Dubai: You reap what you sow, and in Sudhakar Tomar’s case, it seems this is literally the case.
The story of Tomar, 47, the son of a farmer from Hardoi in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is an inspirational one. Now a multi-millionaire entrepreneur in the food and agriculture business, his success story comes straight out of the UAE.
For even someone like Tomar who has his roots laid firmly in the agro-business, being a farmer in India is as tough as it can get.
“India is an agrarian country with around 70 per cent of its population dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture. If this population, which is dependent on agriculture, is not rewarded or is not the main engine of the economic activity, then it negatively impacts society,” said Tomar in an interview with Gulf News.
“My father was a farmer in the rural part of Uttar Pradesh in a district called Hardoi. It is about 100km away from the city of Lucknow. When I was a child, I would go with my father to the farms and see him toil for a living. The picture of him in the farm is still vivid in my memory,” he said.
“But farming is very tough. For example, there are a number of reasons behind farmer suicides in India, including floods, drought, debt. My father, too, mortgaged his land for a loan, but he was struggling to repay it. My mother and older siblings would lend a support, but that was not enough. Thankfully, my father had the mental strength to get out of his miserable situation. He changed the course of his life, his profession and trained to be a police officer. This ensured a steady income for the household every month”, Tomar reminisced.
“Unlike many other countries, in India, food is a socio-political and economic commodity and while consumers have a right to affordable food, the farmer, who is the strongest link in the food supply chain, is sadly the poorest”, he said.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, farmer suicides in the country account for 11.2 per cent of all suicides. During 2018, there were more than 60,000 suicides in the Indian state of Maharashtra alone, with an average of ten suicide deaths reported every day.
For Tomar, the time he spent with his father, visiting the farms, laid the foundation for his career and life choice. “I still remember my early days of childhood as a nomad. I would travel places with my father, learning about farming and agriculture. Besides, the knowledge I gained from those experiences gave me a lot of confidence and made me realise the importance of being independent in life. It also helped me connect with people from different walks of life, understand their needs and this empowered me to have the will to survive”, he told Gulf News.
Tomar has come a long way since then and today it is a completely different story for this agrarian entrepreneur.
At the helm of a successful agricultural and food commodities supply chain company based in Dubai - Hakan Agro DMCC - Tomar is making a difference to the business. As co-founder and managing director of the company, he is very much influencing how to design the food supply chain in such a way that end-user benefits, and more importantly, the source of it all – the farmer – does not lose his profit and money.
“It is my way of giving back to a section of society where I have my roots and foundation,” said Tomar.
Hakan Agro DMCC is a specialist globalised supply chain manager with a focus on vegetable protein segments such as pulses, animal proteins, grains, spices among others. The company exports more than five million tonnes of food commodities valued around $2 billion or Dh7.3 billion from 55 countries to more than 1,000 customers in over 100 countries.
Tomar has been featured in the Forbes 'Top 100 Indian Leaders Making An Impact In The Middle East' every year since 2016. In 2019, he was ranked 47 on the Forbes list, which was earlier called the 'Top 100 Indian leaders in the Arab World'. Tomar also bagged the Business Leader of the Year Award in 2016 from Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC).
A life-changing summer
A graduate in geology, plant sciences and a master’s degree-holder in business management, it was a summer training with the Aditya Birla Group that changed Tomar's life forever. “I was a management trainee and only 21 years old. It was the peak of summer and I was given a project that required me to visit 25 districts in Uttar Pradesh. My job was to visit each of these districts and file a report on the company’s inventory and transaction records. These districts or cities were in the central and western parts of Uttar Pradesh. That was the turning point in my life”, Tomar revealed.
“My research was good, in spite of the limited resources at hand. I managed to highlight discrepancies in the company records and this helped me clinch a job with the company. I was given a permanent job with the Aditya Birla Group, one of the best and biggest brands of India. My excitement knew no bounds,” said Tomar.
In 1995, Tomar was asked by his company to open a branch in Dubai.
The rest is history as they say.
In 1997, Tomar joined a couple of his close friends from the industry and together they decided to venture on their own and start their own company. And so Hakan Agro DMCC was born. “It has been a very successful ride so far. Two value systems that my father taught me as a child were - have an entrepreneurial mindset with large doses of compassion, and put your best efforts in whatever you do. I have tried to live up to these as much as I could,” said the creative entrepreneur.
“I have a friend who always told me that success is when opportunity meets preparation. If you keep yourself updated on the latest trends happening in the industry and you have the relevant skills, you are a successful person. I would like to add to that by saying that unless you capitalise on the first opportunity given to you, you will not succeed,” he added.
Tomar said he learnt from his father that fancy education, degrees or colleges don’t define who you are as a person. “As long as you have the will to succeed and try something new and creative every time, you will be a winner”, he said.
Tomar said he could not have reached this far without the support of DMCC and its vision. “DMCC is the perfect host and master-developer. Whether it is creating the right infrastructure or the right platform for companies like us, we have been able to grow our brand and reach out to several people becasue of our association with DMCC.”
Getting the right education
“I have been asked this question many times, that how did a farmer’s son become so educated? For this, I have to thank my father for it was he who inspired me to study. My father was a man of limited means, but he always carried a vision to see his children educated in the best possible manner, like any other parent. And that is what he did. My father had a habit of reading. He was a voracious reader and he liked to travel. I have picked up those two qualities from him”, he said.
“We are four siblings in all, two elder sisters and one younger brother. When I was in college, I was living in a joint family with my uncle’s children and so I always say that I have three brothers and six sisters. Growing up in a family with six strong-willed women, I have, as part of my education, learnt to respect and fear women!” Tomar said.
The business of food
About the food and grain industry, Tomar said: “The food business is recession-resilient. It is not a high-margin, high-profit business, but it is scalable and it is what I call a price-inelastic business. For example, today, if food prices drop, people are not going to eat more. One of the famous things I say is that when people are happy they eat chocolate, when they are sad, they eat sugar. So the need for food always remains.”
But Hakan Agro DMCC as a company is trying to keep the food system and supply chain in place.
“We have gone as deep as doing farming and growing food produce ourselves. For example, in some countries, we do farming ourselves, like in Canada where we have farmers who grow pulses for us. We process those pulses, put them in containers and transport them in ships to various countries," he added.
What do you want to do for farmers?
“I try and do as much as I can,” Tomar said, when asked about what he would like to do for the farming community. Since 2017, Tomar is leading a non-profit initiative, ‘India Middle East Agro Trade Industry & Investment Forum (IMEA-TIIF)'. “Following the visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to UAE, the IMEA-TIIF was established," he added.
The IMEA-TIIF is supported by the Government of India through Consulate General of India and DMCC. It is a non-profit unit, an enabler to promote bilateral agricultural trade and investment between the UAE and India.
“India is the UAE’s second-largest trade partner after China. With the strategic economic and cultural interests of the two great nations aligned, I have no doubt that the current value of $60 billion trade between the two countries could reach $100 billion in the next five years. In November 2019, IMEA-TIIF, on an invitation from the Government of India, led a trade delegation to New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh,” he added.
Tomar is also a board member with the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC), previously known as International Pulses Trade & Industry Confederation (CICILS-IPTIC). “The non-profit confederation established in 1963 in France has been headquartered in DMCC since 2009. The confederation promotes production, consumption, awareness and trade of super foods and pulses. GPC represents 26 national associations, thousands of corporates engaged in pulses trade in more than 50 countries and over half a billion farmers producing more than 70 million tonnes in 90 countries valued at $100 billion", he said.
“My dream is to one day see the farmer happy and richer than what he is today. He must be devoid of debt and be able to educate his children just like my father did. I am happy that we are slowly seeing some changes in India,” he added.
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“Whenever I have the privilege to meet Prime Minister Modi, I reiterate that India cannot progress if 68 per cent of its population, which is directly dependent on agriculture, is not being rewarded or is not the main engine of economic activity. [I] am glad some of my recommendations are being considered,” he added. "The farmer needs to be rewarded with ‘economically equitable’ returns. Agriculture in India is a very high-risk business. I personally aspire and dream to increase the farmers' income ten times so that they can become material contributors to the national economy," Tomar said.
Tomar concluded: "The mismatch between what a farmer receives versus what a consumer pays at the retail level is not sustainable and cannot continue forever."