Indian agri-biotech sector holds more potential in future: ABF Founder

Pakki Reddy Giddaluri

Pakki Reddy Giddaluri


After associating with World Trade Center Shamshabad and Federation of Asian Biotech Associations (FABA), the Agri Biotech Foundation looks forward to more such collaborations

With a mission to promote agri-biotech research, Pakki Reddy Giddaluri established Agri Biotech Foundation (ABF), an autonomous academic institute engaged in research, extension, human resource development and public engagement, in the campus of Professor Jaya Shankar Telangana State Agricultural University, Rajendranagar, Hyderabad in 2007.

The ABF is recognised by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Department of Science & Technology, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and others. In an exclusive interview, Pakki Reddy, Founder, ABF, spoke about the challenges and opportunities in the agri-biotech field.

What were the main achievements of ABF during your tenure as the Director?

I have a personal anecdote about the ABF. While working as a professor at the Institute of Public Enterprise, I had the opportunity to provide consultancy services to an NGO in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1991. After completing the work with that consultancy, the Dutch government approached me to lead a long-term project on agricultural biotechnology.

Although I was a social scientist with roots in agriculture and rural development, they had chosen me precisely for the AP Netherland Biotech Program in 1993 because I wasn’t a biotechnologist who would compete for biotechnology funding. My role was to coordinate research projects with specialised institutions.

We have collaborated with organisations such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Directorate of Oil Seeds Research, Directorate of Sorghum, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Central Institute for Groundnut Research and several universities. Through this collaboration, we established around 100 projects based on the felt needs of local farmers. We ensured constant interaction between scientists and farmers, leading to tangible results. Our programme received evaluations and recommendations, including one from Dr Gurudeva Khush, the World Food Prize winner. Based on his recommendations, we approached the Agriculture University for a piece of land and with the support of the Dutch government, we started the ABF.

It was formed as a self-financing organisation. We generated our resources and approached various institutions and government bodies for funding and collaboration. Over the past 16 years, we have had a dedicated committee and team working with commitment and dedication. This journey encompasses my involvement in the biotechnology programme for nearly 30 years.

I would also like to mention an additional point. When the State was divided, the Andhra government suggested replicating institutions from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. We were among the few institutions invited to establish similar organisations in Andhra Pradesh. The State government invited us to set up a second campus in Anantapur.

Along with the AP government, the Vice Chancellor of ANGRAU (Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University) has provided us land of five acres and funding of Rs 4 crore. This second campus primarily focuses on production, training and extension activities. So, we also have a second campus in Anantapur.

How are you able to run this not-for-profit organisation successfully? Would you like to give any suggestions to other non-government organisations (NGOs)?

The key factors for sustaining an NGO are having committed individuals dedicated to the public cause, a clear organisational vision and effective leadership skills. The success of such an organisation depends on the ability to coordinate between funding agencies and the intended beneficiaries, ensuring transparent and legitimate use of resources.

Efficient financial management is also crucial for the success of an NGO as mismanagement can lead to problems. Attracting and retaining personnel who are motivated by more than just financial incentives is also important, as they contribute to the organisation’s efficiency and impact. Sacrifices, both personal and professional, are often made by leaders in this sector. Programme design that directly benefits stakeholders and a supportive team of like-minded individuals are additional factors contributing to an NGO’s success. However, challenges must be recognised, and the organisations shall continue to adapt and progress.

In the case of the ABF, having renowned scientists and visionaries in the decision-making process facilitated their work and created a bridge between the leadership and the dedicated team below. Despite being a relatively young organisation, with only 16 years of existence, they have achieved reasonable success.

We come to know that you have been running a school for underprivileged students. Could you throw some light on that as well?

My success can be attributed to my education. I come from a humble background, as my father was murdered when I was less than two years old, leaving us homeless. We faced extreme poverty, especially during the famines of the mid-1950s. In those difficult times, my teachers supported me by providing schooling, clothes, and books.

I used to serve them in return by performing various tasks like fetching water from wells. Despite my financial constraints, I excelled in my 10th-Class exams, thanks to the encouragement and support of my headmaster, village elders and community members, who collected donations to fund my education.

I received Rs 600, which I knew would only last for about six months to one year. At that point, someone suggested approaching a philanthropist named Muralidhar Reddy and his wife Radhamma in the neighbouring town of Bethamcherla. They became my benefactors and supported my education from that point forward.

Later, I received a fellowship during my M Phil studies. After securing a job, I had the opportunity to travel extensively, gaining valuable insights into education, development, and achieving progress. I owe my village a debt of gratitude for the initial support. The seed money that encouraged my higher education came from the small contributions from the villagers.

To repay my debt to them, I realised that instead of finding those individuals who helped me decades ago, it would be more meaningful to provide a good education to their future generations. This led me to invest my savings in setting up a school. Initially, I acquired only 1.5-acre land, but neighbouring farmers generously offered their 17-acre land for development.

I invested in building infrastructure and even took a loan to purchase a bus. We started gathering students from eight surrounding villages, including our village of Rangapuram, which acts as a gateway. These villages lacked proper infrastructure, roads, and quality educational facilities. Our aim was to reach out to the unreached and provide them with education.

Our school operates with three fundamental objectives: values, skills and ethics. We currently have around 400 students and approximately 16-17 teachers. Interestingly, we have an equal number of boys and girls, with many of them being selected for prestigious institutions like Gurukul schools and Navodaya schools. Some of our girls have even achieved top positions.

Last year, we established a science laboratory for skill-based learning with a generous donation of Rs 10 lakh from my friend Dr Nagaraj, an economics professor. Additionally, we created a meditation hall called the Dhyana Mandir, promoting spirituality. The science lab encourages students to explore their ideas using the latest science and technology.

As the academic year has just begun, we are working on setting up better networking facilities and improving internet connectivity, although it is not as strong as in cities. Last year, we introduced computer classes in our school, thanks to the generous donations of laptops and desktops from some friends.

Our goal is to bridge the urban-rural divide and ensure equal opportunities for all. Financial support is crucial for running an NGO, but it’s equally important to utilise the funds effectively. We are gradually expanding our resources and knowledge for the students, and we hope to continue making a positive impact. This is the essence of my story and my passion.

In your opinion, what are the current challenges and opportunities in the field of agricultural biotechnology?

Within the biotechnology sector, the pharmaceutical industry stands out as the most vibrant and prosperous. Investment opportunities are abundant, as evidenced by the success of vaccine producers. On the other hand, agricultural biotechnology poses more challenges with a lower success rate and limited options. However, the policy ecosystem has recently become more favourable, especially regarding gene editing technology, which is widely accepted and offers new opportunities in crop and animal improvement. India is actively participating in this field. Unlike the past dominance of global firms, the technology is now being developed in public sector institutions and startups.

This shift indicates a favourable landscape for biotechnology ownership and policy. India has liberalised its gene editing policy, demonstrating its capabilities and aiming to be at the forefront of agricultural biotechnology. Despite challenges, India is recognised globally for its talented workforce and skill sets.

The world is extending a warm welcome to Indian leaders, acknowledging the country’s potential in agriculture and biotechnology. Indian scientists can play a crucial role in shaping the future of the global market, alongside China. Therefore, Indian agriculture, particularly in biotechnology, holds significant potential in the coming years.

Could you tell us about the current trends in plant biotechnology workshop? How was your association with World Trade Center (WTC) Shamshabad?

It’s important to acknowledge the significant role philanthropy plays in making liberal contributions. Individuals like Nagaraj and several others have generously donated to support education, providing laptops, science labs, and more. Organisations like the WTC Shamshabad also made meaningful contributions such as sponsoring fellowships and supporting workshops.

Our recent workshop focused on the latest developments and opportunities in biotechnology and agriculture. Experts from the scientific community, seed industry, and policymaking shared their knowledge and provided hands-on experience. The programme consisted of 50 per cent theory and 50 per cent practical training, benefiting participants from universities and institutions.

Apart from the seed companies and aspiring researchers, renowned scientists and esteemed individuals like Dr Rajiv Varshney, Dr Arjula Ramachandra Reddy and Ramesh Shanti, graciously joined the workshop. The presence of such experts was highly appreciated, as it’s not easy to gather such a galaxy of personalities. We extend our gratitude to the WTC Shamshabad and the sponsors – Rallis India and Urban Kisaan for their valuable support. The collaboration between philanthropy, scientific work, and dedicated faculty resulted in an excellent initiative. We look forward to more such collaborations with Federation of Asian Biotech Associations (FABA) and WTC Shamshabad.

Also, I must acknowledge and mention an essential link in this entire process, FABA President Prof P Reddanaa was like a satellite, connecting people and organisations with tremendous energy.

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