Envisionin­g global agritech symbiosis

- Narayan Kulkarni, Editor

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.

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