The Plastindia Foundation, the owner of India's biggest plastics trade fair, has ambitious plans that involve investing heavily to create an internationally staffed plastics learning center in the west of the country, as well as adopting a series of rural villages with the aim of installing plastic micro-irrigation systems to boost agricultural yields.
Ashok Goel, Plastindia's president and managing director of the large Indian packaging extruder Essel Propack Ltd., outlined the plans in an Oct. 27 press conference followed by an interview the next day at K 2010 in Dusseldorf.
Goel said the nonprofit association three months ago purchased a 50-acre tract of land in Vapi, a city on India's west-central coast that's about a 21/2-hour drive from Mumbai. The purchase is the first step in what's projected to be a $25 million investment to build a Plastindia Foundation Knowledge Center.
The foundation had been applying its excess funds to such things as grant allocations, but it decided to redirect that capital into investments that will yield longer-term benefits to the Indian plastics industry, he said. Boosting education is one such step.
We have many blue-collar workers, but we need managers, Goel said. We need to raise the skills to global levels. Plastindia Foundation has provided $3 million in seed money for the project, and he expects it will contribute another $4 million to $5 million. It needs to raise the balance from private industry.
He said discussions are taking place with international partners ranging from the design of the building and campus, which will include residential dormitories for students to Western universities that the foundation will pay to participate in the project. Goel said his group has had very positive talks with several universities, including the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. The discussions have progressed the furthest so far with both the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, which has a world-class polymer engineering program, and with Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is optimistic that both UMass and Berkeley will gain the necessary approvals to proceed.
Plastindia's plan is to engage with only two universities, and to solicit input on the school's design and on the content of the curricula, to establish accreditation guidelines, and to arrange for both student and faculty exchanges. The intent, Goel said, is to offer two types of degrees for undergraduates as well as graduates. For the former, this would include a bachelor's degree in polymer engineering and a dual degree in engineering and business administration. For post-graduates, it would be a master's of technology degree and a master's of business administration degree.
Goel hopes the project can begin in earnest early in 2011, and be completed within three years. His term as president of Plastindia will end in September 2012.
Separately, the Plastindia Foundation is embarking on what it calls a plasticulture program, designed to provide plastics-based technology to rural Indian farmers to help them reduce their costs and raise their yields while also boosting the battered public image of plastics in the process.
Goel said that project involves engaging with Indian government agricultural agencies, non-governmental organizations and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, and investing some 20 million rupees ($442,000) during the next two years.
Plastindia already has identified 1,400 farmers in 16 villages in the Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra who will participate in the pilot project which, if successful, will be rolled out across India. Goel said soil and water-quality testing already has taken place in that area, and experts are assessing the best combination of irrigation and fertilization to facilitate improved yields, mostly of vegetables.
The first 16 will serve as model villages, he said. These farmers currently need to use the flood irrigation technique, which also tends to wash out a lot of valuable minerals. That makes it necessary to spend money to add more fertilizers and chemicals, which can be harmful to the environment. This approach often leaves many of India's farmers perennially in debt.
By installing water pumps and micro-irrigation plastic tubing that allows farmers to precisely control the water flow to crops, Goel said those working the land should be able to increase their number of crops from one to three per year, with lower overall costs. Plans are to start laying pipe this December.
No one can afford to ignore the farmer, Goel said, noting that agriculture represents 17 percent of India's gross domestic product and employs 60-70 percent of India's labor force. He claims that the farmers they've spoken with about this project are thrilled to be part of the pilot program.
The final piece of the puzzle, he said, is the creation of temporary agricultural exhibitions that will move around the different districts of the country. These will be set up in the vicinity of successful micro-irrigation programs and include all types of supplier companies to the agricultural sector, including those making mulching films, seed, fertilizer, farm equipment and water pumps. The aim is to educate other farmers, as well as local politicians and media, about the positive role that plastics is playing in improving the quality of life of India's farmers.
The eighth international Plastindia exhibition will take place Feb. 1-6, 2012, in New Delhi.