It was an ironic coincidence that I enjoyed Ang Lee’s beautiful Life of Pi in the theatre just around the time I was gathering my thoughts to write about PI Industries. Ironic because while the film and the book it is based on are well known, this PI is in a relatively unknown business of manufacturing “productivity-enhancing agri-inputs”. Sounds complicated? In plain English, that’s agrochemicals, plant nutrients, speciality fertilisers and hybrid seeds. And while it’s true that PI Industries may sound obscure, it has been around for over 50 years, first as a pioneer and now as the largest seller of granular formulations and generic molecules. such as profenofos and ethion. That’s precious gibberish — in fact, millions of farmers turn to PI when they want to get rid of weeds, insects and fungi, or harvest a more abundant crop.
Agriculture is a pivotal sector: it ensures food security, alleviates poverty, generates employment and sustains development. Another stat we all learnt in high school and still remains true: 70% of India’s population relies on agriculture for employment. More contemporarily, agriculture contributes 17% of the nation’s GDP. But India’s rapid urbanisation and decline in arable land feeds anxiety more than it does the ever-exploding population.
The sector faces enormous supply-side bottlenecks in India: the hinterland is beset with labour shortages (wages account for 50% of the total variable cost of production); yield is stagnating (average annual growth in yield has only been 1.2% from 2001 to 2011). Naturally, policy-makers are keen on raising the agricultural growth rate to more than 6% for the Plan period of 2012-17. How? Higher productivity is directly proportional to better agri-inputs, which shows PI in a whole