Play­grounds in the Sky

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - TV Mo­han­das Pai

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi stated on Satur­day at the BJP’s na­tional con­ven­tion in New Delhi that his gov­ern­ment is “work­ing day and night to dou­ble farm­ers’ in­come by 2022”, when the coun­try com­pletes 75 years of its in­de­pen­dence. In­dia has, in­deed, taken many steps to reach this goal since the PM ar­tic­u­lated this goal at a kisan rally in Bareilly, Ut­tar Pradesh, in Fe­bru­ary 2016. How­ever, sim­ply dou­bling farm­ers’ in­come in a good year will not end farm­ers’ dis­tress. What farm­ers need is to be able to pro­tect that in­come even in the ‘bad years’.

One cru­cial com­po­nent of pro­tect­ing agri­cul­tural in­come is mi­croin­sur­ance. From the 2016 kharif (au­tumn crop) sea­son, the gov­ern­ment re­placed pre­vi­ous crop in­sur­ance schemes and in­tro­duced the Prad­han Mantri Fasal Bima Yo­jana (PMFBY). But de­spite the best ef­forts, the gross arable land un­der this in­sur­ance cover has fallen, as com­pared to two years ago. Ask any­one why the scheme un­der­per­forms, and one seem­ingly sim­ple prob­lem lies at the cen­tre – the time­con­sum­ing and un­re­li­able crop­cut­ting ex­per­i­ments (CCE).

To pay out yield-based in­sur­ance, a sim­ple ques­tion must be an­swered – what was the yield for a par­tic­u­lar farmer? Cur­rently, a tremen­dously large ex­er­cise is car­ried out ev­ery sea­son to an­swer that ques­tion. Crops from sta­tis­ti­cally se­lected farms are cut, threshed, win­nowed, weighed, dried and then weighed again. Once an es­ti­mated 10 lakh such CCEs are car­ried out ev­ery sea­son, the re­sult is ag­gre­gated to pre­dict yield in ev­ery re­gion, and then, the in­sur­ers can be­gin the process of set­tling claims.

Typ­i­cally, pay­outs are de­layed by up to a sea­son, some­times more. In the in­terim, the farmer has to take on an ex­pen­sive loan to re­fi­nance the in­puts needed for the next cy­cle. The in­sur­ance amount, if and when it ar­rives, is used to re­pay the prin­ci­pal. But the farmer will still have to bear a cut­ting loss on in­ter­est and lost in­come.

Is there no bet­ter way out? All we have to do is to look to the skies. Ad­vance­ments in drones, cam­eras and re­mote sens­ing by satel­lites means that there are new ways to solve an old prob­lem. Drones, es­pe­cially, hold much prom­ise for the de­vel­op­ing world. In Rwanda, where only 30% of the coun­try has on-grid elec­tric­ity, build­ing blood banks that re­quire refrigeration was a chal­lenge. To­day, two drone hubs serve the en­tire coun­try’s need for blood trans­plants. Hos­pi­tals and clin­ics can re­quest for blood on What­sApp, and a drone air­drops it in less than an hour. Now, In­dia has stepped in with a sim­i­lar ap­proach.

The gov­ern­ment has just gone live with its Drone Pol­icy 1.0, and Dig­i­tal Sky, a new soft­ware plat­form, to reg­u­late the use of drones. It has elim­i­nated the pa­per­work re­quired to get per­mis­sion to fly a drone. One can sim­ply open up an app and fly one wher­ever they want to. As a re­sult, farm­ers will soon be able to get on-de­mand crop in­spec­tion, crop di­ag­nos­tics, and even crop-spray­ing ser­vices from new-age busi­nesses.

In the long-term, In­dia’s prob­lem will not be whether a drone can carry some­thing from point A to point B. In­stead, its prob­lem will be how we can en­sure the safety of peo­ple, struc­tures and manned air­craft when there are mil­lions of drones fly­ing ev­ery day. The plat­form ap­proach al­lows the gov­ern­ment to get out of the way and let In­dia’s young en­trepreneurs build fu­ture busi­nesses with­out wor­ry­ing about reg­u­la­tors hav­ing to catch up. The min­istry of civil avi­a­tion is ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing ‘busi­ness play­grounds’, where In­dian en­trepreneurs can com­pete with the best in the world.

The drone pol­icy and Dig­i­tal Sky plat­form rep­re­sent a new gen­er­a­tion of pol­i­cy­mak­ing. The ap­pro­pri­ate metaphor to de­scribe is that of a re­lay race. The gov­ern­ment picks a so­ci­etal prob­lem. It in­vites pol­icy and pub­lic tech­nol­ogy ex­perts to cre­ate a plat­form like Dig­i­tal Sky. The plat­form cre­ates an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for in­no­va­tion by mar­ket play­ers. The mar­ket play­ers then com­pete to ad­dress the prob­lem. This way sa­maj, bazaar and sarkar – so­ci­ety, the mar­ket, and gov­ern­ment – come to­gether to make In­dia a bet­ter place.

Whether it is de­liv­er­ing vac­cines, crit­i­cal medicine, or con­duct­ing CCEs from the sky, it is in­cum­bent upon us to build the play­grounds that will en­list our young en­trepreneurs to solv­ing In­dia’s many hard prob­lems.


While many com­pa­nies want to breed in­no­va­tion in-house, there isn’t al­ways enough time, money or re­sources to do so. In­stead of ac­cept­ing the sta­tus quo and wait­ing for in­no­va­tion to hap­pen or­gan­i­cally, there is a huge op­por­tu­nity for star­tups and en­ter­prises to col­lab­o­rate. To­day, com­pa­nies can ac­tively seek out cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies with star­tups and test-drive by tap­ping into in­cu­ba­tors, in­no­va­tion labs, or run­ning proof of con­cepts (PoCs). Col­lab­o­ra­tion is the most pow­er­ful tool when in­no­vat­ing. En­ter­prises have a lot to gain by work­ing with in­no­va­tive star­tups while star­tups ben­e­fit by gain­ing the sup­port and cus­tomer base on which to pi­lot their prod­uct. Ul­ti­mately the ones who ben­e­fit most from col­lab­o­ra­tion are the com­pa­nies that are look­ing to in­tro­duce game-chang­ing tech­nolo­gies to the mar­ket, who want to re­tain their mar­ket share or even the first move ad­van­tage…En­ter­prises in in­dus­tries that need in­no­va­tion of­ten don’t know where to be­gin in the search for tech­nol­ogy that will trans­form their busi­ness op­er­a­tions and take them to the next level. Much of the hard­ship in run­ning a PoC with a startup has to do with find­ing the right startup to work with, data se­cu­rity/reg­u­la­tory is­sues, and test­ing PoCs one by one. Sev­eral com­pa­nies have been founded to ad­dress this prob­lem. The idea be­hind a PoC so­lu­tion is to sim­u­late your ex­ist­ing data in­fra­struc­ture.

The writer is Chair­man, Aarin Cap­i­tal From: “Stuck in the mid­dle? How to break the bar­ri­ers to in­no­va­tion”

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