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.
To Tomar, with his roots laid firmly in the agro-business, being a farmer in India is as tough as it gets.
“India is an agrarian country with around 70 per cent of its people dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture. If this population, which is directly dependent on agriculture, is not being rewarded or is not the main engine of the economic activity, then it negatively impacts that section of society,” said Tomar in an interview to Gulf News.
“My father was a farmer in the rural part of Uttar Pradesh in a district called Hardoi. It is about 100 km 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 vivid in my memory,” he said.
“But farming is very tough. For example, there are a number of reasons for farmer suicides in India including floods, drought, debt, among others. My father too gave his land as 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 his life course, his profession and trained to be a police officer. This ensured a steady income to flow in our house every month”, Tomar reminisced.
“Unlike other countries in India, food is a socio - political - economic commodity and while consumers have a right to affordable food prices, the farmer, who is the strongest link in the food supply system is sadly also the poorest”, he said.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, farmers’ suicides in the country account to 11.2 per cent of all suicides. During 2018, there were more than 60,000 suicides in the Indian state of Maharashtra, with an average of 10 suicide deaths reported every day.
For Tomar, the times he spent with his father visiting the farms laid the foundation for his career and life choice.
“I refer to my early days of childhood as nomadic. I would travel places with my father, learning about farming and agriculture. Besides the knowledge I gained from these experiences gave me a lot of confidence and need to be independent. It also helped me connect with people of 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 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 where it matters. 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 the 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 with whom I have my roots and foundation,” said Tomar.
Hakan Agro DMCC is a specialist globalised supply chain manager with a key focus on vegetable protein segments such as pulses, animal proteins, grains, spices among others. The company exports over five million tonnes of food commodities valued around US$2 billion or Dh7.3 billion from 55 countries to over 1000 customers in over 100 destination countries.
As for Tomar’s personal achievements, there are quite a few. He 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 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 in business management, it was a summer training with Aditya Birla Group that changed his life forever.
“I was a management trainee and only 21 years old. It was the peak of summer and I was given a project which 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 central and western part of Uttar Pradesh. This was a turning point in my life”, Tomar explained.
“My research was good, what with the limited resources in hand. I managed to highlight discrepancies in the company records and this clinched my 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 which my father taught me as a child was - 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 this 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 relevant skills, you are a successful person. I would like to add to that by saying 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 about creating the right infrastructure, the right platform for companies like us, as a company we have been able to grow our brand and reach out to several people, thanks to our association with DMCC.”
Getting the right education
“I get asked this question many times. How did a farmer’s son become educated? For this I have to thank my father for he 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 parent does. And that is what he did. My father had a habit of reading. He was a voracious reader in fact and liked to travel. I picked these two qualities from him”, he said
“We are four children 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 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. Neither is it a high margin high-profit rearing business. But it is scalable and it is what I call price inelastic. So 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 these 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
From 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 (GoI) through Consulate General of India (CGI) and DMCC. It is a non-profit industry, an enabler to promote bilateral agricultural trade and investment between UAE and India.
“India is the UAE’s second largest trade partner after China. With the strategic economic and cultural interests of two great nations aligned I have no doubt that the current value of $60 billion trade between the two countries could reach $100 billion the next five years. In November 2019, IMEA-TIIF, on the invitation of the Government of India, will lead a trade delegation to New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh,” he continued.
Tomar is also a board member with the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC), previously known as International Pulses Trade & Industry Confederation (CICILS-IPTIC).
“The non-profit confederation established in 1963 in France is now hosted and head quartered at DMCC since 2009. The confederation promotes production, consumption, awareness and trade of super foods and pulses. GPC represents 26 national associations, thousands of corporates engaged in pulses trade in over 50 countries and over half a billion farmers producing over 70 million tons in 90 countries valued at US$ 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 slowing seeing some changes in India,” he added.
Tomar said that since 2000, the Indian government has been rural farm and agriculture-centric.
“When I have the privilege to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I always 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 the economic activity. [I] am glad some of my recommendations is being considered,” he added.
“In fact the latest budget announcement by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman saw a budgetary push for agriculture infrastructure and the support of private entrepreneurship for value addition in farm sector is a game changer. This will bring the 68 per cent population I have been talking about into main stream economic activity.
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 farmer income by 10 times so that he becomes a material contributor to the engine of the national economy," Tomar said
Tomar reiterated at the end of it all, "The mismatch between what a farmer gets versus what a consumer pays at the retail level is not sustainable and cannot continue forever."