This will be the decade of Indian AgriTech

by January 25, 2022 0 comments

PCQuest organized a panel discussion on “How can we maximize India’s AgriTech potential?”. Sunil Rajguru, Editor, Cybermedia, said that an Ernst & Young report some time back had pegged the Indian AgriTech market worth $24 billion by 2025, of which only 1% has been captured so far. Agriculture is a very important segment. Agriculture is perhaps the most pressing issue in India right now. We need to help AgriTech reach its full potential.

What have been the changes in the Indian AgriTech scene?

Kunal Prasad, Co-founder and COO, Cropin, said the roll out of technology and digital has been exponential. The industry is ready to consume technology solutions. The startups are ready to invest time and build solutions. There are several solutions that are also adding value. From, planning of the crop to crop management, advisory services, disease and early-warning signals, image and satellite-based solutions, connecting information on produce with the entire market, build market-linkage platforms, trade services, etc. There are lot of solutions using AI, satellite, etc. During the pandemic, the pace of innovation has increased. Utilization of technology has also increased. We have seen substantial adoption of technology across the sector.

Cropin has also grown year-on-year over the last two years. The pandemic also gave us new learnings, and we introduced new solutions. We need to connect remotely with our customers. We also need to give advisory services. We are helping farmers get access to financial services, loans, insurance claims settlements, remote sensing and AI. We are helping farmers with inputs through partnerships and startups.

Sanjay Borkar, Co-founder, FarmERP, added the pandemic has taught us many things. The farmers have faced many losses. There was no labour and transportation available. Whatever was harvested was actually lying in the fields. Consumers were continuously demanding something, as they were also stuck at home. The entire supply had gone haywire. Digital has helped finding out the gaps in these supply chains. Many efforts have been taken since March 2020. Many startups have come in, many problem solutions were done, projects were initiated, etc.

During the pandemic, FarmERP started the project of Uberization of the small-holder vegetable crops. We helped 4-5 FPCs and brought them onto the digital platform. We helped farmers grow and sell their produce in a better manner. We also made this a different kind of offering from FarmERP.

Om Routray, VP Marketing, SourceTrace, noted that while the opportunity is massive, it is not an easy market. You are also talking about policies, state vs. center, small-holder farmers, etc. The amount of money and resources required to create a unicorn in agriculture is incomparable. It is a budding sector. We also need to admire taking technology to the smallest villages, and telling farmers they are being looked at as customers. The government is also serious about Agristack and put out a paper. We also need a medium to go to the farmers. For us, it was seeing direct to consumer brands, run by young entrepreneurs who look at business differently. The next couple of years will bring new opportunities.

Suniti Gupta, MD and CEO, Innotera Tech, gave some on-ground examples of how adoption of technology has accelerated. One, all the farmers were facing challenges in moving produce from ground to consumers. WhatsApp groups were formed, and consumers were asked to join in. We needed to ensure deliveries happened. That was a sea change. Farmers are also looking at receiving orders online. There is a shift where farmers want to be directly connected to consumers, thanks to the pandemic.

Second, we work in the dairy value chain, demand and supply of milk came into play. Rates were changed twice a day, and sent out to consumers, so that milk producers were paid. It tested our platform. There are two more examples. Tractors were being serviced via video calls. Google and Zoom are very popular.

Maximize AgriTech

Rajguru asked what can we do more today to maximize AgriTech on the ground?

Suniti Gupta, Innotera Tech, said there are several challenges faced by farmers on the ground. Smaller and mid-holder farmers don’t have visibility on demand, they don’t know what the customer wants and the kind of quality. They also have to go through brokers and Mandi agents. So, they are not able to get full value of their produce. They need to also know and do quality checks on their produce. They also don’t have good bargaining power.

In the farming ecosystem, we are also not seeing enough young people coming back. It is our responsibility to make farming attractive for youngsters, and AgriTech can play a big role. 75% of youth are going back to the urban sector for employment. We need to make working in farming much more remunerative. The farming ecosystem also does not understand what AgriTech can do for them. It is our responsibility to educate the farmers and build trust, provide solutions that are authentic. Any adverse incident puts back the farming sector by a few years. Farming has gone through a generation. Farmers also need to believe how AgriTech can help. At Innotera, we are trying to address all this by building a full stack end-to-end platform. We are connecting the small and mid-holding farmers, aggregators, etc. At Innotera, we are trying to create an expansive platform.

Om Routray, SourceTrace, said revenue matters for everyone. You will put more resources in places where you get more revenue. We don’t work directly with the farmers. We need a mature co-operative that takes technology to the farmers. For India, the market is more of doers. For a cloud-based technology player like us, we need to wait for few years more for India to take that turn. The digital phase is not being questioned.

Sanjay Borkar, FarmERP, agreed with Routray. For us, the pure sell happens from our technology platform and its usage. From a farmer, the adaptation is very slow. What works for one crop, one region and one geography, may not work for the other crop. For us to invest in that and go further is a lengthy process, and a roadblock. For the major AgriTech players, they have invested in digital initiatives. However, they are also working in silos and are proprietary, so no one can join them. From the government, lot of agricultural missions are being pushed. There has to be much more aggressive pilot implementations by the government across the nation. It should involve all kinds of startups and AgriTech companies. This should be pushed with nominal fees. You need to involve all the small players to achieve the result.

Kunal Prasad, Cropin, said our job is to look at challenges and solve them. One problem is the enterprise problem and the other is the farmer problem. Enterprises need to also understand what kinds of crops are the farmers growing. Data of multiple seasons also start getting analyzed, and you get a sense of what is going on. For any institution, it will take a cycle to adopt a technology. It takes time, as this is a challenging sector with hundreds of problems. Once you can have data, problems can be solved in a structured manner. Technology is moving toward solving needs of the farmers. Government is also taking initiative with the Agristack. If the government to support this, they already have lot of data, such as soil map, historical, data, etc. If we can also open up that data for stakeholders to innovate, that will help. Satellite is also coming in. We can remotely monitor the farms. We are moving in that direction.

Transforming the landscape

Next, Rajguru asked the panelists about the one big idea to transform the AgriTech potential in India, and how are they going about it?

Om Routray, SourceTrace, added that an idea is to work on cash crops. We had plans for working with stakeholders. Pepper, turmeric, and coffee, are some areas where we can explore opportunities and bring in global buyers. We need to look into them and say there is no modern slavery or child labour in that. India is also a perfect place for carbon agriculture. We can start earning from the carbon rating. Can we look at a few crops and bring it all together? We are doing that for cotton, jasmine, chillies, etc. We want to do this at a scale where it becomes a case study. It takes multiple partners, a global buyer, and somebody who works on the production side, etc.

Suniti Gupta, Innotera Tech, said that their experience of working with smaller organizations have been 100% positive. For us, the big idea to bring small and mid-holder farmers into the ecosystem is to focus on digitizing aggregation points. Our big idea is to create the network effect in AgriTech. An inclusive food value chain with every stakeholder involved is the best way to empower the farmers. With our efforts in digital and physical, farmers earnings need to go up. As a group, we are committed to that.

Sanjay Borkar, FarmERP, said that they are helping businesses across 30 countries. They are working with very large farms, from those in Sri Lanka, France, Iran, Azerbaijan, and also India. That experience we are now trying to bring to the FPOs, FPCs, and small farmers in India. There are lot of similarities. We are also working on offering farm gyan. This is an AI/ML and computer vision-based offering for solving problems in the agricultural sector. This is an intelligent layer above the ERP layer. We would now like to offer the same technology for the small holders. Back in 2007-08, this type of offering was difficult to sell, and we sold one for Nasik farmers. We can provide customized solutions for India. Pushing it in this region is a primary objective for this year.

Kunal Prasad, Cropin, said they process the entire country from an intelligence perspective. Lot of businesses are taking intelligence from our platform for their trading decisions. Our next vision is to add more customers to the AgriTech intelligence platform so that they do not have to process data on their own. We also have lot of tried-and-tested deep learning models. There can be several beneficiaries, like the FPO, to the farmer. When a farm is registered, we pull out the satellite imagery and pass on to farmers in an interpretable manner. We will be making this much more user friendly. We can create a holistic platform where everyone can participate.

The decade ahead!

Rajguru asked what is the larger picture for Indian AgriTech in the decade ahead?

Kunal Prasad, Cropin, said the overall beneficiary is the farmers and the government is the biggest stakeholder. The focus of government is to bring in technology-enabled service and bring in innovators. Large-level enterprise apps need to be developed and scalable. They can be taken to other geographies such as Africa, and developing countries in Southeast Asia.

Sanjay Borkar, co-founder, FarmERP, said this decade is going to be one of AgriTech. More tech tools and services have to be designed, and should be more cost effective. Ultimately, the adoption will increase. It should cover the entire value chain for the farmers. Lot of things need to be involved in creating this roadmap. Government has also taken strong steps to cover the FPOs and FPCs. We are seeing good number of case studies. Last, there is a need for nationwide service provider network, which will help the AgriTech companies take technologies to the farmers. Farmers can also get trained over the technology tools. A network of partners and entrepreneurs is very essential.

Suniti Gupta, Innotera Tech, said we have four products that cover the agriculture value chain. Innotera is working on cloud computing, mobile, IoT, AI/ML, hyperspectral imaging, blockchain, etc. We also have big platforms like the Aadhaar, GST, and ONDC or open network for digital commerce. Building blocks are all there. It is up to the industry to build systems. We need to have farm practices built in, based on weather data, crops, pests, etc. You can be supported by IoT, and many startups are doing that. You need to have quality inputs for farmers and advise them on quality. FPOs are a great idea whose time has come. We also need to give great advice on manufacturing. We also have the marketplace pillar where FPOs and farmers come together. Storage and warehousing also come in. Consumers are also coming in. We are working on all the pillars, and build a better platform for the farmers.

Om Routray, VP Marketing, SourceTrace, said the government has to invest in policy and framework, and show that change is possible, and on scale. No single company can build it all. Partnerships are happening! We also want the government to step in where farmers do not have direct consumers immediately. Government should also incentivize the adoption and technology.

Will there be any big tech involved?

Suniti Gupta, Innotera Tech, said it will be a combination of all technologies. The success will come from the output and how well you are able to connect with the farmers. The innovation will be in the output. Regarding the smartphone, we are now able to do what we had earlier imagined.

Sanjay Borkar, FarmERP, supported Ms Gupta. AI is a leading technology these days. We need to make technologies work for the small holders. What works for one, may not work for the other. Kunal Prasad, Cropin, said you build a technology at scale and apply that. It is very important to smartly pick your problems and solve them. Om Routray, SourceTrace, said he looked at IoT since it came. Smart farming solutions are happening.

Finally, with AgriTech, what kind of scheme would work?

Kunal Prasad, Cropin, said the national e-governance program for agriculture can be one such initiative. Government is leveraging technology to transform the agricultural sector. It is all about how you can implement that. A suite of such solutions and a fund can be the right way. Sanjay Borkar, FarmERP, said we need to look at who is growing which crop will bring lot of new ideas.

Suniti Gupta, Innotera Tech, said the government should announce an incentive for digitization so that people can probably go ahead and try. Om Routray, SourceTrace, said we need multiple stakeholders to come in. The government should put in the money and resources for doing so.

Check out the complete panel discussion…

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