Envisioning global agritech symbiosis
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the agriculture sector, which is considered the backbone of the Indian economy, has been significantly robust and resilient, and innovations by agri startups have contributed enormously. The agritech sector has grown in the last four years, thanks to the entry of highly skilled entrepreneurs. Today, India has over 700 agritech startups that offer tailored solutions and products to make the agricultural value chain more profitable and remunerative.
The Government of India's "Innovation and Agri-entrepreneurship Development" programme supported 173 of these women startups. Furthermore, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has been supporting agribased startups through the National Agriculture Innovation Fund (NAIF), which was launched in 2016-17. Under the NAIF scheme, 50 AgriBusiness Incubation Centres (ABICS) have been established and are operational in the ICAR network. These programmes can help potential female entrepreneurs.
As a result, the participation of women in Indian agriculture is increasing, and we can expect to see more women startups in the sector to bring in more diversity and build more solutions for women farmers. According to the Registrar General of India's Census 2011, the total number of women farmers as cultivators in the country was 3.60 crore, and agricultural labour was 6.15 crore.
While Indian agritechs embark upon their journey of prominence and profitability, it is important to learn from a few of the best practices from leading agritech countries like Israel, The Netherlands and China as suggested in the FICCIPWC Knowledge report titled "Agri startups Fostering collaboration to bring paradigm shifts in Indian agriculture.
Despite limited natural resources, such as only 20 per cent of the land in Israel is arable, shrinking water resources - only 90 cubic metres available per capita - compared to 1,069 in India, 1,927 in China and 8,615 in the USA, soil structure unsuitable for farming, Israel’s agriculture sector contributes around 1.15 per cent of its GDP. Interestingly, Israeli agri startups saw investments worth around $800 million until 2019. Currently, 700 agri startups in Israel are addressing the various challenges of the country’s agri and allied sector. A global R&D hub based in Israel spends approximately 4 per cent of the country's GDP in order to solve global challenges in innovation and hence attracts a sizable amount of foreign investment too.
Similarly, The Netherlands has limited land resources for agriculture – ~1.3 million hectare of grassland and 1.0 million hectare of arable land. But, the country is the second highest exporter of agri produce in the world, home to one of the world’s pioneering agricultural research institutes and is in the leadership position in dairy and innovative foods. The Netherlands has focused on producing food in more sustainable ways. To stimulate innovation, the Dutch government offers competitive research incentives to fuel scientific entrepreneurship in agri and food systems.
Just like India, China too, has issues such as increasing population, small farmland holdings and focus on traditional farming techniques. To overcome the issues, China has promoted farming among the youth (~4.5 million returned to farms recently), made more investments worth $6 billion across ~300 deals, with 33 per cent year-on-year growth and supported the growth of agribusiness firms, which promotes sustainable agriculture. With over one-fifth of the world’s population and less than one-tenth of the agricultural land, China is leveraging its technology leadership in 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced drones and digital trading platforms to move away from traditional farming practices.
It’s an opportune time to seek the right partnerships with nations that are leading in the agritech domain. Such collaboration will add value through innovation and help in achieving shared goals. The efficient exchange of technology, market interests and investments amongst countries would be highly useful in addressing mutual interests and building efficiencies in the sector.