Rural India – An emerging powerhouse

Chairman Harish Manwani speech at 79th HUL AGM.

Mumbai, July 23, 2012: Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) Chairman, Mr. Harish Manwani, while addressing shareholders at the company’s 79th Annual General Meeting (AGM) held at Mumbai today spoke about the exciting growth opportunity in Rural India and how it is becoming the epicenter of India’s growth story.

In the speech titled ‘Rural India – An Emerging Powerhouse,’ Mr. Manwani said, “It is often said that there are two Indias – Bharat which exists in the villages and India which thrives in the urban areas. If our country has to have real progress and make its mark on the global stage, then these two Indias must converge. Prosperity will have to come to our villages, towns and cities.”

Agriculture and beyond

Referring to the good progress made in the last two decades in Rural India, Mr Manwani said, “The explosion in rural consumption and growing competition for scarce resources demands that we embrace a new collaborative model of development. All stakeholders – government, NGOs, civil society and corporates – have a role in enabling this growth while overcoming the attendant challenges. With the right kind of public-private partnerships we can address these challenges by finding innovative solutions and build on the opportunities.”

He also spoke about the various challenges facing rural India. Speaking about the need to improve our agricultural productivity levels, Mr Manwani said, “Consider that if only our agricultural growth can pick up to 4% as envisioned by the Planning Commission, the cascading impact that rural prosperity will have on the national economy could add up to an additional 2% to our national GDP growth and enable us to go for double digit growth.”

Mr Manwani urged for the need to go beyond agriculture for rural India to achieve accelerated and sustainable growth. He called for a new vision for agriculture in India on the lines of the New Vision for Agriculture (NVA) articulated by the World Economic Forum which envisions a global agriculture system that harnesses the power of markets and multi-stakeholder collaboration to feed the world, protect our planet and create prosperity.

Five enablers

Mr Manwani spoke about five key enablers that would over time help build an ecosystem that can harness the real power of rural India, going much beyond agriculture. The five key enablers are: Access to Urban India, Technology Adoption, Financial Inclusion, Education & Health, and Skill Building.

He spoke about how access to urban services had led to significantly higher level of knowledge and livelihood opportunities in villages located in 19 Rural-Urban clusters such as the National Capital Region which has emerged as a single geographical entity from Meerut in UP to Faridabad in Haryana. He said, “creating another 50 Rural-Urban hubs where every village is within one hour of travel time to an urban centre would be transformational. This could ensure that about 2/3rd of the rural population has access to urban India. These urban hubs will support rural areas and become big markets of tomorrow.”

Referring to the potential of technology to dismantle social and cultural barriers, Mr Manwani spoke about how the Aadhaar scheme could transform livelihoods, for those residing in remote villages. Mr Manwani spoke about how lack of access to capital was a serious deterrent to development in rural India. “Access to formal banking would not only eliminate unbearable debt, but also bring capital investments into rural. This would improve agricultural productivity and help in building SSEs and other commercial ventures, “ he said.

Speaking about the country’s programmes to promote education, Mr Manwani called for more consistent implementation of these programmes. He spoke about the need for rigorous accountability and sharing of best practices to raise the quality of programme execution. He spoke about how e-learning can transform the access and cost of education while improving the quality of teaching to the masses. He also spoke about drawing on the lessons from the good work done by NGOs in the area of education and called for forming a network between NGOs and government to leverage best practices on a national scale.

Mr Manwani identified appropriate skill building as a crucial need for the rural economy for generating income opportunities. “Preparing young people for roles in the flourishing retail, BPO, hospitality and other service related industries will be very important. Just as the ITIs in the 60s & 70s built industrial skills and prepared young people for roles in the manufacturing industry, we now need to set up institutions that build similar skills to prepare our rural youth for manufacturing and service industries,” he said.

HUL’s association with rural India

Mr Manwani spoke about the importance of rural India for Hindustan Unilever. “More than 40% of our products are consumed in the fast growing markets of rural India. We have been pioneers in developing rural markets through affordable brands and an unparalleled distribution reach, “ he said.

Mr Manwani spoke about how HUL is bringing alive the spirit of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan to holistically contribute to the social, economic and environmental agenda with a significant impact on rural India. He spoke about how the company was working with small holder tomato farmers in Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra to help them adopt sustainable agricultural practices. “We have initiated work to encourage the adoption of sustainable farming practices by our suppliers of tea, fruits and other vegetables both for India and other Unilever markets,” he said.

Referring to Project Shakti, Mr Manwani spoke about how it created income generating opportunities for 45,000 rural impoverished women and has also helped to increase the rural distribution of the Company. “Project Shakti is an excellent example of ‘doing well by doing good’,” he said.

Speaking about Pureit, Mr Manwani referred to the launch of Pureit sachet and how it would help in a big way to make safe drinking water accessible & affordable to millions of consumers in India.

About Hindustan Unilever Limited

Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is India's largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods company touching the lives of two out of three Indians. HUL works to create a better future every day. We help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others.

Hindustan Unilever Limited

Hindustan Unilever Limited,
Unilever House,
B. D. Sawant Marg,
Chakala, Andheri (E),
Mumbai - 400 099.

T: +91 22 39832429 (Prasad Pradhan)

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