23rd August 2015 saw the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) sign an agreement with Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda for Transfer of Technology (TOT) involving commercial production, development and marketing of its proprietary ‘Seabuckthorn’ based products, developed by its Leh-based Defence Institute of High Altitude Research laboratory (DIHAR).
DIHAR has been involved in developing cold arid agro animal technologies to provide fresh food in high altitude areas for defence forces and local communities.
DIHAR has developed strains of weather resistant plant and animal varieties through in-house research. It also includes growing fresh green vegetables in green houses, enhancing dairy farming techniques and cultivation of poultry and goat, and then transferring the technology to local community farmers to grow for themselves and return supply to the defence forces.
Some of the products developed by DIHAR are solar driers for dehydration of apricot and other vegetables to protect from post-harvest losses, oil extraction from seabuckthorn seed, pulp and aromatic plants, various drip irrigation technologies to conserve water and support high altitude cultivation, low cost post-harvest storage technologies and conservation and upgradation of Zanskar ponies.
Patanjali Ayurveda receives the transfer of technology under the DRDO FICCI ATAC initiative for commercialisation of spin-off technologies developed by various DRDO Labs. It will also gain access to making herbal tea, seabuckthorn and apricot juice and beverages, seabuckthorn based dietary supplements, etc.
So Should This Routine Agreement Raise Eyebrow?
Yes and No. Yes, because Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Army Chief General D.S. Suhag and recently appointed DRDO Chief S. Christopher besides several other officials and, of course, Baba Ramdev attended the Agreement signing programme at DIHAR in Leh.
Transfer of Technology for civilian use by DRDO rarely raises the attention beyond its own Chief but in this case, the Defence Minister, the Army Chief and the DRDO head were all in attendance. Although the trip has been publicised as a routine visit to the forward areas by the Defence Minister, it is obvious that the trip was for this launch. Any other Ayurveda-based firm would not elicit this VVIP line-up, but the high-powered attendance only underscored Baba Ramdev’s position with the present government.
But beyond the attention, the choice of Patanjali Ayurveda should not come as a surprise. DRDO has had mixed experience in commercialising its spin-off technologies for civilian use to various companies. It was behind the research that developed the very successful anti-mosquito repellants in use today. Several leading FMCG brands use long-life food packaging technology developed by DRDO for packing cooked food with a shelf-life of several months. However, it was not very successful in popularising seabuckthorn juice that was sold under the brand name of ‘Leh Berry’.
Baba Ramdev has built his Ayurveda business into a Rs 2,000-crore enterprise that is growing rapidly. Its range of Ayurveda-based products is sold in all parts of India and is gaining popularity overseas as well. Nutrient-rich seabuckthorn is not widely known outside the high altitude areas in Northern India. Grown in its natural habitat, seabuckthorn possesses many rich nutrients that are good for humans, especially beneficial for maintaining a healthy heart.
DRDO labs recognised this quality and, given its abundant availability in high altitude areas, decided to popularise its benefits and make it available to consumers across India, in its various forms such as juices, beverages, supplements, etc. The fruit has synergy with Baba Ramdev’s range of health nutrients and supplements and given the global reach, seabuckthorn could well become acceptable to consumers, in its second avatar.
One must not forget that despite the obvious political affiliation, Baba Ramdev has succeeded in popularising yoga amongst masses in India and overseas and is today widely seen as a brand ambassador for Yoga. Therefore, Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda may not be a bad choice for further exploiting the potential of the fruit. His research infrastructure is fairly well-equipped and is already undertaking extensive research on Ayurveda-based products.
TOT Thrust Part of DRDO’s Renewed Focus
The NDA government has rightfully recognised the need for DRDO to be revamped and reprioritise its focus. So far, DRDO has been a government-sponsored research monolith involved in the entire chain of defence equipment research and production activity covering research, design, production, and marketing with end users. As a result, DRDO has lagged behind in developing several critical defence technologies needed by the country. The government now has decided to revamp the organisation and today there is greater thrust on involving private sector, academic institutions like the IITs and other organizations that can contribute with focused innovation.
Any research activity has its intended or unintended spin-off technologies and research organisations worldwide offer these to external partners for commercialisation. This has never been a strong area for DRDO and now with government encouraging third party involvement in research, it brings back focus on Transfer of Technology. There is a lot of potential in the country and DRDO has some very innovative products that are still in the research stage and any collaboration with external parties will certainly create a win-win situation for both DRDO and the external party.
India has tremendous scope for developing a variety of insect and weather resistant foods that have a long shelf life and organisations like Patanjali Ayurveda have rightfully identified the potential. It’s now up to both the organizations, DRDO and Patanjali Ayurveda to develop ‘seabuckthorn’ as a successful model along the lab-to-shelf lines.
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