By Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Farmers’ strike and the looming covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding, foodgrain production is estimated to be higher in 2021-22 than the previous year when it touched an all-time high of 308.65 million tonnes. Growing at 3.5%, foodgrain production is likely to remain in the range of 310-320 million tonnes. This piece of news coming from the government sources is highly reassuring at a time when the country seems in the throes of yet another Covid-19 wave. Thanks to the resilient Indian agriculture sector, India was able to provide free foodgrains to its poor and marginalized population at the peak of the first and second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
These happy tidings bring us to another feel-good report titled ‘Investing for Impact: Food, Agri, and Agritech’ from agriculture think tank Aspire Impact. It says the Indian agriculture sector can generate $813 billion in revenue with an investment of $272 billion in Agritech and other related sectors by 2030. It will create 152 million jobs, impact 1.1 billion lives, and make agriculture the largest private sector industry in India.
For a perspective, India’s agri sector received $ 9 billion in FDI in the last decade. There is a lot of promise and opportunity for private sector investment in Indian agriculture. It says this huge potential can be unlocked “With smart innovations, infrastructure and policy support, and newer business models.”
- Among the key challenges, the low-mechanization level is a major one. Compared to 90% in developed economies, the mechanization levels in India are 40-50%.
- Monsoon dependency accounts for 68% of the cultivation area and 40-45% of total agriculture output.
- A gap of 3.2 million tonne gap cold storage facilities cost $14 billion to the Indian food process industry.
- As much as 70% of Indian forests lack regeneration while 55% are prone to wildfires.
- Demand for food grains is expected to grow by 3%.
The Aspire Impact study says transformation in farm practices and ecosystems through “investments” and “policy push” is urgently needed. It says, “With Agritech start-ups and innovative models expected to dominate the sector, India Inc has already begun to pave the way for change.”
The buzzword is Investment and Agritech.
The investment would come from wealthy businessmen and cash-rich corporations. Agritech involves IoT, AI, Robotics, Coding, and the Cloud. It is an exclusive club of blue-chip software professionals.
Both will make their hands dirty only looking for profit. But will Indian agriculture ever be so profitable for big investments and blue-chip coding professionals?
Available facts don’t allude to this possibility.
A recent Forbes report says India produced 41 unicorns in 2021 with a combined valuation of $81 billion. None of them is from the agritech domain. India is home to 79 unicorns worth $260 billion but none again is from agritech.
As per the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, the Indian startup scene with Bengaluru as the biggest hub followed by Delhi (NCR) and Mumbai is the world’s third-largest such ecosystem with 59,000 startups spread across 634 districts.
Despite the huge potentials mentioned in the Aspire Impact report, why agritech is not such a hot idea for Indian startups. Why is there not a single unicorn from the agriculture sector?
Perhaps, Indian farms need more mechanization than agritech! It needs a modern outlook more than investments. Indian agriculture needs visionary and capable leaders on the farms who can use drones, solar power, and modern techniques of animal husbandry.
But ordinary farmers can’t use revolutionary technologies. They need hand-holding. In this context, a heart-warming initiative comes from Hyderabad where a bunch of 100 software professionals are working on the farm, even as we are discussing it,to develop solutions in a 45-day agri-hackathon.
“They will cultivate a piece of land and sow the seeds… to understand real-world agriculture challenges and find tech-enabled solutions,” says a press release from Telangana Information Technology Association (TITA) that is organizing the agri-hackathon in coordination with Telangana Agriculture Engineers Association.
For this purpose, a 2-acre plot of land in Yadavalli village, Utkoor Mandal, Narayanpet district, has been identified. Each team, consisting of four IT professionals and an agriculture specialist, will be assigned 121 square feet and problems to solve.
“Drone cameras for identifying pests, AI technologies for data analysis, robotics for automatic seedlings, sensors for water sprinkling, and other advances are all being considered. Along with farming, teams would be given a variety of technical problems to work on,” TITA chief Sundeep Kumar Makthala said while launching the agri-hackathon last week.
Seeking support from institutions and individuals, Makthala said, “There are 100 people in this team of software professionals who will do farming for the next 45 days. All the 100 people will work in five different teams on the land allotted to them right from sowing till they sell their produce.”
Agriculture is not a spectators’ game. It’s hands-on. It’s painful! It’s fun! (IPA Service)