Four organisations working with agritech startups and farmers to strengthen India's agriculture sector
The agriculture sector is the backbone of India’s economy, but agrarian distress continues to haunt farmers across the country. Favourable government policies notwithstanding, there is a need for farmers to connect with startups, and organisations, to scale their production and, subsequently, their income.
While traditional methods of farming are quite popular in India, farmers are slowly realising the need for innovation to increase yield and productivity. New-age farmers are increasingly looking for solutions to complement traditional methods, in order to reap rich dividends. But there is still a gap between innovation and cultivation. This gap arises because of various factors, including lack of awareness, archaic farming practices, and rigid mindsets that refuse to adopt new technology and keep pace with changing times.
However, multiple non-profit organisations are working across the country to help farmers mitigate the challenges associated with agriculture. They provide assistance with irrigation, technology-enabled harvesting, and cultivation practices, as well as financial support to go organic.
Below, we list a few of these organisations that tap the startup power to help farmers increase their productivity.
Marico Innovation Foundation
With an aim to financially empower the farming community and agri-startups, Harsh Mariwala’s Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) launched the Innovate2Cultivate programme in 2018. Though this initiative the non-profit is assisting 37 innovations from startups in the agricultural sector that focus exclusively on coconut farming.
To scale the impact and increase productivity, MIF has also developed an ‘Agri Cohort’, where agritech startups are invited to help farmers keep up with technological innovations in farming.
Earlier Marico’s Kalpavriksha programme provided information to farmers on key areas like the right fertilisers and nutrients to be used, and how best to use water that is available. It also sought to acquaint farmers with new technologies to better their yield and, in turn, increase their income from farming.
Till date, MIF hasreached out to 3,500 farmers from 100 villages, across the country.
The C&A Foundation launched a sustainable cotton programme in 2014 with an aim to improve the livelihoods of small farmers and conserve the environment through sustainable cotton cultivation.
Organic cotton can bring sustainable and regenerative practices into cotton farming. This means moving it away from the current predominantly monocultural and intensive input approach, which strips the soil of its fertility, and is financially burdensome for the farmers.
Realising the benefits of organic cotton cultivation Anita Chester, Head of Sustainable Raw Materials, C&A Foundation, started a sustainable cotton programme in collaboration with four partners – Action for Social Advancement, Aga Khan Foundation, CottonConnect, and WWF-India, and has invested over €5 million to support over 25,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Madhya Pradesh.
Presently, the foundation supports over 38,000 farmers across Madhya Pradesh, and it hopes to support over 50,000 farmers by 2020.
Indigram Labs Foundation
While agri startups in India have made headway in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and even Odisha, the agri startup boom is yet to proliferate in the Northeast region of the country. Hence, with an aim to recognise “potentially game-changing early-stage entrepreneurs” from Northeast India and create a “supportive ecosystem” to help them scale their businesses, Manisha Acharya, CEO of Indigram Lab Foundation, started the AgriPulse Accelerate North-East programme in 2018.
The Agripulse Accelerate North-East Programme brings together key stakeholders--startups, investors, mentors, and subject matter experts--in the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem.
The programme provides the identified startups the opportunity of intensive mentoring and training from a pool of experts on various aspects of business, and help them mature and establish themselves not only in the region but also beyond.
They have incubated 10 startups till date.
With an aim to help farmers engage in sustainable agricultural practices involving rainwater harvesting and conservation, the Deshpande Foundation, with support from the Tata Trusts, founded the Neer Sinchina programme in 2014.
The programme helps to facilitate irrigation in drought-prone areas with erratic rainfall, in Northern Karnataka. The foundation encourages farmers to construct ponds by providing them earthmovers and trained machine operators at a nominal cost.
The organisation claims that by improving access to water, farmers can cultivate more than one crop a year, thereby increasing their revenue by 50 percent.
Since 2014, the programme has helped to create 4,200 ponds, irritated over 14,000 acres of land, impacting over 4,000 farmers across six districts of Karnataka.