India jumps on the Agritech bandwagon

It’s incredulous yet true. Today, every 9th Agritech start-up in the world is from India. There are 3,103 global agritech start-ups of which there are 450 Agritech start-ups operating in India and growing at 25 per cent annually. This and more was revealed in ‘Agritech In India: Emerging Trends in 2019’, a NASSCOM report released in August 2019.

“India’s agriculture sector is advancing steadily towards its digital transformation and the start-up ecosystem is playing a critical role here, bringing innovation and disruption in much-needed areas,” offered NASSCOM president Debjani Ghosh. “Adoption of technology in agriculture has always needed a structured institutional focus and technology firms are trying to break into the agricultural landscape using newer business models,” she added.

Now, the State too has joined the Agritech bandwagon. NITI Aayog has started a pilot project on precision agriculture using AI in 10 districts from seven states. Maharashtra, on its part, launched the ‘Agri-Tech’ scheme for digitally tracking agriculture management while Karnataka set up an Agritech fund of $ 2.5 million with an aim to target at least 21 start-ups. Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra have launched an Agri open data portal to promote technology as an important tool in agriculture.

Agriculture as an industry is now bolstered by the Agritech sector witnessing a number of start-ups in India. There are synergistic opportunities for combined growth of agriculture and capital investment.

This, within less than a year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s launch of ‘Start-up Agri India’ scheme to support agritech start-ups working to make the agricultural process more efficient, comes as an overwhelming response.

It was in 2018 when Mr Modi emphasised the need to organise ‘hackathons’ in Indian Institutes of Technology for out-of-the-box ideas in agriculture to fulfil the government’s key agrarian agenda of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022.

At the conference attended by 300 policy planners, farmers, economists and bankers, he had said, “NITI Aayog will collate all the recommendations and coordinate between ministries and decide on priorities. Some recommendations may take time to implement but we will do it.”

India plans to increase the average income of a farmer to Rs. 219,724 (USD 3,420) by 2022-23 and is well on the way of achieving its target.

For India, agriculture has been the backbone of its economy and one that accounts for 18 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). Besides being the world’s largest producer of pulses, rice, wheat, spices and spice products, India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world.

Indian agriculture and grocery market are colossal considering it is the world's sixth largest with retail contributing nearly 70 per cent of the sales.

Of late, a lot of emphasis is being laid through a series of strategies and schemes launched in the sector. Farmers and Agritech start-ups have evolved rapidly over the last few years particularly owing to the surge in digital penetration and funding. Growth in the sunrise sector was a given and one that holds immense promise for the future.

Why, just within the first six months of 2019, Indian Agritech start-ups have received 300 per cent more funding than the total funding received in the full preceding year 2018. Until June 2019, Agritech companies raised $ 248 million, a colossal leap from the meagre $ 73 million in 2018, according to NASSCOM figures.

Now, with the Agritech sector, arrive spanking new areas such as farming as a service, better access to inputs and financing besides the more directly-relevant digital agriculture luring a stream of stakeholders to connect with this new trend.

Among Indian start-ups is NinjaCart that received a funding of $ 89 million in 2019 followed by AgroStar, WayCool, Samunnati Financial Intermediation, and Jumbotail. Tiger, Accel, BII, Omnivore and Nuveen remained the top 5 investors till June 2019.

Agritech solutions can enable farm automation and aggregation to redistribute the workforce and, concurrently, boost the sector’s contribution to the GDP. Also, India that ranks among the top 5 nations in food processing is set to employ nearly 90 lakh persons in the sector by 2024. Streamlining and traceability can improve farmer income and exports simultaneously.

Demand-driven cold chains, warehouse monitoring solutions and market linkages can significantly reduce post-harvest losses in India that presently amount to $ 13 billion. Also, with the growing need to reduce usage of water and pesticides, the strain on 80 per cent of India’s freshwater presently used for agriculture will be drastically lowered.

Direct benefit transfer (DBT) schemes to reach out schemes, insurance and loan disbursals to farmers have been impaired by lack of data and insights at ground and farmer level. Agritech can help immensely by laying the digital work and presenting solutions that build a layer of data.

McKinsey Global Institute maintains, by 2025, the application of various digital and agronomic technologies can lead to a whopping economic impact of US $45–80 billion annually. The technologies could help 90 million farmers better their income, 200–250 million Indians benefit from better nutrition through abundant harvests and a colossal one million Indians find decent job opportunities as computer-equipped farm-extension workers.