'Assisted models to educate farmers are crucial to digitise agriculture in India'
"Assisted models to educate farmers on the ground, and help them adapt to new technologies is imperative to expand India's digital penetration in agriculture," said Nitika Nathani, Partner at McKinsey and Company, a leading management consulting firm, on day 4 of TechSparks 2021, India's most influential startup-tech conference, hosted by YourStory.
With the theme 'What's Next: Rethinking the future', TechSparks 2021 is providing a platform for the most defining conversations on how disruptive technology innovations can shape our lives post-pandemic.
Partnerships between agritech ventures and agriculture businesses that have large teams on the ground to sell tractors, pesticides and seeds can drive the growth, said Nitika, during a panel discussion on 'India's agriculture industry: Transforming a field ripe for disruption' on Thursday.
“If the incumbents with field staff on the ground collaborate with technology players, that's where magic can happen,” she added.
The panel discussion, moderated by Madanmohan Rao, Research Director, YourStory, also featured Mark Kahn, Managing Partner of Omnivore, and Kunal Prasad, Co-founder and COO of CropIn Technology Solutions.
Mark Kahn asserted that the private sector still has a huge role to play in catalysing innovation in areas like food-processing. Currently, agriculture companies tend to operate within their own ecosystems, he noted. That's why it is still too early to find collaborations between them and startups.
"Legacy players are working to digitise their business, and move out of the traditional retail distribution channels," Mark pointed out.
Intersection of farming and technology
India has more than 110 million farmers in a sector that is facing inherent challenges.
The issues range from productivity challenges owing to small land-holdings, to an inefficient market system. With middlemen on both the input and output sides, there isn't transparency of demand, leading to low price realisations. This in turn affects farmers' profitability and sustenance.
Over the past decade, agritech startups have scaled in the industry, attracting between $300 million and $400 million in funding to solve farming challenges using technology.
The market for agritech is projected to grow to more than $30 billion by 2025.
Applications range from trying to solve the credit challenge, and connecting farmers directly to buyers, to creating market linkages on the input side. And, startups are taking digital technologies to farms.
“Technology is transforming the way institutions take decisions based on data, and are able to bring in efficient services for stakeholders, including farmers,” said Kunal Prasad, Co-founder and COO of.
The digital innovations are proliferating because of 4G networks, increasing penetration of low-cost smartphones, and the ubiquity of UPI (unified payments interface).
The digital infrastructure has helped agritech companies make an impact in rural India, Mark said.
“Now, you are starting to see the ability to organise the inputs value chain, the outputs value chain, market linkages, financial inclusion — all riding on this digital infrastructure. That's what we are seeing on the ground, and that's definitely what we're betting on,” he explained.
There is scope for artificial intelligence and machine learning to be used, Kunal said, citing the Indian government's crop-insurance scheme, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, for which CropIn is a partner.
"We are trying to help the government to optimise the crop-cutting experiments and find the yield at the insurance unit level, so that they can settle the claims to the farmers and give the payouts as soon as possible," Kunal explained.
The panelists discussed post-harvest technologies that are on the rise, which use sensors, drones, robots, and farm management software. Hyper-scalers like AWS and Microsoft Azure will also have an important role to play, as new technology applications get built on the cloud.
While the Indian agritech ecosystem still has a long road ahead, there is little doubt that technology will pave the way.
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