India has a lot of impressive crop research institutes, agricultural universities and regional research laboratories who have been doing awesome work.
By Debjani Ghosh
The world’s population will reach 8.5 billion people by 2030 as per estimates by the United Nations. By 2050, we will need 70% more food than our current consumption, says World Economic Forum. We have to think and act in radically different ways to find solutions that are scalable, sustainable and equitable.
Farmer as an entrepreneur
The farmer needs an ecosystem that empowers him/her to make the right decisions; does not punish him for failures; and gives him control over his product and treats them with dignity. Just like an entrepreneur, he needs funds, data and tools to succeed. Once we enable the farmer to innovate, there will be no need for freebies and waivers.
There are nearly 500 startups providing solutions based on advanced technologies such as AI, ML, IoT, blockchain, drones, image sensing and cloud telephony to farmers. Fasal is helping farmers use less water and pesticides; Cropin is creating digital farms and building climate resilience; Satsure is using satellite data for better delivery of crop insurance; Ninjacart is helping farmers get better value for their produce; BigHaat is delivering quality input to farmers across India; Stellaps is using IoT and data analytics to transform the dairy sector.
We need to build bridges between the Indian and global agritech ecosystems, learning from successful models while exporting our technology at the same time.
Investments in Indian agritech already draw nearly 10% of global investments. Apart from the spectacular rise of startups, the sector has seen innovations from large IT companies too, such as TCS, Tech Mahindra, Infosys, IBM and Microsoft. Apart from empowering farmers and enhancing their income, technology is also helping make agriculture more sustainable. And, that will be the biggest differentiator from the first green revolution.
The role of governments
Central and state governments need to remove policy bottlenecks and create digital farm infrastructure. We need to consult all stakeholders and have an agri-focused data strategy in place. India’s rich agricultural data is still inaccessible to the innovation ecosystem. We need a renewed focus on research and development. Adoption of technology needs be incentivised. State governments should set up catalytic funds to spur innovation. Land records should be digitised and financial inclusion policies should use technology solutions. Government programmes such as Startup India and Invest India need special focus on agritech.
The next steps
Agritech in India is still in its early stages but has done remarkably well in last few years and we are seeing a steady inflow of sizable funds lately. Faster adoption can change lives of 50% of the country’s workforce and increase the 18% that is currently contributes to our GDP. So, we need to scale and scale urgently. Adoption of technology in agriculture needs a structured institutional focus. Modernisation of our farming methods has to become a national priority. Processes need to be put in place and consensus needs to be built among all stakeholders – buyers, sellers and governments. Without concerted effort and problem solving focus, our innovations will lack impact.
We need to link our incubators and startups with the global ecosystems and exchange knowledge and best practices. Farmers need to see technology from close proximity and experience it firsthand, so we need to open experience centres in states. India has a lot of impressive crop research institutes, agricultural universities and regional research laboratories who have been doing awesome work. We need to connect them to the innovation platform.
The writer is president, Nasscom