Australia should join with India to become the “food bowls” of the Indian Ocean

India and Australia can become the major “food bowls” of the Indian Ocean region, if the two countries can find a way to collaborate in horticulture  The region includes some of the world’s fastest growing middle classes, including much of Africa, the Middle East, India and its neighbours and Southeast Asia.

This is one of the conclusions of our study of “India-Australia Horticulture Collaboration” which was part funded by the Australia India Council, DFAT.

The Indian horticulture sector already faces pressure for change, presenting Australia with a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a collaborative commercial relationship with India.


Pressures for change in India are market driven as the middle class grows, Government driven with a push to bigger farms, mining industry driven as it seeks to play a positive community development role and horticulture industry driven, as farmers want innovation as a pathway to better incomes.

Indian market becoming health conscious

Market driven changes result from a growing middle class anxious about the content, health outcomes and quality of the vegetables and fruits they buy. Plus, a whole range of vegetables labelled as “exotic” in India now face rapidly rising demand – broccoli, cherry tomatoes, capsicums, parsley, celery, cabbages, zucchini and asparagus. Berries are becoming sought after, especially blueberries and strawberries.

Government driven changes are creating one of the biggest historical shifts in rural India – the new Farmer Product Organisations (FPO).  The Government has set an aim for 10,000 of these collaborative ventures. An FPO is a grouping of at least 10 and up to 500 farmers into a collective including marketing. The Government will fund these FPO’s and possibly farm subsidies will be distributed via them.


The FPO structure is currently in need of support services to enable them to secure business acumen, market linkages, better insurance terms, quality assessment infrastructure, precision agriculture solutions for better crop management, access to finance, IoT based applications and more.

At the same time India’s agricultural research centres (Central, State and private) are very keen to be part of the solution and become a focus for knowledge and training in horticulture techniques new to India. Their demand for displays and services around hydroponics and protected cropping is very high.

Miner driven changes result from delays and obstruction from farmers, and awareness that by supporting horticulture innovation around mines, they can contribute to increasing the income of farmers and provide new income for rural women – thereby making a contribution to the livelihoods of the communities they operate in.

Indian farmer driven changes follow complaints of declining incomes and knowing they have an inability to meet the needs of the new middle class, at home and in the Indian Ocean region. Women in rural communities are seeking new ways to add income to households.


While farmers are traditionally conservative, there is growing awareness in India of the need for “new skills and innovations for new products”.

India will want collaboration, not high pressure selling

Facing these demands for change, India is not inclined to simply import and adopt western approaches – rather, it seeks to create Indian style innovations with global partners who can adapt to this demand. The Israel and Netherlands governments have established free standing centres of horticulture excellence, with low levels of interest and participation. Australia can move into this space if it is prepared to adapt to what India wants.


What will be needed for these changes? Skills training and train the trainer programs, IT systems, adapted hydroponics and adapted protected cropping systems and products, post-harvest storage and to market systems and a combination of displays and training at Government and private research centres (not free standing).

Protected Cropping (PC) opportunities are huge but need to be tailored for India – including shelter by artificial structures and materials, enabling modified growing conditions and protection from pests and adverse weather. In the mix here are greenhouses and glasshouses, shade houses, screen houses and crop top structures.

Hydroponics and Controlled Environment Horticulture (CEH)


The most modern and sophisticated form of protected cropping have been developed in Australia and we should be able to export this knowledge – might be relevant to corporate farms in India with some key adaptions, creating “modified hydroponics”. CEH combines high technology greenhouses with hydroponic (soil-less) growing systems. CEH makes it possible to consistently and reliably control or manipulate the growing environment and effectively manage nutrition, pests and diseases in crops.

Hydroponics in Australia and the west is crop production using a soilless growing medium with nutrients supplied in a liquid form. The choice of substrate can be varied to suit the crop and climatic requirements. Hydroponic growing also includes growing in a flowing nutrient stream without utilising a solid medium. This is known as nutrient film technique. For India, some adaptation of drip irrigation, soil and non-soil bases leads to “modified hydroponics” and would meet demand over there.

Agricultural research centres in India play a major role in supporting farmer innovation and skills upgrades. There is an opportunity for an Australian Centre of Protected Cropping and Hydroponics to be embedded in at least one of the Indian Government agricultural research centres, another with the State of Tamil Nadu and in a private research centre. These could be supported by a “virtual centre” with farmers accessing it via mobile phones.

This would be a major step forward in building a genuine India-Australia collaboration in horticulture, enhancing the capacity of both countries to become the food bowls of the Indian Ocean.


The “Developing India-Australia Collaboration in Horticulture” research project by Genesis Horticulture Solutions was part funded by the Australia India Council, Australian Government


Indian PM Modi announces A$400 billion stimulus policy

Indian prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a A$400 billion stimulus package, one of the biggest in the world’s responses to Covid19.

The package is approximately 10% of India’s GDP.

The stimulus package is called “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan” and aims to make India self reliant and to revive the stalled economy.

Details are still coming out but part of the program will be major reforms across areas such as land, labour and liquidity laws to underpin a boost to the “Make in India” campaign.

Other areas will likely include supply chain for agriculture, reforms to national taxation, simplification of some laws, build capable human resources and strengthening the financial system.

It is typical Modi – ambitious, unexpected in magnitude and investors are already reacting with enthusiasm.

Asia Society doing great things to connect Australia with India and beyond

Very good news for my hometown Melbourne and our State of Victoria.

Manoj Kohli, Country Head of SoftBank India, SoftBank Group International, was appointed the second Asia Society-Victoria Distinguished Fellow in May 2020.

Manoj Kohli - profile photo 900 x 600

Asia Society Australia-Victoria Distinguished Fellowship is a partnership between Asia Society Australia and the Victorian Government to bring the best minds and ideas from Asia and Australia to Victoria. It aims to generate new ideas and promote greater economic, strategic and cultural connectivity between Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. The Fellowship will showcase the state of Victoria as Australia’s centre of excellence for Asia insights and capabilities.

The Asia Business Taskforce

On Friday 5 October 2019, the Business Council of Australia and Asia Society Australia announced the formation of an Asia taskforce of senior leaders from the business, education and government sectors to examine how Australian companies and organisations can increase their presence and position in Asia to ensure our continued prosperity and deliver progress for future generations.

The Asia Business Taskforce is chaired by Mark van Dyck, Managing Director (Asia-Pacific), Compass Group, and co-led by Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Philipp Ivanov, CEO Asia Society Australia, and Andrew Parker, Asia Practice Leader and Partner at PwC.

The taskforce examines how Australia can build and enhance its position with the powerhouse Asian economies in our proximity, diversify our economic partners, and prepare for a more strategically and economically competitive region.

Throughout 2020, the taskforce aims to delivering a series of policy recommendations to government.

These are two brilliant programs of the Asia Society here in Australia.


India should be a vital part of the world’s biggest trade deal – RCEP

The countries involved in the world’s biggest trade deal hope to welcome India back into the group – this was announced after their remote meeting last week.

The 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – known as the RCEP – would be the world’s largest when operational, spanning India to New Zealand, including 30% of global GDP and half of the world’s people.


But resistance from India – concerned about a flood of cheap mass-produced Chinese goods hurting small businesses in its economy – came to a head last year when India walked out of the deal. I hope it comes back to RCEP.

India had legitimate concerns and hopefully RCEP will deliver on these. Australian Prime Minister Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Modi have a good relationship and could work together on the way forward.


The meeting, while reaching out to India, also made it clear that one way or another the RCEP deal will be finalised and signed in 2020. 

RCEP includes the ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Facebook buys big in India and the battle for market share is on

Facebook has taken a huge leap into India.

It has bought a 9.99% stake in Reliance Jio platforms for US$5.7bn. According to Mugunthan Siva, CEO, India Avenue Investment Management (Sydney): “This is the largest investment for a minority stake by a technology company anywhere in the world.”

I would add it is the largest FDI in the technology sector in India.

So now the battle lines are drawn in India – the deal will also help Facebook battle rapidly growing Chinese apps like Tiktok which have attracted India’s youth. Not to mention a mouth-watering four-way tech tussle with Japan’s Softbank, US heavyweights Google & Amazon and China’s Alibaba.

India is worth fighting over – a recent report by Cisco said India is poised to have more than 900 million internet users due to the increased penetration of affordable smartphones and cheaper internet plans. India will also have around 2.1 billion internet-connected devices by 2023, said the report.

This is also another step for the Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) which has been pursuing an oil-to-telecom move plus cutting debt.

Mukesh Ambani

In less than four years, Jio has brought more than 388 million people online,

This battle is bigger than just the investment – Jio Platforms, Reliance Retail and Facebook’s WhatsApp service have also entered into a commercial partnership agreement to further accelerate Reliance Retail’s new commerce business on the JioMart platform using WhatsApp and to support small businesses on WhatsApp.

Ambani invested around $40 billion to launch Jio in 2016. RIL is also the largest retail player in India thanks to a series of aggressive expansionary moves into consumer-facing businesses such as e-commerce and grocery.

Think things will go “back to normal” after Covid 19? Think again as Industry 4.0 will flourish

Think things will “go back to normal” after Covid19? Think again – for the moment it is over, what is called Industrial Revolution 4.0 will power ahead and the changes will be dramatic.

An Oxford study estimates that 47% of the jobs in the US, 69% of the jobs in India and 77% of the jobs in China will not exist in 25 years – such is the pace of change under Industry 4.0.

But most employees, students and many universities will not be ready for the fast-changing world of “Industrial Revolution 4.0” which has begun and will be in full swing by the time most graduate.

What kind of world is Industry 4.0?

The Economist Intelligence Unit 2017 report showed younger generations face a significantly different world in their future working and personal lives. Developments such as machine learning and automation promise further disruption, particularly in the workplace, and many established jobs are likely to vanish as a result.

Whole employment sectors are likely to disappear, with others hopefully created. Students, workers and entire economies will compete across global borders for the best education, jobs and growth; all three will need to be nimble, flexible and dynamic, ready to recognise and respond to emerging trends swiftly.

Industry 4.0 will make huge advances in genomics, artificial intelligence, robotics, materials and manufacturing technologies – with convergence bringing massive rates of change.

The first three industrial revolutions were steam and water-power driving mechanisation in the late 1700’s, electricity from 1870 creating mass production and the electronics and IT revolution of the 1960’s onward. Each “revolution” was led by one change or one sector. Industrial 4.0 could not be more different with at least 10 major innovations converging to create across the board revolutionary change.


The megashifts of Industrial 4.0 include Digitisation, Mobilisation, Screenification, Disintermediation, Transformation, Intelligisation, Automation, Virtualisation, Anticipation and Robotisation.

The changing world of work

As with previous industrial revolutions, new technologies will create new jobs and simultaneously destroy many old ones. The rise of machines, from robots to smart software, threatens to impact not just low-skilled factory and construction workers, but everyone including managers, software engineers, stock traders and taxi drivers.

This is already happening – China’s factories are adding robots faster than they are hiring people. India’s information technology sector is already witnessing jobless growth and total employment may have peaked.

“Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300 years” – Gerd Leonhard “Technology vs Humanity” (Fast Future Publishing 2016).

Good news – India could shape Industrial 4.0

As the world’s largest democracy and the country with one of the highest number of scientists and engineers, India is a key political, social and economic player that could shape the course of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

It is exciting that the Geneva based World Economic Forum has created a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in India –  NITI Aayog will coordinate the partnership on behalf of the government and the work of the centre among multiple ministries.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change how we produce, how we consume, how we communicate and even how we live,” WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said.

The challenge for universities and students is to enter a world of constant change – where jobs you are being trained for might not be there any more, where you might have to create your own job, or become an entrepreneur while at university, or team up with friends to create an enterprise.

In my next blog – how to thrive in Industry 4.0


Stephen Manallack is the author of four books including “Soft Skills for a Flat World” (Tata McGraw-Hill India 2010). He led a Pilot Study on Improving the Employability of Indian Graduates in his home city of Melbourne, where he has also been President of the Australia India Business Council. A passionate advocate of closer relations with India, his blog is at

For Indian friends – what makes Australians so different?

My Indian friends and colleagues often talk about our Aussie cricketers – skills so good but sledging so bad, very blunt yet charming as well. Some go on to talk about how casual we Aussies are, even when meeting the elite.

I think we Australians remain something of a mystery to most Indians.

So, here is my take on what is in our hearts (or what are our values) – yes, we have time to reflect in this era of Covid-19.

I like to outline four characteristics of Australians:

  1. Give everyone a “fair go”
  2. All should be treated equally, and have equal opportunity
  3. Be casual and friendly and say “G’day mate” to complete strangers
  4. Be confident that “we’ll be right” – we have always found a way to bounce back

These four – the casual friendliness, the fair go, egalitarianism and resilience – have defined what it is to become Australians, and in these concepts is the heart of what has attracted so many to our shores.

Of course, we do not always stick by these values.

Look how the arrival of a few desperate families in leaking boats led many to abandon the fair go, as if it never existed.

In the face of wars, bushfires, floods, droughts, financial depressions and more, we have unpacked our casual bravado (she’ll be right mate) and found a way through.

You might not know Australia was founded by the British to house their convicts. Not a great start – but out of this has come a free and open society with sophisticated cities, world leading agribusinesses and services the envy of many.

Out of the humble beginning of convicts came a society that strives to be all inclusive – whether you are thousands of miles from anyone, you should still have a phone, an education and so on.

As the convicts would have understood, freedom is more than the right to vote. These values have made Australia a genuinely free society – for they underpin that greatest of freedoms, to be whoever you are and whoever you want to be.

Now, if only we could bring ourselves to truly understand the minds of Indians.

Will Australia’s vision swing to the Indian Ocean rim after Covid-19?

Australia is torn between two worlds – it has an unchanging alliance with the USA, but it is placed in the middle of a massively changing region, the Indian Ocean. The two can make life uncomfortable.

We are all expecting life to be somehow different after Covid-19. Perhaps one of the differences will be Australia looking more to the west – to the Indian Ocean.

If so, there will be a lot of diplomatic wriggling to be done, with China and the USA looking on.

Why does the Indian Ocean matter so much?

One third of the world’s population (2.5 billion) live around the Indian ocean rim. Their average age is below 30, making it the youngest region on earth.

This ocean is critical to global trade and food and energy security.

There are a dizzying array of global strategic and regional military and security interests.

It is at the crossroads of how the world works. Global trade and economic growth flow in and through it.

But it is also a region where instability and conflict can quickly arise – badly drawn borders create disputes, internal conflicts are rife and competing national interests make for a volatile region.

Why is the Indian Ocean so important for Australia?

First, it’s our neighbourhood.

Second, we are starting from way behind for we have long ignored this region and only recently have been building solid bridges.

Third, one-third of Australia’s coastline borders the Indian Ocean.

Fourth, our future depends on security of lines of trade and the development of both on-shore and off-shore assets – these hold the key to our economy and development.

Fifth, when you look at this Wikipedia map of the “western world” you might wonder why we have not looked to the Indian Ocean before.


Best of both worlds?

Looking west to the Indian Ocean does not mean we have to ignore our powerful friends – China to the north and USA to the east.

Changing our view while keeping our old friends will take diplomatic skill.

And probably it also takes time.