AGRICULTURE, a major component of the Indian economy, has changed dramatically from a simple farming activity to a stupendous market driven enterprise. Appearing as a very promising segment with vast opportunities to foster the much-needed links between the farm and the market, the agro-industry has experienced tremendous growth over the past decades in an open market environment. It has acquired a wide range of businesses involved in food production, including agriculture, agricultural machinery, seed supply, fertilizers, agrochemicals, irrigation equipment, distribution, processing, marketing, trade, wholesale and retail. India is among the top 15 exporters of agricultural products in the world. According to a report released in March this year by the Indian Brand Equity Foundation of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, exports of essential agricultural products are expected to reach $ 60 billion by 2022. Traditionally agricultural country, India must infuse professionalism into the agro-food sector to accelerate the flow of recent advances in order to take advantage of its inherent competitive advantage. It can be best achieved by giving practical form to innovative ideas and the application of information and communication technologies.
Startups are recognized around the world as the first step towards revolutionary changes in different spheres. Startups have creativity and innovation as key elements. These were introduced almost three decades ago in India, but resumed at the turn of this century. Various reports have positioned India after the US and UK in the tech-focused startup set. Startup India, a flagship program launched in 2016 by the Indian government, aims to facilitate entrepreneurship and promote innovation to boost the startup ecosystem and help technologists become job creators rather than job seekers. employment. According to a report by the Ministry for the Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) presented to Parliament, 44,534 startups were registered by the ministry as of February 24, 2021. Leveraging the adoption of agricultural technology (agri-tech ) and the implementation of next generation technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, internet of things (IoT) and software as a service (SaaS) can deliver solutions to many problems across the spectrum of traditional farming practices.
There is an urgent need to sensitize and motivate farmers to embrace collectivism, intensifying links with the market, involving them in technological solutions, partners in research, policy planning and offering a range of support services. and network for rapid access to modern and scientific technologies. advances, strengthening extension activities and eliminating knowledge gaps for better yields, where agro-tech startups can do a lot to minimize stress in Indian agriculture. In our densely populated and smallholder dominated agricultural system, agribusiness pays less for farmers as well as processors. Agro-tech startups can eliminate informal activities in national markets, improve scalability, traceability and transparency in the agricultural value chain, and set up an end-to-end integrated value chain technology setup covering the processing of production and distribution.
Agro-tech startups also have a reach in areas such as developing farm-specific, data-driven diagnostics to check soil and crop health and collecting real-time data on pests and diseases. in field crops using image recognition technology. Renting farm equipment is an area with great potential for reducing input costs, as modern farm equipment is not affordable for the average farmer. Agricultural service startups have a wide reach to organize farmer groups and ensure the timely availability of various materials to needy farmers. So far most of the money has flowed in cash into agriculture. The method of payment by direct transfer of benefits (DBT) to farmers for their products is an important step for a change in agro-financial management. This change will create opportunities for fintech startups to digitize payments to and from farmers through various gateways linked to their accounts and create a credit profile system for donors and loans, replacing any system. abusive loan. In addition to several market-matching models, agro-tech startups can play a central role in implementing IoT for farmers, promoting smart, high-tech, precision agriculture and automated agriculture, thereby improving efficiency and productivity levels.
Besides Startup India, Atal Innovation Mission, NewGen Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centers, Venture Capital Assistance promoted by the Small Farmers’ Agri-business Consortium are government programs supporting such initiatives. There are several promising avenues to pursue under the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare ‘Big Agricultural Challenge’ plan providing incubation support for cutting-edge agro-tech startups such as solutions for rapid grading and management of large quantities of agricultural products under eNAM, rapid electronic soil testing, connecting food processors to farmers through electronic markets, dissemination of information to the last mile, reliable yield estimation modeling at village level, web-based spatial decision support system, increased shelf life of perishable products, technological detection of adulteration in food, availability of inputs via direct and online mode, technical solutions for the transplanting of paddy and the alternative use of its straw, the substitution of the use of pesticides toxics and the search for affordable, accessible and easy-to-use technologies, products or services to increase productivity in Indian agriculture.
About 450 registered agro-tech startups saw 25% growth in 2019, as reported by the National Association of Software and Services Corporation (NASSCOM). The number of these startups has grown to nearly 600, which is still around 1% of potential market opportunities according to the February 2021 FICCI-PwC report. Punjab-based agro-tech startups working on digital solutions to improve product quality, cost optimization and feed traceability, convert paddy stubble into fuel pellets, and enable better access to better technologies for the management of dairy farms, including facial recognition of livestock, have been recognized globally.
Public-private partnership in the agricultural value chain is gaining ground for startups as it can improve decision-making, streamline DBTs and subsidies. Fundraising, relevant experience, interpretation of baseline data, appropriate planning and implementation of unique ideas, effective management, mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders and conventional farmers, etc. are some of the important ingredients for the success of any startup. There is an encouraging growth trend towards supply chain, finance and related solutions, infrastructure development, agricultural data analysis and information platforms. However, areas such as intelligent AI-based solutions and the increased use of new technologies like robotics and drones and advanced agricultural analysis are still awaiting the attention of pioneering entrepreneurs. For the agro-tech startup ecosystem to grow and establish itself, a strong policy framework is needed.
India is on track to become the most populous country by 2027; it should also be the youngest country, according to statistics for age groups. The demographic dividend must be harvested by agriculture to maintain its status as the leading sector generating employment. Agro-tech start-ups have the potential to strengthen this contribution.
The author is a former VC, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, Udaipur