Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Back in the seventies, India came back from the brink of starvation to achieve self-sufficiency in grain production and everyone hailed the green revolution. It has been a short-lived exuberation, as it is now increasingly apparent that it was merely a battle India had won, not the war. With rapidly increasing population, marginal growth rates, continuing dependence on monsoon, changing land-use mix and diminishing returns from additional use of fertilizers, India is facing another challenge sooner than later.
Between now and 2030 the planet's population is likely to rise to 8.5 billion, from 7.3 billion now. Those people will not only need to eat, they will want to eat better than people do now, because by then most are likely to have middling incomes, and many will be well off. Food and Agriculture Organisation, the United Nations' agency suggested that by 2030 agricultural production will have to rise by 45% to meet projected demand.
How are we going to do this? Technology is one solution, but technology is really just a small part of the solution we're looking for. The real future of farming isn't growing plants or animals; it's growing businesses.
In the past few years, there has been an explosion of startup activity and telecom boom that has revolutionised the way Indians travel, consume and communicate. What is still waiting for this revolution is the way we produce. While there are individual advancements happening across the country and indeed the world, there is no unifying platform to bring together all of these in the same conversation.
ThinkAg2030 (powered by Ankur Capital) was launched as a forum to explore frontiers of technology and its ground-breaking impact on Indian agriculture. Innovators, experts, Agri CEOs, entrepreneurs have a platform to brainstorm on future cutting-edge agribusiness opportunities. The idea is to foster innovation and accelerate growth in the AgTech startup ecosystem in India.
ThinkAg2030 was kicked off with a launch event in Hyderabad on 26th May, 2017. Stakeholders from eminent financial and research institutions as well as scores of young AgTech entrepreneurs came together for an evening of stimulating examination of what lies ahead for Indian agriculture.
The subject of discussion was 'Leapfrogging Indian agriculture with disruptive tech'.
Speaking at the event, Mr. Ram Kaundinya (Former MD, Advanta Seeds) dispelled the notion that Indian farmers are averse to technology use. He said, "Technophobe farmer was a myth; if you treat the farmer as a customer and demonstrate value, he will be more than happy to adopt new technology."
New technologies that are emerging not only help the farmer get better forecast and higher yield, but also help other agri-stakeholders in their contribution and decision making.
Remote sensing and satellite imaging contributing to agriculture is not stuff of science fiction any more. Companies like CropIn Technologies are using these to address the information asymmetries that plague Indian agriculture and enabling financial institutions to get more confidence in their decision making to extend loans and insurance to farmers.
Mr. Kaundinya further commented, "Better data points will ensure better crop insurance models." Mr. PVN Rao, Deputy Director at NRSC agreed, "There is work happening in this domain. Information is going to flow much more easily into agriculture in the near future. Awareness that a farmer has today will be the pull for new technologies."
Future can bring other challenges as Mr. Sriram Gopal, CEO of Future Farms, a cutting-edge hydroponics company, pointed out, "50 years ago, we were eating foods that are not being consumed now; 50 years from now our food palate will be significantly different. Farmers and farming techniques need to constantly evolve to keep up. This presents a huge opportunity for new agribusinesses"
Mr. Laxminarayana, MD AG Bio Systems, concurred with this, "Technology manifesting as product innovation can also solve some big problems for the Indian farmer."
In line with the forward-looking nature of the discussion, ThinkAg2030 also featured AgTANK, where curated budding AgTech startups presented their business model to an expert jury panel. The jury comprised of experts with diverse viewpoints - an agri-scientist like NAARM's Dr. Srinivas to an agri-industry voice like Mr. Subbarao Appemane from Mahyco to investors and startup ecosystem players like Yes Bank's Mr. Gopinath Koneti, Springforth Investment's Mr Pradeep Dhobale and TIE Hyderabad's Ms Sreedevi Devireddy.
AgTANK indeed provided a brilliant opportunity for budding AgTech entrepreneurs to find mentors and foster investor interest. Four interesting AgTech startups - Bharat Rohan, Keansa, Kheti Next and FarmGate - were put to test by the esteemed jury who asked incisive questions and gave forthright feedback to make these start-ups' business models more robust and rewarding.
Moderating the panel, Dr. Ritu Verma, Managing Partner, Ankur Capital summed up the discussion as new technology in agriculture was not an option, as we have no choice but to address critical issues for the next green revolution.
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