and post-harvest industry. Commercialising and incentivising these innovations to boost conventional business should be our top priority. We are expanding our reach through digital mediums and well-equipped experiential science. We are exploring vital business operations to serve our channels and customers through technically-integrated crop management.”
The landscape of agrochemicals is changing. As per an estimate, products worth $4.2 billion are expected to go off-patent during 2020-23. Globally, innovators command close to 70 per cent share in the crop protection market while their main market consists of generics.
Despite being a crucial input provider to the agriculture sector, the domestic pesticide/agrochemical business has not progressed the way it should have
Within the off-patent market, the share of patent products is 20 per cent, while generic companies hold the rest. Out of the generic crop-protection market, about 25 per cent is controlled by innovators. This means there are opportunities for generic companies to garner market share from innovators given their inherent advantages such as low prices and costs, and larger distribution networks.
Indian companies are expanding their distribution networks, creating brands, innovating process technology for post-patent molecules, developing a better product mix (more combination of products, eco-friendly formulations), becoming aggressive about registering post-patent products, and developing relationship with distributors to push volumes at more competitive prices than innovators. Indian farmers are more sensitive towards prices than those in other countries. Therefore, lower-price products offered by generic companies like DAL, with a wide distribution network, are favourably placed.
DAL has created an inherent advantage for itself and is currently well positioned to commence its next growth phase which is expected to be robust in nature since many changes are sweeping across the agriculture value chain. The government has belatedly realised that it cannot afford to allow the agriculture sector to lose its sheen, which it gained after the Green Revolution. There are concerted efforts now to improve the income of farmers, something which has dwindled in the last couple of decades. All this will have a positive bearing on the agriculture sector, resulting in improvement in the consumption of crucial inputs like agro-chemicals.
The government is now also looking to revamp the entire ecosystem of the existing agrochemical space by replacing the present regulatory framework with a new one which promises to be more robust in nature. With all these changes on the cards, DAL is well placed to explore the market in an effective manner. Working with a large group of global innovators and leaders has already helped it immensely in setting up a strong organisation and now, as new opportunities emerge, DAL, with a strong reach and presence across geography, is likely to call the shots.
We are expanding our reach through digital mediums and well-equipped experiential science. We are exploring vital business operations to serve our channels and customers through technically-integrated crop management
In line with its endeavour to serve the market with new products and new technologies, the company has launched more than seven products in the last 12-16 months. It is enhancing its presence in biological products as well and Mycore, one such product launched recently, increases the surface area of roots and facilitates increased absorption of soil nutrients and water. Mycore has huge opportunity in multiple crops including cereal crops and vegetables.
Zapac is a systemic and contact insecticide formulated by mixing two trusted molecules. It gives long-lasting and effective protection against a broad range of pests. It has a better rain fastness and gives lush green leaves. Zapac benefits more branches and flower initiation. Largo belongs to the Spinosyn class of the insect management tool, which is naturalist in origin. It provides broad-spectrum insect control like Thrips and Lepidopteran, with excellent residual activity on a variety of crops.
Another new product (Pyrazosulfuron-Ethyl 70 per cent WDG), under the brand name Chempa, is a broad-spectrum herbicide for paddy, which effectively controls major broadleaf weeds, sedges and grassy weeds. Apply (Pymetrozine 50 per cent WG) has the best-known chemistry for effective control on BPH. It is a systemic and trans-laminar insecticide, which paralysis hoppers, stops egg-laying and kills insects through starvation.
Besides, DAL has re-launched Pro-rin, a broad-spectrum insecticide as also Prodhan, another broad-spectrum insecticide, which is used to control bollworms, jassids, aphid, thrips and white flies in cotton.
Dhanuka provides holistic crop protection solutions
The journey continues
The genesis of DAL goes back to 1968, when RG Agarwal, the company’s present chairman, having graduated from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University, decided to do something different from his ancestral business of trading in textiles, since he felt that the textile business was gradually declining. Also, he was not interested in getting into a business where there was always scope for incurring bad debt.
The ancestral family belonged to the small town of Ratangarh in the Churu district of Rajasthan. During the 1920s, the arid state had been frequently hit by drought, which made the family decide to shift to Delhi in search for better opportunities. The family’s expertise was in the cloth business and they set up their shop at Katra Nawab in Chandini Chowk. Over the years, the business flourished due to their commitment and the trade trusted the family’s hundi more than that of banks. However, by the early 1960s, the business was showing signs of gradual decline and suffering from bad debts.
Agarwal discussed his career choice of starting up a trading business in fertilisers (which was in short supply in many parts of the country) with his father, who was kind enough to help him pursue his dreams. In 1968, he started supplying fertilisers from northern states like Punjab, Haryana and UP to southern states, particularly AP, where fertilisers were in short supply. It was a commission business and hardly any investment was required. All the more so, as it was a cash business, where the risk was minimal. The business flourished by leaps and bounds till 1974, when the inter-state movement of fertilisers was restricted. By then, his younger brother, MK Dhanuka, had graduated and also joined the business.
Both brothers looked for some alternative avenues and decided to get into trading in pesticides, which were in short supply and, more importantly, would sell for cash. The Dhanuka brothers opened a small office at Begum Bazar in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. They worked hard to set up this business and created a distinct identity in the market. The pesticide trading business flourished. In fact, the demand was so high that they found it hard to fulfil orders received from distributers in South India. These pesticides were sourced from multiple units (like Motilal Pesticides, Jay Chemicals and RP Minerals) in north India.
With supply constraints persisting in pesticides, they saw an opportunity in manufacturing. They took over a sick pesticide unit in Gurgaon in 1980. The Gurgaon unit was set up in 1960 as a contract manufacturing unit by its former owner. Until its closure, it manufactured pesticides on contract for ICI in India. But, when these products were discontinued by the latter in 1977, it turned sick. At the time of acquisition, the unit had an annual turnover of Rs7 lakh and a licence to make four pesticide molecules.
In the first year of its operation, in 1981, they managed a turnover of Rs17 lakh. However, it was not a cakewalk for them, as in a market dominated by MNCs, it was a challenging task to convince dealers. But their perseverance and the quality of their products at prices lower than the MNCs finally prevailed and, in the next few years, they expanded the business into northern states like UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab as well.
The Dhanuka brothers opened a small office at Begum Bazar in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. They worked hard to set up this business and created a distinct identity in the market
As the business grew, in 1985, they incorporated a new entity, Dhanuka Pesticides and set up a plant at Sohna, Haryana for making synthetic pyrethroids, which are used against American bollworm, a pest that infests cotton, vegetable and paddy crops. The product was a major success and the company decided to enter the capital market by offering 6,00,000 equity shares in 1986.
While the company continued to improve its market presence, the major turnaround came in 1992, when DuPont decided to enter the Indian market, which was opening up for foreign companies. The US major joined hands with Dhanuka and introduced a formulation called Dunet, an insecticide used to curb American bollworm attacks on crops like cotton and pulses. Dunet, which was more effective than synthetic pyrethroids, soon became a big hit in the Indian market.
In 2002, DAL set up its Sanand Unit (the second largest granule and dusting powder facility), followed by a modern manufacturing unit at Udhampur, J&K, in 2007, when Northern Minerals was merged with Dhanuka Pesticide under the new entity, Dhanuka Agritech Ltd.
By 2009-10, the company reported revenues of Rs407 crore, and was gaining a fair deal of traction. India 2020 Ltd, a $125-million mid-market fund managed by Lighthouse Funds, picked up 8.25 per cent stake in the company for Rs33.9 crore. In the next few years, it continued to build its presence in the market. In 2013, it was recognised by Inc India 500 for a second consecutive year as one of India’s fastest growing mid-sized companies. In 2012-13, its revenue grew to Rs589 crore – up from Rs539 crore in the previous year. In the next few years, the company saw an impressive growth due to good monsoons as its revenue touched Rs829 crore in 2015-16, even though in the following few years (till the last fiscal year), it couldn’t keep up the momentum due to the weak and erratic monsoons.
During 2020-21, the company is expected to turn things around as good monsoons have favourably impacted the outlook. Moreover, the macro-economic scenario is also looking up, with major changes sweeping across the entire agriculture economy of the country, which is all set to commence its next growth phase.