The Neem Project a Leadership case study
Laxmiben Vaghela, a woman from poverty line background is a villager from Gujarat, India. Educated only till standard VIII, Laxmiben used to sometimes work on an ad-hoc basis depending on the financial need at home. "While some months are comfortable, we have also seen some very lean times." This she says is now a thing of the past. She now speaks in confidence and with high social esteem. Laxmi can afford to educate her kids in a private school and fulfill her aspirations.
Today Laxmiben holds a day job as a skilled Neem soap manufacturer and this has opened opportunities for more women like her, in hundreds of villages around Gujarat.
This is social engineering at its best with an ecological benefit to boot. How did this happen?
I was stirred as I witnessed a superlative socio-economic project implemented by the Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals Ltd., (GNFC), Government of Gujarat. The MD of GNFC Dr. Rajiv Kumar Gupta, IAS shared on his experiences recently at the Global IOD Convention on Performance Excellence through Disruptive Innovation & Visionary Leadership, held at Dubai.
This initiative is called “The Neem Project” in response to fulfill a historic policy mandate by the Honorable Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi during his speech on the 69th Independence Day celebration in Delhi. As an NRI, I felt extremely proud at witnessing a Transformative Disruption that benefited the masses and came to meet with the action oriented Leader of GNFC who ably executed on the PM’s guiding Vision.
Farmers in India depend on the regular availability of Urea based fertilizers to aid crop growth. Over the years, Urea became to be known as a cheap alterative raw material for many other chemical applications. This caused a large scale and illegal diversion of Urea to other chemical factories, whilst being bought in the name of farmer quota’s. Even milk was found to be adulterated as urea was used to prepare synthetic Milk, which is harmful for consumption.
Farmers were distressed at limited supplies of fertilizers during season and this lead to higher imports of urea to increased fulfill increased demand from farm sector – which did not have the capacity to consume all this urea in the first place.
Guiding Vision from the PM of India
The Hon’ble PM Modi declared his vision of 100% Neem Coating of Urea, with a view to curtail the illegal diversion of the country’s most widely consumed fertilizer.
Once the Urea is Neem coated, it cannot be pilfered by middlemen for the benefit of the chemical manufacturers and adulterers. Farmland benefits from the nutritional application of Neem into the soil – so much so that farmers required 10% less Urea while the yields continued to grow.
Government of India made it mandatory for all indigenous producers of urea to produce 100% of their total production of subsidized urea and imported urea with Neem coating urea and GNFC spearheaded the Neem Project in 2015.
How is Neem beneficial?
In the Arab Gulf, we see locals & Asians chewing on Neem twigs – this provides an immense dental benefit & prevents buildup of plaque. Herbal dental twigs are now sold in supermarkets too.
The scientific term for Neem is Azadirachta indica, a tree noted for its drought resistance. Neem tree products have been used in India for over 2000 years in medicinal applications and is known as ‘Mother Nature’s Drug store’. Neem products have antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, properties. Neem is a key ingredient for pest control in farm applications and provides a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides.
Strategy for the guiding Vision
GNFC defined the strategy elements to achieve the vision in full earnest as herein:
1 To source the raw material from local resources
2 To strengthen village level societies for acting as collection centers of Neem seeds
3 To supplement income of rural poor especially women by way of Neem seed collection
4 To promote the usage of Organic fertilizer (Neem coated urea)
5 To encourage people to protect, nourish and plant Neem trees
6 To plant One Million Neem trees till 2020 and drive awareness about environmental protection
Execution of strategy
The entire project was planned by the Leadership team with inputs from stakeholders. The communications were detailed out across various fora and a specialist website built to disseminate information.
Trainers went out to educate landless laborers and womenfolk across rural areas in Gujarat. The political establishment was enlisted into cause and local leaders endorsed the messaging across constituents.
Women self-help groups were contacted/supported for awareness building. A commercial model was worked out that enabled economic empowerment of village women as they went about with Neem seeds collection.
Village level collection centers were organized and several Service provider partners enlisted to aggregate collection of seeds from villages.
Training was provided to Service partners for processing of seeds and extraction of Neem oil could be done efficiently.
In continuing with its focus to generate empowerment for the rural poor - especially women - GNFC has trained women volunteers from villages peripheral to its Bharuch plant, in Neem soap manufacturing.
Farming Celebration events were organized to spread the eco and enviro benefits of Neem farming.
Socio economic benefits
The Neem project has fueled the entrepreneurial spirit of thousands in Gujarat.
Maltiben a mid-age woman from Gandhinagar District, Gujarat has been on the forefront of leading initiatives for women in her village. When the Neem project was announced, and explained to her and other women in the village they decided instantly that this was a project that they wanted to be involved in.
Farmers across the country saved on the cost of fertilizer and the Govt. import bill came down by USD 1 Billion.
This created direct and indirect employment for 100,000 rural women in Gujarat alone and is growing across other states.
Neem coated urea is helpful in reducing pollution of water, soil & air. By the balanced use of fertilizers with Neem, soil health is sustained over a longer period.
Consumption of Neem coated urea saves about 15% of its usage as compared to standard available urea.
While many companies strive in their own way for CSR and sustainability initiatives, the power of a PSU can be ably deployed by the Govt to the benefit of the society, economy and environment.
The excellent leadership exhibited by PM Modi and Dr. Rajiv Gupta IAS, MD of GNFC is testament to the fact that Leadership can ultimately bless the country with a sustainable growth environs for all constituents.
In your opinion, what are the key leadership traits and behaviors exhibited by the leaders in this study?
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