Mataru Harjinder Singh.Neprik
An Indian, Mataru Harjinder Singh, has conducted business in Samara for more than seven years. The company he heads has been functioning in quite a rare field, both for Russia and India; breeding of cows, whose meat becomes marbled beef.
He started the farming business on his guru’s advice. His guru said such an industry would raise Russia's economy, and randomly pointed to the map in the Samara region.
Mataru Harjinder Singh tells RIA Novosti about the conditions of doing business in the country, the development of agriculture and the cultivation of an Australian breed of cows that had not previously been represented in Russia.
The "Neprik" office in the village of Novy Kutulok in the Bor suburb is known to all the locals. They show me the way as soon as I drive into the village. It is difficult to make a mistake and drive past. Two large flags, one Russian and one Indian, tower over the entrance of the building.
In the "Neprik" office, there is an Indian fragrance; you can smell incense. A short, dark man in his forties comes to meet me and invites me to his office. Mataru Harjinder Singh talks to me in fluent Russian, with absolutely no accent. The Head of the company explains that though he is an Indian citizen he has lived in Moscow for a long time.
His cabin is spacious. There are dozens of statues of cows on the table and the cabinets. Mataru calls them his talismans.
The Indian businessman arrived in the Samara Region from Moscow seven years ago. Earlier, the farmer was involved in other business sectors, distribution of goods, including the Indian tea and raw materials for tea factories.
"As I am an Indian, I have my guru. He advised me to do farming. The guru said that Russia's economy will be revived precisely through agriculture. We are already seeing positive progress. The country has started import substitution, and many entrepreneurs are willing to invest in the industry,” he said.
According to Singh, the Guru pointed at the map randomly. Destiny determined a region in the southeast of the Volga region. The businessman contacted the government representatives of the of the Samara region. The regional authorities offered investors a choice of several farms. It was decided that the Russian-Indian company would be set up on the two farms in Kinel-Cherkassy and Bor districts.
Singh admits that he couldn’t get used to the life in the Russian province after living in the capital. The local residents were rather wary at the arrival of the Moscow businessmen.
"The people were of the opinion that if one arrives from Moscow, it won’t be forever. They might do something, but they sell it and leave. You can’t blame them for it, but it does often happen. We have come here to work and to create an enterprise in raising cattle," he says.
Singh says the two facilities in which he has invested, were "dead". Virtually all the agricultural machinery was not working. The companies did not have enough staff. The cows that were on the farm were not producing milk. In six years, "Neprik" has invested about 700-800 million rubles in the modernization of the two farms.
Mostly Russian agricultural machinery was purchased for the new company. Singh said said it was cost effective, considering the floating exchange rate. Also, he does not have to wait for parts to come from abroad.
"We decided that we must first buy only Russian equipment as the workers are accustomed to it. They knew how to drive "Zhiguli", but did not know how to operate the" Mercedes." Now we have mainly domestic appliances in the park, but there are also imported ones", he said.
The Russian-Indian company decided to abandon the breeding of dairy cows. It was uneconomical, Singh said, because the cows on the farms did not give milk. Instead, the company purchased livestock to produce meat. Meat obtained from both breeds becomes “marbled” when a properly selected diet is used.
The livestock farming section now has about 5,000 head of cattle. The company separates these into two breeds; Kalmyk and Mandalong. The latter comes from Australia, and was first was developed in 1962 by the breeder Ricardo Pissaturo. A Samara company brought this breed to Russia in 2010. A year ago, it was entered into the Registry of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture.
Australia has been helping the Samara company with breeding of Mandalong cattle. The breeder’s son, Ricardo Pissaturo Jr., regularly comes to the Samara Oblast to advise local food producers and help in the maintenance of an exclusive breed, for Russia. The Australian company also trains Neprika personnel.
“Of course, there are difficulties when it comes to breeding these cattle. Conditions in Australia are very different, if only because of the different climate. All these elements had to be worked on and adjusted. Ricardo has already acclamatized, understands the mentality of the Russian people, and has established good relations with the staff. In fact, Ricardo is my right hand at the enterprise,” says Singh.
The company is not selling Australian cows that are only bred in Russia. A producer is expected to breed five generations of animals and ensure that they are healthy. The plan is to sell the Mandalong breed later this year or early next year.
The company only sells animals to other farmers for further breeding. It plans to open its own slaughtering plant soon. The ‘marbled’ meat will be delivered to regional and other restaurants. The company also plans to open its own store in Samara, where it will sell marbled meat. The main buyers will most likely be Samara restaurants.
“I believe the mentality of Russians has not yet grasped the fact that we produce marbled meat. People are still accustomed to the fresh-killed beef that is sold on the farmers markets. We have received requests from restaurants, most of all from Moscow. However, we would like to see the consumption of this meat start in the Samara Oblast first,” said Singh.
Asked why an Indian was breeding of cattle, because the cow in India is considered a sacred animal, Singh replied that the rule applied to India, but is not often observed in other countries.
“First of all, dairy cows are considered as sacred animals in India... I have flown all over the world. I will mention one example. In Australia, I went into an Indian restaurant, opened the menu, and what do I see there – beef! I called the administrator, and said to him; “Why do you offer beef in an Indian restaurant? After all, this is a sacred animal.” He replied, “And what of it? Right next door is a Pakistani restaurant, and there they serve pork. “In India the cow is sacred, but in other countries, few people observe this rule,” said Singh.
Singh is convinced that businesses working in agriculture in Russia have great potential. On average, the payback period is 10-11 years. His company earns a stable profit, though investments have not been fully recouped yet.
“There are a number of problems. For farmers, it is hard to get a loan. Banks require collateral as security, and this collateral is appraised by the bank at a price that is beneficial to the bank. Interest rates charged are very high. All farmers also tend to rely on state subsidies,” he said.
Local authorities have been fully supportive and, in general, farmers in Russia receive many benefits. The main problem is lack of qualified personnel.
“The bulk of people working in agriculture are people that have gained their experience in Soviet times, and such workers are growing fewer every year... Now young people do not consider it prestigious to work in a village. Few people wish to work in a village. They all want to live in cities. Professionals who have been educated in universities and come to work in this field, they only have theoretical knowledge, but no practical experience,” he said.
His company offers workers higher than average salaries for this sector and offers furnished housing free of charge for employees.
Russians and Indians have much in common, like two rivers moving in one direction.
“In Soviet times, Russians were interested in Indian culture and films. I think that the majority of Russians now have some knowledge about this country. Our plans include opening a store in Samara that will sell Indian goods, so residents of the region can purchase Indian-produced clothing, food, spices, tea, and cosmetics,” said Singh. They plan to build a warehouse for Indian products in Samara and open a store to sell these goods. The deliveries will be supervised by a specialist from India. He will explain to the staff about the traditions and culture of the country, and teach them how to present these exotic goods to customers.
Singh’s parents came to Moscow during the Soviet era and stayed on. He was born in Moscow and studied there. However, he still does not have a Russian passport, remaining a citizen of India. He now intends to give up his Indian citizenship and obtain Russian citizenship.
“I consider Russia as my first home. When I was young and visited my historic homeland, and they asked me – “Where is your home?” I replied – my home is in Russia and not in India.”
First published in Russian by RIA Novosti.
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