Semillas Fitó grows stronger in Southeast Asia through its Indian subsidiary
25 years ago, Semillas Fitó began an expansion process that saw it grow from a small seed company to one of the leading multinationals in the sector of genetic breeding, production and distribution of horticultural and field crop seeds.
In 2014, Semillas Fitó made a strong push by opening a subsidiary in India, a strategic country for reaching the entire Southeast Asian market, but one where the company was starting from scratch.
We spoke to Enrique Roca, Sales and Marketing Director for Southeast Asia, to find out more about this subsidiary and how it has gained ground as an unconditional seed supplier in the area.
Can you tell us about the early days of the Indian subsidiary of Semillas Fitó?
The project began in 2014 with a team of 19 people including sales, R&D and corporate staff. We started out in a small office located in Yelahanka NewTown, with an R&D station 35 km from Bangalore consisting of 10 hectares for outdoor production and a small greenhouse.
The headquarters are currently located in Doddaballapur, north of Bangalore, and soon the R&D team will move to a new farm with 15 hectares and 3 greenhouses.
How many people are currently working in Fitó India and how are the teams organized?
Today, the team consists of 26 Fitó Seed employees and an equal number of temporary employees.
Almost half of the staff works in the Sales Department, which is almost equally divided between the Northern region (4 states around Delhi) and the Southern region (4 states around Bangalore).
Thirty percent of the workforce is engaged in R&D. The breeders run the farm and the three breeding programs we have deployed in India: determinate tomato, okra and chilies or jalapenos.
The operations and corporate teams represent 25% of the workforce. The operations team is divided into seed production, quality and processing.
What are the key crops for Semillas Fitó in India?
Because it is such a new and diverse market, Semillas Fitó has taken great care to produce varieties adapted to the area such as okra and the marigold-like flowers that are popular in India.
Currently, cucumber is the biggest selling crop followed by pumpkin, tomato and watermelon. According to our projections, in the coming years the four best-selling crops should be, in this order: cucumber, okra, pumpkin and tomato.
What varieties have been successfully introduced by Semillas Fitó in India?
The most successful varieties are Cadiar and Hilton cucumbers, which are very well adapted to the winter and summer conditions of greenhouse cultivation. The Runner tomato is also very successful and is sold mainly in Vietnam.
What are the particularities of the Indian market and what type of farming is prominent?
The agricultural sector is very important in India, employing more than 60% of the population and contributing 20% of GDP. Only 5% of the land is used for horticultural crops, but this number is growing steadily by more than 3% on average each year. In particular, the vegetable seed market is growing by more than 13% per year, with higher quality, hybrid seeds of the kind used for protected farming growing the fastest, comparatively speaking. This is excellent news for Semillas Fitó's expansion in this market.
As far as the types of farmers, unfortunately the average farmer owns or rents very small plots of land which prevents mechanization and automation. It is a very unsophisticated and inefficient market, and one that is tightly regulated by the state. But it is in continuous transformation and will eventually become more liberalized and consolidated.
What are the challenges for Semillas Fitó in the coming years in India?
The most immediate challenge is to fully consolidate the subsidiary and our position as a supplier of quality seed and a specialist in protective agriculture (mulching, nethouse, polyhouse), which is built into our DNA.
Semillas Fitó currently has ten subsidiaries around the world and a direct presence in another 10 countries, where we work alongside farmers to help them develop their business through seeds adapted to local soils and climates. Opening new subsidiaries is a fundamental pillar in the company's international expansion strategy, which allows us to offer a service of proximity to customers based on our corporate values, while still maintaining the connection to our headquarters and a strong commitment to remaining an independent, family-owned company.